Medical Journals Slammed By Former Editor
Medical journals have become "creatures of the drug industry" rife
with fraudulent research and packed with articles ghost written by
pharmaceutical companies, an ex British Medical Journal editor has claimed.
In a highly critical book Dr Richard Smith, who edited the BMJ for 13
years, said: "Medical journals have many problems and need reform. The
research they contain is hard to interpret and prone to bias and peer
review. The process at the heart of journals and all of science, is deeply
Dr Smith, author of a new book entitled 'The Trouble with Medical
Journals' and now chief executive of United Healthcare Europe, said the book
was an honest analysis of trends in medical journal publishing and a frank
account of his own experiences as editor of the BMJ.
He said: "It is increasingly apparent that many of the studies
journals contain are fraudulent, and the scientific community has not
responded adequately to the problem of fraud."
He added: "I went away to Venice to write this book and I was rather
taken aback by how negatively it turned out. When I put together all the
evidence on journals I was surprised by the extent of the problems."
Dr Smith went on: "Medical journals have increasingly become creatures
of the drug industry. The authors of studies in journals have often had
little do with the work they are reporting.
"The use of ghost writers by pharmaceutical companies is rampant and
many studies have conflicts of interest that are not declared."
He estimates that research fraud is probably common in the 30,000 or
so scientific journals published throughout the world.
The book, published by the Royal Society of Medicine Press, cites a
number of dramatic cases of questionable research including Dr Andrew
Wakefield's MMR paper published in the Lancet in 1998 that cast doubts on
the safety of the triple vaccine which protects against measles, mumps and
The same journal published a study six years later concluding there
was no evidence to support a link between MMR and autism.
Dr Smith says a study funded by Vioxx maker Merck and Co and published
in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2000 failed to mention that three
patients suffered heart attacks while using the now withdrawn painkiller.
And earlier this year, South Korean human cloning pioneer Hwang
Woo-suk was fired from his professorship at Seoul National University
following allegations he faked some of his research.
The Trouble with Medical Journals examines the important relationships
between journals and patients, the mass media, pharmaceutical companies,
open access and the developing world.
Dr Kamran Abbasi, editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of
Medicine, said: "Medical journals influence policy makers, doctors, and
ultimately patient care, the best example is the MMR crisis. Richard Smith's
book tells it like it is and the truth hurts - money can corrupt science and
Matthew Worrall, of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical
Industry, said they took research fraud "very seriously indeed."
He said: "We support the need for quality peer-reviewed journals and
the full publication of trial results. Last year there was an international
agreement for clinical trial registrations so all trials would be registered
and not only those that made it into medical journals.
"We have a stringent code of practice and are the leading detector of
research fraud. In the last five years we have taken more cases to the
General Medical Council than anyone else."
Dr Smith worked for the BMJ for 25 years, and was editor and chief
executive of the BMJ Publishing Group between 1991 and 2004