Merck criticized over magazine sponsorship

    Some say the packaging of a medical research collection from Merck and Elsevier was deceptive.

    Merck, and a leading publishing company, are weathering criticism for distributing a publication without clear disclosure about the drug maker’s sponsorship of the science magazine.
    (Photo: Flickr/usabiomedlib)

    Listen to the radio report:

    [audio:090515tedrugs.mp3]

    Critics say the collection of studies was published to look like a peer-reviewed medical journal, when it was really a marketing tool for the New Jersey pharmaceutical giant. Dr. Christine Laine is an editor for the Annals of Internal Medicine. She says research is often re-packaged to promote a drug, but the advertiser’s sponsorship is usually very apparent.

    Laine: This one has a lot of the trappings of a peer-reviewed publication, and I think that’s what is concerning everybody in the medical, scientific publishing community because this seemed particularly, I guess, deceptive.

    Publisher Elsevier distributed the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine between 2002 and 2005. Merck says later issues included a disclaimer that the publication was “primarily made up of company-sponsored articles.”

    Medical writers and editors are criticizing Elsevier and Merck for re-packaging the research in a way that some say was deceptive to consumers. Delaware County writer Bob Norris helps drug companies and scientists write up the results of their research.

    Norris: In my opinion there’s nothing wrong with collecting peer-reviewed papers and passing them out to doctors or investigators or scientists. The issue is that this journal, as it was called, was made to look like a more typical peer-reviewed journal.

    Elsevier now says the collection sponsored by Merck lacked proper disclosures, and calls the practice unacceptable.

    The publishing practice was first reported by The Scientist magazine. The revelation is renewing debate about transparency in medical publishing. Dr. Laine says the collection seems designed to deceive physicians.

    Laine: If Elsevier had disclosed that the sole funding source for this particular publication was Merck, readers would have know what they were getting.

    More information:
    Elsevier statement (pdf link)
    Merck statement (pdf link)

     

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.