Best Evidence Analyses and Commentary

Galloping Ghosts (Writing) and Medical Journal Retractions 9-23-09
September 23, 2009

A strongly worded editorial appearing in the open access journal Public Library of Science - Medicine (PLoS Med) suggested the retraction of medical journal articles written by unacknowledged authors.

In Drugs in the News posted August 5, 2009 , ghostwriting was defined as a pharmaceutical industry practice of contracting with medical communications companies to write medical journal articles and solicit and pay physicians or pharmacists to be authors. The extent of ghostwriting in the medical literature is unknown.

The PLoS editorialists ask the poignant question and give an uncomfortable answer for users of the medical literature:

Q: "What ... can I truly trust as being unbiased?"

A: "... sadly, for some or even many journal articles, we just don't know."

The PLoS Med editors argue and in our view correctly "... any papers where this breach [ghostwriting] is substantiated should be immediately retracted and those authors found to have not declared such interest should be banned from any subsequent publication in the journal and their misconduct reported to their institutions."

Readers interested in exploring ghostwriting in greater detail are referred to the PLoS Med's Wyeth Ghostwriting Archive at

Article Retractions

We asked the reference librarians at the Learning Resource Center if the there is a method to identify retracted medical journal articles in PubMed. In fact, there is. Retracted publications are an article type the same way a review or a clinical trial is an article type. There is a LIMIT box that can be checked for retracted articles or the word "retraction" can be added to a search. Additional information on the National Library of Medicine's policy on journal article retractions can be found on their Web site at

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