Kate Johnson's Medical Musings

Life through the eyes of a medical journalist

Spinning the Science: Big Pharma’s Not Alone.

By Kate Johnson – October  14, 2009

In just a few days Dr. Supachai Rerks-Ngarm, from Thailand’s Ministry of Health, and members of the U.S. Military will present their HIV vaccine study to their peers at the AIDS Vaccine conference in Paris.

It won’t be their first presentation of their findings, but they probably wish it was.

Their first presentation to the world’s media was a bit of a circus, that left many wishing the substance had matched the hype.

As a medical journalist I’ve seen my share of circus acts, and collected a whole folder of abandoned stories to show for it.

Continue reading


October 14, 2009 Posted by | Medical Writing, Uncategorized | , , , | 3 Comments

Big Pharma and Medicine: Is it Unrealistic to Apply the Same Ethical Standards to Publishing Research?

By Kate Johnson – October 12, 2009

Commenting on my recent blog about medical ghostwriting, Adam Jacobs, Ph.D., emphasized his position that “most medical writing funded by the pharmaceutical industry is perfectly ethical, with no attempts made to ‘spin’ the science.”

Adam Jacobs is well-versed on the subject of ethical medical writing. He is former president of the European Medical Writers Association, set up the group’s ghostwriting taskforce in 2003, and co-authored the EMWA guidelines on the role of medical writers in peer-reviewed publications.

He may be right that medical writers do not spin the science themselves, but sometimes the science is already spun by the time it gets to them – and it’s not just pharmaceutical companies that do the spinning. As a medical journalist, I’ve seen independent researchers perform some clever manoeuvers with their data when presenting their yet-to-be published studies at scientific conferences. Continue reading

October 12, 2009 Posted by | Medical Writing | , , , | 5 Comments

Ghostwriting – from “The Inside”: Outrage Hinges on Unclear Definitions

Ghostwriting from “The Inside” : Outrage Hinges on Unclear Definitions

By Kate Johnson

The Journal of the American Medical Association’s latest revelation of ghostwriting within its own pages and those of other top medical journals should come as no surprise to most medical academics. 

Why then the outrage from the general public?

My view “from the inside” reveals some glaring discrepancies in our understanding of the definition of authorship. Continue reading


September 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 4 Comments

What IS Medical Ghostwriting? Don’t throw the Baby out with the Bathwater.

Published September 1, 2009 in the Op-Ed section of the Montreal Gazette

By Kate Johnson

Barbara Sherwin  and McGill University’s unfortunate tangle with pharmaceutical ghostwriting could deal a serious blow to the publication of sound, ethical research worldwide if the reaction is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

As medical ethicist Margaret Somerville, also of McGill, has already pointed out, Sherwin’s mistake could have been made by any number of well-intentioned, busy researchers.

The “publish or perish” panic in medical academia has many brilliant researchers scrambling to churn out enough papers to justify their jobs. John Eden, another well-known researcher implicated in this ghostwriting scandal, recently admitted this to Seattle blogger William Heisel.

As a medical editor, I help researchers with their writing –  enabling them to communicate the results of their studies to the wider medical community.

This is not ghostwriting. Continue reading


August 30, 2009 Posted by | Medical Writing | | 4 Comments