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Ghost Management: How Much of the Medical Literature Is Shaped Behind the Scenes by the Pharmaceutical Industry?

  • Sergio Sismondo
  • Published: September 25, 2007
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0040286
  • Featured in PLOS Collections

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A response from the American Medical Writers Association

Posted by plosmedicine on 31 Mar 2009 at 00:14 GMT

Author: Thomas Gegeny
Position: Secretary, American Medical Writers Association
Institution: No affiliation was given
E-mail: thomas.gegeny@gmail.com
Additional Authors: Tom Lang, Tad Coles, Melanie Fridl Ross, Sue Hudson, Marianne Mallia, Mary Royer, Mary Whitman
Submitted Date: October 02, 2007
Published Date: October 3, 2007
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

The recent article by Sergio Sismondo(1) substantially mischaracterizes the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA).* Specifically, Dr. Sismondo states that AMWA’s membership comprises mostly employees of medical education and communication companies (MECCs), “. . . judging from the organization's officers and the content of its conferences.” Extrapolating the composition of a 5,500-member organization based on the affiliations of 2 of the 5 current volunteer officers is misleading. Our members work in a range of settings, including pharmaceutical and medical device companies, universities and medical schools, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, journals, and many other businesses and organizations. Fully a third are self-employed.

Equally incorrect is the statement that our conference is “dominated” by publication planning topics. As is readily apparent from our Web site, of the 250 educational lectures, workshops, and roundtable discussions at our upcoming national conference, none is on publications planning, and very few include topics even related to MECCs. Rather, AMWA has always provided a diverse spectrum of educational topics, including ethics in medical publications, critical appraisal of the medical literature, health literacy, copyright, writing research grants, regulatory writing, medical education, and principles of biomedical research. Our organization provides the opportunity to explore all current issues in medical writing, including MECCs, even if it does not necessarily endorse them.

The author also did not cite AMWA’s Code of Ethics(2) and Position Statement on the Contribution of Medical Writers to Scientific Publications,(3) which are available on our Web site. These documents call for the routine and universal practice of acknowledging pertinent professional and financial relationships between all authors and sponsors and the substantial contributions of medical writers to manuscripts. In fact, we also note the absence from Sismondo’s essay of references to other important advances in disclosure and authorship, including Good Publications Practice(4) and guidelines from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE),(5) both of which AMWA endorses and that are integrated within our educational program.

We wish to set the record straight concerning AMWA, an organization that has educated professionals in this field for almost 7 decades.(6) We hope that the misleading characterization of AMWA and its members in the PLoS Medicine article reflects only inadequate research and not outright bias because we agree wholeheartedly with the author’s contention that scientific publications must be kept as free from bias as possible.

*AMWA is a nonprofit, educational organization that was founded in 1940 by physicians seeking to improve the quality of medical writing and editing. Grounded in its Code of Ethics,(2) AMWA’s mission is to promote excellence in medical communication and to provide educational resources in support of that goal.

References

1. Sismondo S (2007) Ghost Management: How Much of the Medical Literature Is Shaped Behind the Scenes by the Pharmaceutical Industry? PLoS Med 4(9): e286
2. AMWA’s Code of Ethics. http://www.amwa.org/defau.... Accessed September 27, 2007
3. AMWA’s Position Statement on the Contribution of Medical Writers to Scientific Publications. http://www.amwa.org/defau.... Accessed September 27, 2007
4. Good Publication Practice for pharmaceutical companies. http://www.gpp-guidelines.... Accessed September 27, 2007
5. ICMJE guidance on Sponsorship, Authorship, and Accountability. http://www.icmje.org/spon.... Accessed September 27, 2007
6. Royer MG and Hamilton CW. The Story Behind the AMWA Task Force on the Contribution of Medical Writers to Scientific Publications. AMWA Journal 17(3): 5

Competing interests declared: Although I (Thomas Gegeny) am employed by one of the companies cited as an MECC reference in the Sismondo article, the contents and perspective of this letter is written by me and the other authors solely in our roles as members of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). This letter represents no other interests, relationships, or purposes nor any other organizations or entities with which we as individuals may have affiliation, interest, or employment.