One of the more unsavory aspects of both science and writing is the relationship between drug companies and scientific researchers. The integrity of scientific research depends on an honest examination of the evidence, as well as the fact that the research was conducted properly by the scientists and engineers listed on the papers. However, drug companies spend large amounts of money on research and development that depends on having the drugs they develop approved. Considering the fact that many scientists and researchers are funded by drug companies, and the recipe for ethical tensions and the question of the legitimacy of research is plain.
That this is more than merely a suspicion is demonstrated by evidence uncovered by Public Justice, the University of San Francisco, and PLoS Medicine (a medical research magazine) . This evidence can be found here: http://dida.library.ucsf.edu/documents.jsp and it is pretty damning. The evidence includes internal drug company documents, correspondence between drug companies and physicians, legal and regulatory documents from drug companies, court filings, depositions, expert reports. These documents are from Congressional investigations as well as several class action lawsuits over Vioxx, Neurontin, Norvir (an HIV drug), and various anti-psychotic drugs and their very ugly side effects.
What adds a bit of spice as a writer to this problem is that not only were the drug companies clearly very interested in receiving friendly scientific reports that they could use for their advertising and regulatory efforts, but that many of the reports under the names of scientists were ghostwritten by writers employed by the drug company themselves. This adds to the ethical tangles of funding research to boost product sales the highly dubious practice of writing research under a false name and then using that “evidence” to back up one’s marketing push. When this “research” ends up ignoring or minimizing serious and potentially deadly side effects, the ethical problems grow even larger.
Now, at this point it should become clear why a medical research magazine was a party to the lawsuits forcing the release of these documents to certain nosy members of the general public like myself (between this site and wikileaks I could be busy reading for weeks). This site names the drug company employees responsible for the unethical conduct revealed in the documents provided. As the legitimacy of medical research depends on ethical practices by researchers and writers, clearly a medical research magazine is highly interested in defending its own professional honor and integrity against those whose actions threaten the reputations of everyone else in the industry.
Is ghostwriting at all ethical, though? At its heart, ghostwriting is where someone does the work of writing while someone else, more famous, gets the credit for it. The whole point of ghostwriting is to create the illusion that such-and-such famous person is writing this book about their amazing insights and experiences and in reality they are at best giving the experiences to be molded by an anonymous but vastly more competent author. There is often the sense of fraud here, and the fact that the writing is done according to the specifications but not the actual writing of the famous name on the cover gives ghostwritten works (including most Autobiographies and Memoirs) a disreputably fake quality that makes the whole genre suspect. I suppose it is easier to falsify accounts when the author has no actual memories of what is being written about–just as it is easier to falsify research when one is not actually a researcher at all, but merely a shill.
So, what we are left with is the fact that ghostwriting is closely related to the falsification of the written record, whether it is through “autobiographies” that are really not to “research” that is “conducted” by sales and marketing employees for drug companies under the names of supposedly independent scientists. There are ethical issues in writing under an assumed name–as one uses someone’s credibility and name to sell what is not his or her work. Additionally, when this fraudulent work involves the actual falsification of research or history, the ethical problems only increase. When these frauds harm or kill other people, ghost writers can even become murderers. That’s a lot to answer for.