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Mining the ghostwriting documents results in university investigation

In what appears to be the first report by an investigative journalist who mined the ghostwriting archive created by PLoS Medicine last week, a Canadian HRT expert is named as a participant in Wyeth’s ghostwriting scheme.

Barbara Sherwin, a McGill University psychology professor widely considered an expert on hormones, was the sole author of a 2000 JAGS article arguing that estrogen was beneficial for memory loss in older patients, as well as for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis,  colorectal cancer, and all-cause mortality in postmenopausal women. But an investigation of the ghostwriting documents by Toronto Star reporter Stuart Laidlaw shows that the article was actually written by DesignWrite, the medical writing company hired by Wyeth to promote its products.  Dr. Sherwin was faxed the article 18 months prior to its publication, with a request from DesignWrite to “review the enclosed outline,” says Mr. Laidlaw’s article.

Mr. Laidlaw broke the story in Saturday’s newspaper with a headline “Canadian named in HRT scandal.”  Reports by the Montreal Gazette, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the news wire United Press International followed. His earlier report, “Ghostwriting is bad medicine” appeared last week.  An article in today’s Gazette says that ghostwriting is common.

McGill University, Canada’s second largest university, is now investigating the allegations against Dr. Sherwin.

Mr. Laidlaw said yesterday that he feels the practice of Wyeth to have international reach in its ghostwriting campaign for Prempro means that the PLoS Medicine documents can and should be mined by journalists and researchers for local content.

Recently, 1,500 documents detailing the practice of ghostwriting in relation to the marketing of hormone replacement therapy and other drugs were released into the public domain as a result of a court case intervention by PLoS Medicine and The New York Times. To make the released documents publicly available without delay, PLoS has created the Wyeth Ghostwriting Archive.

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