The Scientist reports that Elsevier, the world’s leading publisher of scientific and medical texts, has taken money from Merck and other pharmaceutical companies to issue official-looking journals that subtly pushed their products.

Scientific publishing giant Elsevier put out a total of six publications between 2000 and 2005 that were sponsored by unnamed pharmaceutical companies and looked like peer reviewed medical journals, but did not disclose sponsorship, the company has admitted.

Elsevier is conducting an “internal review” of its publishing practices after allegations came to light that the company produced a pharmaceutical company-funded publication in the early 2000s without disclosing that the “journal” was corporate sponsored.

The allegations involve the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, a publication paid for by pharmaceutical company Merck that amounted to a compendium of reprinted scientific articles and one-source reviews, most of which presented data favorable to Merck’s products. The Scientist obtained two 2003 issues of the journal — which bore the imprint of Elsevier’s Excerpta Medica — neither of which carried a statement obviating Merck’s sponsorship of the publication.

Check out copies of the Australian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine here and here.

This story follows recent reports that Wyeth, another pharmaceutical company, was paying medical ghostwriters to publish favorable articles of its hormone replacement drug Prempro. (In a biomedical publishing context, “ghostwriting” means “the practice in which a guest author, usually a clinician or scientist, is recruited and assigned to a journal article that he or she has not written—a fact that is not disclosed to the journal’s editors or readers.”) Perhaps a more thorough investigation of the whole biomedical publishing industry is called for.

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