Drug companies authoring articles in medical journals and adding scientists as authors after the studies are written

Here’s some predictable news:

A group of four researchers have published findings in the new issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that articles in medical journals are often written by drug companies and publishers, with legitimate scientists added as authors when the articles are submitted. Their research was based on court documents related to the Vioxx trial.

This is a further example of why information literacy instruction should not teach a facile reliance on “reputable sources.” Those “reputable sources” are often vulnerable to distortion by corporate interests. Our teaching needs to go a bit deeper, as limited as our time and teaching opportunities may be. In response to this idea, I’ve heard the objection that we shouldn’t teach our students to be cynical. My response is that to be coachingresponsible educators we need to teach them about reality.

The reason to hope is that a lot of people do care. Lots of people in the scientific community are pissed about this kind of thing. The authors of the article in JAMA are calling for “drastic action”:

  • Journals should require each author to specify the role he or she played in the research and writing, a requirement JAMA already has in place.
  • Clinical-trial registries should include the name of the principal investigator.
  • For-profit companies that sponsor research should not be primarily responsible for collecting and analyzing data, or for writing the manuscript.
  • Any author who does not disclose financial conflicts of interest should be reported to his or her department chair or dean.

It sometimes seems that the pressure of big money moves things in one direction inexorably, and nothing will change until the unsustainability of the resulting system is proven and everything crashes down. It’s worth remembering the times in history, though, when people have gotten pissed off enough to fight back. History has its revolutions and periods of strong reform. Not everything ends in famine, plague, chaos and anarchy. But it is difficult to figure out what is needed to wake our society up from its long nap in front of the television…