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EDUCATION REPORT - 'Ghost' and 'Guest' Authors Still a Concern for Medical Journals

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This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Last week, we discussed one problem for medical journals: the question of authorship. You would think that all the scientists who took part in a research study would be listed as authors. But that is not always the case. Sometimes there are honorary authors and ghost authors. Honorary authors, also called guest authors, receive credit in a published study but had little to do with designing it or writing the article.

Ghost authors work on studies but receive no credit
Ghost authors work on studies but receive no credit

Ghost authors work on studies but are not credited. Sometimes they are paid by drug companies to place articles in journals to support the company's products.

One example was described last month at a meeting of international medical journal editors in Vancouver, Canada. Three researchers at the University of California at San Francisco presented information about a drug company's marketing campaign that included placing research articles in medical journals.

In the nineteen nineties, the drug company Parke Davis paid another company, Medical Education Systems, to produce journal articles in support of one of its drugs. Medical Education Systems worked with authors chosen by Parke Davis to research, develop and write articles for publication. Editors of the journals that published the studies did not know about the companies' involvement.

Another study presented at the meeting was done by editors at the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers questioned authors of nine hundred articles published last year in six top medical journals.

They found that twenty-one percent of the papers published in those journals had honorary authors. Eight percent had ghost authors. Two percent had both. They compared this to a similar study in nineteen ninety-six. It found that nineteen percent of articles had honorary authors, twelve percent had ghost authors and two percent had both.

The researchers noted the drop in the percentage of ghost authors from twelve percent to eight percent. Annette Flanagin and Joe Wislar said they were pleased about the decrease but had hoped it would be larger.

Some researchers and editors say changes must be made to stop such false author claims. Some have called for journals to identify ghostwritten articles and ban their authors from future publication.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Bob Doughty.

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