Ghosts in the machine: publication planning in the medical sciences

Soc Stud Sci. 2009 Apr;39(2):171-98. doi: 10.1177/0306312708101047.


Publication of pharmaceutical company-sponsored research in medical journals, and its presentation at conferences and meetings, is mostly governed by 'publication plans' that extract the maximum amount of scientific and commercial value out of data and analyses through carefully constructed and placed papers. Clinical research is typically performed by contract research organizations, analyzed by company statisticians, written up by independent medical writers, approved and edited by academic researchers who then serve as authors, and the whole process organized and shepherded through to journal publication by publication planners. This paper reports on a conference of an international association of publication planners. It describes and analyzes their work in an ecological framework that relates it to marketing departments of pharmaceutical companies, medical journals and publishers, academic authors, and potential audiences. The medical research described here forms a new kind of corporate science, designed to look like traditional academic work, but performed largely to market products.

MeSH terms

  • Authorship
  • Biomedical Research / economics*
  • Drug Industry*
  • Humans
  • Marketing of Health Services / methods
  • Periodicals as Topic
  • Publishing* / ethics
  • Publishing* / standards
  • Publishing* / trends
  • Research Support as Topic