By Peter T Wilmshurst, Consultant Cardiologist, Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, Shrewsbury SY3 8XQ 31 January 2012
If I tried to make money by deceiving people that a picture that I had painted was the work of some great artist, the law would call it fraud. Yet when pharmaceutical and medical device companies make money by deceiving doctors and patients that their articles were written by medical opinion leaders we call it ghost writing and gift authorship.
This double standard is because this form of financial “fraud” is so prevalent amongst the most influential opinion leaders in the profession and so many journals and organisations profit from it that we have institutionalised this dishonesty in which everyone profits except perhaps the patients who may get inappropriate treatment and potentially those who pay for it – in the UK that is usually the tax-payer.
Dr Tony Rickards was a great cardiologist. His memory has been sullied because he was unusually both a “ghost” and a gift author on publications about the MIST Trial. He died in May 2004, before the trial started in November 2004. He was not on the trial design committee: I know because I was. Despite satisfying none of the criteria for authorship of the most highly cited cardiology journal, Circulation, he was listed as an author of the paper. One other member of the trial steering committee and I refused to be authors because of errors in the paper and because the sponsor refused to allow us to see all the data.
After persistent pressure from me Circulation eventually published a correction (700 words), data supplement (4 pages) and new version of the paper.[4-6] Before the correction was published the editors of Circulation knew that Dr Rickards had died and did not meet the criteria for authorship. They did not remove his name from the corrected version of the paper. Because Dr Rickards was dead, the sponsors could dispense with the customary payment to eminent gift authors.
Circulation published in 2009 a letter responding to correspondence about the MIST paper in which Dr Rickards had moved up to be the fourth author (from fifteenth author on the paper), even though the editors of Circulation knew that he had died 5 years earlier. Dr Rickards was named as an author of a letter he had no part in writing, which responded to correspondence he had not read, about a paper he had not seen or written, which describing research in which he had not participated. If editors ignore their rules on authorship why should anyone else obey the rules?
1. Hendrick R. Ghosts in the machine. BMJ 2011;343:d7860.
2. Caroline Richmond. Obituary: Anthony Francis Rickards. BMJ 2004;329:234.
3. Dowson A, Mullen MJ, Peatfield R, Muir K, Khan AA, Wells C, Lipscombe SL, Rees T, De Giovanni JV, Morrison WL, Hildick-Smith D, Elrington G, Hillis WS, Malik IS, Rickards A. Migraine intervention with STARFlex Technology (MIST) Trial: a prospective, multicenter, double-blind, sham- controlled trial to evaluate the effectiveness of patent foramen ovale closure with STARFlex septal repair implant to resolve refractory migraine headache. Circulation 2008;117:1397-1404.
7. Dowson A, Mullen MJ, Khan AA, Rickards A, Peatfield R, Muir K, et al. Response to letter regarding article “Migraine Interventions with STARFlex Technology (MIST) Trial”. Circulation 2009;119:e194.
Competing interests: Peter T Wilmshurst says: My involvement is described in the letter. I have no financial conflicts.
See Why Most Published Research Findings Are False Ioannidis JPA (2005) Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. PLoS Med 2(8): e124. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124 ‘… There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false. The probability that a research claim is true may depend on study power and bias, the number of other studies on the same question, and, importantly, the ratio of true to no relationships among the relationships probed in each scientific field. In this framework, a research finding is less likely to be true when the studies conducted in a field are smaller; when effect sizes are smaller; when there is a greater number and lesser preselection of tested relationships; where there is greater flexibility in designs, definitions, outcomes, and analytical modes; when there is greater financial and other interest and prejudice; and when more teams are involved in a scientific field in chase of statistical significance. Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias. In this essay, I discuss the implications of these problems for the conduct and interpretation of research…’
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See Thirteen per cent of scientists or doctors have said they know of colleagues who have fabricated data in order to get research published. More than one in ten (13%) scientists or doctors have witnessed colleagues intentionally altering or fabricating data to get published or during their research, a poll suggests. The survey of almost 2,800 experts in the UK also found 6% knew of possible research misconduct at their institution that has not been properly investigated. The poll, for the British Medical Journal (BMJ), is being presented at a meeting aimed at tackling research misconduct in the UK. 13 January 2012
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See http://www.theoneclickgroup.co.uk/news.php?id=6610#newspost A well-known psychologist in the Netherlands whose work has been published widely in professional journals falsified data and made up entire experiments, an investigating committee has found. Experts say the case exposes deep flaws in the way science is done in a field, psychology, that has only recently earned a fragile respectability.
See Reporting of Conflicts of Interest in Meta-analyses of Trials of Pharmacological Treatments. Michelle Roseman, BA; Katherine Milette, BSc; Lisa A. Bero, PhD; James C. Coyne, PhD; Joel Lexchin, MD; Erick H. Turner, MD; Brett D. Thombs, PhD. JAMA. 2011;305(10):1008-1017. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.257