The EMWA and AMWA ghostwriting survey

I am pleased to report that a little piece of research I’ve done, together with my co-author Cindy Hamilton (current president of AMWA), has recently been published in The Write Stuff, the journal of EMWA.

Much has been written in the medical literature about ghostwriting by medical writers. Everyone agrees that it’s a bad thing, but there has been amazingly little hard data about how common it actually is. Our research has attempted to fill that gap. We invited all members of AMWA and EMWA to complete an online survey in 2005 and again in 2008, and asked various questions about whether those medical writers writing on behalf of others were acknowledged for their work or not. Those who were not acknowledged were, by the most commonly accepted definition, ghostwriters.

What we found is both alarming and encouraging. Encouraging, because things are definitely moving in the right direction. Ghostwriting was substantially less common in 2008 than it was in 2005. We don’t know why that is, but I’d like to think that the EMWA guidelines for medical writers, of which I was co-author, had something to do with it. However, the alarming part is that ghostwriting, even in 2008, was far more common than I would have liked to think it is.  Our survey estimated that 62% of papers written by medical writers were “ghostwritten” in 2005,  compared with 42% in 2008.  At least acknowledgement is now more common than ghostwriting, but not by a very comfortable margin. And possibly not at all, because our study suffered from many of the biases inherent in surveys, and it’s quite possible that we have underestimated the true frequency of ghostwriting.

I’m happy to be able to say that all the papers we write at Dianthus include proper acknowledgement of the writer, but out there in the wider industry, the message that ghostwriting is no longer acceptable seems not to be as widely known as it should be.

Click here to read the full report.

About the author

Adam Jacobs

set up Dianthus Medical in 1999. He is an experienced medical writer and statistician, has a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Cambridge and an MSc in medical statistics from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter @dianthusmed

6 responses to "The EMWA and AMWA ghostwriting survey"

  1. Hi Adam

    I was just reviewing an article one of my trainees has written for our intranet based on Karen Woolley’s retraction paper in CMRO, and by following a couple of links from the Retraction Watch blog on the subject, I ended up here. It would be very interesting to see what a further 3 years of developments has brought in terms of the proportion of acknowledged vs unacknowledged writing… hint hint!

    You would have to stick to the original sample group, of course, and by using AMWA and EMWA members you have a self-selected sample with a vested interest, but it would be really interesting to see if the downward trend was continuing (good), accelerating (excellent) or dissipating (let’s hope not!).

    Just a thought!


    • Adam Jacobs Adam

      Hi Jackie

      Don’t worry, we’re on the case! We’ve already started planning the 2011 version of the survey, which should go live in November.


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