S&R Blog

This Article Rated “R” For Scientific Rigor and Relevancy

I’m one of those weirdos who most enjoys a movie when I know the plot or ending beforehand. 2001: A Space Odyssey? More interesting when you know the ambiguous plotline and can really think about what the surreal imagery and multilayered themes mean. The Godfather? More enjoyable if you’ve already seen the climactic, juxtaposed baptism/murder scene near the end of the film.

Often I’ll put a movie on my Netflix queue, then go immediately to Wikipedia to read the plot summary. And I just might take that DVD, watch the final scene, then view the movie from the beginning. Why? Well, I like surprises and plot twists and all, but I just find it more enjoyable to know the “end” so that I can better understand and more enjoy the “means”.

I got thinking about how this peculiar behavior relates to reading journal articles after seeing Teresa Rogstad’s recent AMWA Journal feature (2009;24(4):176-181), “Judging the Quality of Medical Literature.” In a succinct review, she lays out the key things (eg, study design, bias, sample size) to assess in determining the “methodologic strength” and “application usefulness” of published research. Now on my burgeoning “must-read” list for nonscientists in Pharma, her article might be of value to even the most CONSORT-literate folks.

Consumers of scientific literature might well combine my contradictory movie habit and Rogstad’s criteria by approaching their next scientific article as follows:

  • Read the Abstract (plot) to help assess the quality and direction of the study.
  • Read the Discussion section (ending) to understand the research implications.
  • Read the entire article to understand the data’s finer points and full meaning. As with a film, this method can help maximize the reader’s use—and dare I say, enjoyment—of the “story” that the writer and researcher(s) have crafted.

We at SRMC believe this assessment of the quality of the research “story” is crucial to the most effective use of published clinical data. And it’s one of the many capabilities that we offer to help clients who want to optimize the impact of the research articles they use to support their products.

So if you’ve ever asked yourself—Is this/that journal article good? or Should I cite this study?—we can help you find the answer. And if you have questions about how the movie ends, we can answer those, too.

Ted J. Slowik, PhD

Director, Scientific Information, S+R Medical Communications


Ghostbusting: Has the criticism of medical writing gone too far?

The debate over who should write medical journal articles has been raging for years. Although heated and passionate at times, these debates are often imprecise about what constitutes ghostwriting or what possible benefit there is in employing a professional medical writer. Let’s clear up some half-truths and misconceptions.

He’s not a ghost if you can see him.

There are definitely ghostwriters among us. At its most extreme, ghostwriting is the use of an invisible writer hired by the marketing department of a pharmaceutical company to produce a selectively favorable report of their product, with authorship attributed to a high-profile investigator whose sole participation is cashing their honorarium check. This extreme example is shunned by most who are responsible for producing medical communications. More often than not, journal articles are written by medical writers who adhere to rigorous ethical guidelines (EMWA, ICMJE, WAME, AMWA). Central to appropriate medical writing is close collaboration of the professional writer with faculty authors who direct and control content.

Who are you going to call?

Another crucial aspect of professional medical writing is transparency. Successful medical publications are a team effort. Just as physicians investigate, statisticians calculate, and peer reviewers authenticate, the job of the medical writer is to communicate. Skilled medical writers perform the time-intensive tasks involved in clarifying and translating data into a submission-ready manuscript. Full disclosure of the contributions of all members of the team is essential to restore trust in medical literature.

Is it time to give up the ghost?

Investigators cite limited time as the most common reason why they do not convert clinical trial data into publishable manuscripts. A 2005 study of publication rates of oncology clinical trial data found that up to one third of clinical research in oncology remains unpublished.  A recent survey for the Food and Drug Administration found that encouraging the participation of medical writers would help reduce the non-publication rate associated with industry-sponsored clinical trials.

And now a word from our sponsor…

Much of our medical literature is funded directly or indirectly by the pharmaceutical industry. We need them and they need us. At our best, the collaboration results in significant advances in healthcare. A final step toward eliminating hidden biases and restoring trust in medical literature is full disclosure of industry support and open access to clinical study data.

Carol Gorman