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Open Access Short Report

Knowledge of undisclosed corporate authorship (“ghostwriting”) reduces the perceived credibility of antidepressant research: a randomized vignette study with experienced nurses

Jeffrey R Lacasse1*, Jonathan Leo2, Andrea N Cimino1, Kristen F Bean1 and Melissa Del-Colle1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Social Work, College of Public Programs, Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

2 Lincoln Memorial University- DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine, Harrogate, TN, USA

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:490  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-490

Published: 5 September 2012

Abstract

Background

There is much concern regarding undisclosed corporate authorship (“ghostwriting”) in the peer-reviewed medical literature. However, there are no studies of how disclosure of ghostwriting alone impacts the perceived credibility of research results.

Findings

We conducted a randomized vignette study with experienced nurses (n = 67), using a fictional study of antidepressant medication. The vignette described a randomized controlled trial and gave efficacy and adverse effect rates. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two authorship conditions, either (a) traditional authorship (n = 35) or (b) ghostwritten paper (n = 32), and then completed a perceived credibility scale. Our primary hypothesis was that the median perceived credibility score total would be lower in the group assigned to the ghostwritten paper. Our secondary hypotheses were that participants randomized to the ghostwritten condition would be less likely to (a) recommend the medication, and (b) want the psychiatrist in the vignette as their own clinician. We also asked respondents to estimate efficacy and adverse effect rates for the medication.

There was a statistically significant difference in perceived credibility among those assigned to the ghostwriting condition. This amounted to a difference of 9.0 points on the 35-point perceived credibility scale as tested through the Mann–Whitney U test. There was no statistically significant difference between groups in terms of recommending the medication, wanting the featured clinician as their own, or in estimates of efficacy or adverse effects (p > .05 for all such comparisons).

Conclusion

In this study, disclosure of ghostwriting resulted in lower perceived credibility ratings.