Steve Hickey, honorary fellow
Department of Biological Sciences, Manchester Metropolitan University
BMJ 2005;330:540 (5 March), doi:10.1136/bmj.330.7490.540-a
The scientific process depends on trust: we assume that authors acknowledge influences such as the involvement of pharmaceutical companies. In medicine, industry sways authors by funding research and by setting the norms for career advancement. Refereed publications are essential for promotion, so if industry can control the journals it has power over the medical profession. Increasingly, companies subcontract papers to apparently respectable experts. Such ghostwriting should have no place in journals claiming to report primary scientific results.
Refereed journals set the benchmark for scientific excellence, but this gold standard is becoming tarnished. Editors admit that companies exert pressure, even on prestigious journals.1 Ghostwritten drug studies, little more than marketing propaganda, are published by leading journals. Pharmaceutical companies also protect their markets by promoting biased studies of antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, and other forms of preventive medicine that could compete with drug sales.2
Drug companies treat scientific publication as a branch of marketing. If a study in a prestigious journal will guarantee extra sales, they allocate millions of pounds to recruit and control the experiment. Researchers who claim not to be influenced by such apparent generosity are deluding themselves. This escalation of deceit in the medical journals threatens genuine scientific progress.
It is becoming hard to differentiate good studies from bad, real science from marketing. Knowing that drug companies need sick people in order to generate profits, many people no longer trust medical science. If the medical endeavour is seen as unreliable, then everyone will suffer. Even the pharmaceutical companies are vulnerable to such a loss of faith: unless they clean up their act, they will kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
Competing interests: None declared.
1. Eaton L. Editor claims drug companies have a “parasitic” relationship with journals, BMJ 2005;330: 9. (1 January.)
2. Hickey S, Roberts H. Ascorbate: the science of vitamin C. Napa, CA: Lulu Press, 2004.
Eaton L. Editor claims drug companies have a “parasitic” relationship with journals
BMJ 2005 330: 9.