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Is ghostwriting on the decline? Findings from a survey among AMWA and EMWA members (2005 to 2014)


Ghostwriting within the scientific community is when medical writers make substantial but undisclosed contributions to published manuscripts. Guidelines from a number of professional organisations have tried to clarify the role of the medical writer and define what is acceptable. The European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) and the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) have position statements on the how the contributions of medical writers should be acknowledged in scientific publications. Further guidance can be found in the Good Publication Practice 3 (GPP3) guidelines that were published in 2015. Additionally, both The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) and The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) have issued recommendations on authorship criteria.

A recent study by Cindy Hamilton and Adam Jacobs investigated the prevalence of ghostwriting among medical writers using confidential surveys of EMWA and AMWA members. The first survey was conducted in 2005 and was repeated in 2008, 2011 and 2014. Over the study period the authors noted a 44% decrease in the rate of undisclosed contributions in manuscripts, however, in 2014 the observed rate of ghostwriting was still too high at 34%. The authors found that medical writers with awareness of author guidelines were less likely to have undisclosed contributions than those with less familiarity with recommendations. Hamilton and Jacobs acknowledge the limitations of the study, especially with regard to participants being restricted to self-selected members of EMWA and AMWA, but they hope their report will encourage further efforts in transparency implementation and keep the debate on best practices in medical publication alive.


Summary by Jo Chapman, PhD from Aspire Scientific.

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