Ghostwriting–Don’t Blame the Writers

Anyone involved with medical communications knows well the recent controversies surrounding “ghostwritten” journal articles, i.e., articles that were written by medical writers who received no recognition for their work. I’m not going to get into a big discussion about the situation here, too swamped with deadlines right now, but I just had to post about something that just happened.

I got an email this morning from a doctor asking if I could help him write some articles and submit them to journals. He would provide all the information. Certainly, I told him, I’d be happy to. We discussed a price and all seemed well until I said, “Oh, you should know that you will need to give me some kind of credit for assisting with the article.” He was flummoxed, didn’t know what I was talking about. So I explained about the whole ghostwriting thing, the ethics policies of the American Medical Writers Association, etc etc. I stressed that I was not expecting to be named as an author, only to have some kind of blurb along the lines of, “Thanks to Debra Gordon, MS, for her assistance with the drafting of this manuscript.”

He just emailed back that he couldn’t accept that!

Oh well, nothing ventured nothing gained.

5 Responses to “Ghostwriting–Don’t Blame the Writers”

  1. Adam Jacobs

    Interesting point about the medical journals, Jayne.

    I often wonder why journals don't do a bit more on that front. I and some colleagues published a checklist in PLoS Medicine last year that was specifically designed to help journals avoid accepting ghostwritten manuscripts (http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000023).

    To my knowledge, not a single journal is yet using the checklist, not even PLoS Medicine. This is despite various articles in PLoS Medicine since then about the evils of ghostwriting. They are very clear that there is a problem and that they care about it, but seem surprisingly reluctant to do anything about it.

    It's a bit of a mystery why that is.

  2. Jayne

    I am not surprised at all. Demand for ghostwriters is increasing rapidly and there will be plenty of takers. What AMWA should initiate is a collaboration with AMA and they should develop the same guidelines for their members as AMWA has. In addition, publications (the one that they are so vocal about the ghostwriting problems) should assure not to accept MS from physicians or any other author without a signature that the MS they submitting for publication is developed and written entire by the author without any assistance from any other professional.
    Until we do not have a complete cooperation within all parties involved, we will continue to experience the same difficulties; and those of us that follow guidelines and wish to be ethical will be at the losing end.

  3. Bruce

    Many doctors don't see any problem in ghostwriting. Perhaps they've been conditioned over the years by working with agencies and medcomms, or just haven't thought about the implications. I have a list of articles on the problems of ghostwriting that I send to people who react like this. If you don't get the contract, you can at least educate them.

  4. Adam Jacobs

    Interesting that that was from an individual doc when in the popular imagination it's the pharma industry who are the big bad guys in the ghostwriting story.

    Anyway, good on you for sticking to your principles.

  5. tobintouch

    Wow – that's kind of fishy, don't you think? I wonder why he balked. It's nice though, to have that AMWA policy statement to turn to – I'm glad it's out there.

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