Monday, September 21st, 2009
I couldn’t wait until Halloween to write about the service of ghost writers. Full disclosure–some of my best friends are ghost writers and I have been one myself many times.
So I don’t see what the big deal is.
In The New York Times’ Friday, September 18 front-page Business Day section story, “Unmasking the Ghosts: Medical Editors Take On Hidden Writers,” Natasha Singer and Duff Wilson, write: “But now, in light of recently released evidence that some drug makers have gone to great lengths to turn scientific articles into marketing vehicles for their products, some influential medical editors are cracking down on industry-financed ghostwriting. And they are getting help from some members of Congress.”
My first reaction was: Duh. Pharmaceutical companies have been doing this for years and years. This doesn’t make it right or wrong…I was reacting to the “in light of recently released evidence” part.
My second: Aren’t we missing the point? Shouldn’t the issue be not who writes about a study but who pays for it? Isn’t the real objection about physicians or clinicians involved with pharmaceutical companies actually about whether some might bend the rules because pharmaceutical companies pay them to research and report on the effectiveness and reactions to their drugs? Isn’t the concern that their findings come out glossing over negatives so that a new drug–or new use of a traditional drug–promptly acquires FDA approval?
Back to the ghost writing issue. If you broke your arm, you might ask me to fill out a check for, say, $1,000 so you wouldn’t have to expend the energy. Then, you sign the check. The document would be valid, right?
Similarly, can’t we assume that the person whose byline appears on an article–whether it’s about architecture, interior design, beauty products, fashion or medical issues–has read, approved, stands behind and signs off on its contents?
Does every doctor–or entrepreneur, business executive, architect, interior designer or manufacturer–have the time to write or even know how to write effectively? No.
In the case of medical ghost writers, would it help calm editorial and Congressional nerves if articles were bylined, “By Crackerjack Researcher, MD as told to Great Writer?” or “in collaboration with Great Writer?”
What is the difference between a pharmaceutical company looking to spread the word about successful research about a drug through the experience and implied endorsement of a doctor and a manufacturer of fine furniture using photographs of handsome interiors that include their dining room chairs and bedroom pieces in a fabulous house designed by a well-regarded decorator?
So what am I missing? Please tell me what you think about ghost writing.