Who Decides if a Substance is Safe: Investigating Scientific Ghostwriting

How can consumers be sure that the products they purchase a safe for use? Is the research reliable, or did it come from a company with a strong vested interest in the matter? Science Magazine explores a recent case concerning “ghostwriting.”

Earlier this year an investigation was launched into a suspected ghostwriting case regarding a paper published in 2000 that concluded Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup has no harmful effects on humans. Since the publication of this research, several individuals have come forward claiming that exposure to the primary ingredient, glyphosate, caused them to develop Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Evidence that Monsanto employees suggested to ghost write an additional study might indicate that they may have done so in the past for the research regarding the safety of Glyphosate. One email by a Monsanto employee cited by Science Magazine stated, “An option would be to add [toxicology researchers] to have their names on the publication, but [Monsanto] would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just sign their names so to speak. Recall this is how we handled Williams Kroes & Munro 2000.” This has caused an attorney representing plaintiffs currently in litigation against Monsanto to accuse the company of in “trying to shape the science around glyphosate.”

Gary Williams, M.D., who explores the “metabolic and genetic effects of chemical carcinogens” was accused of placing his name on a paper primarily ghostwritten by Monsanto which claims that the product is safe for humans to use. However, Williams maintains that “I’ve been in the field for 35 years. I’ve got a global reputation…I’m not about to try and compromise that by signing up to a paper that has been ghostwritten by someone else.”

Since this story broke, the New York State Medical School, the faculty of which Williams is a member, has launched and closed an investigation regarding the ghostwriting case and stated they have found “no evidence” proving that Williams was involved in any ghostwriting.

Copyright for image: jk1991 / 123Rf Stock Photo / License Summary.

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