Friday, January 25, 2013

More on Ghostwriting

As promised in a recent post--
--I'm returning to summarize the main message of a 3-part blog post by Drs. Jonathan Leo and Jeffrey Lacasse, of which the 3rd part has just appeared:

Drs. Leo and Lacasse take aim especially at academic institutions and organizations and ask how serious they are about eliminating ghostwriting. Not very serious, they conclude, if they cannot even agree on when ghostwriting occurs.

They go on to say that the basic question is: did people make substantial contributions to writing the paper and yet are not listed in the authors' byline? If so the paper is ghostwritten. That is, the named authors did not actually do the work that the paper's byline suggests that they did; and the source of the ideas contained in the paper may be very different from what the readers are led to think.

They then proceed to look at some recent cases where ghostwriting was alleged and various institutions defended the purported authors, denying that ghostwriting occurred. The reasons for the denial include:
  • the named authors signed off on the final draft
  • the facts contained in the paper are accurate
  • there's nothing wrong with employing a skilled medical writer to help make a paper more readable
  • at the time a certain paper was written there were no policies in place regarding ghostwriting
Drs. Leo and Lacasse reply that all these might be good things to know, but none of them address the basic issue of whether the paper was ghostwritten.

Perhaps the most important point they make is that by saying that look, why worry, experts say the facts in thuis paper are accurate, or something like that, these supposedly academic institutions that supposedly stand for the integrity of scholarship seem to be saying to readers, just trust us, it does not matter who actually wrote the paper. If that's their position, then why bother to list authors on the byline at all; just write "trust us, it's all true." Which of course is ridiculous. Which of course means that what's really going on is academic institutions refusing to take seriously that one of their own faculty, who's a local star for bringing big bucks from industry into the university, may have misbehaved. And so long as that remains the prevailing attitude, nothing seriously will be done about ghostwriting.  My own previous question remains on the table--show me when faculty who allow their name to be put on ghostwritten papers actually suffer in the advancement of their academic careers, and I'll show you a time when maybe ghostwriting will start to go away. (For one of the rare cases in which such consequences appear to have occurred, see:


John L. Munsell said...

Many of the blogs are writing ghost stories based on their assumption. True story is very rare.

Anonymous said...

John, could you phrase what you were trying to say more clearly?