Ghostwriting has been in the news lately –- but not because of some celebrity autobiography or other fluff piece. A New York Times article published August 5, 2009 reported about recently-released court documents that show that Wyeth Pharmaceutical hired a medical communications firm to draft articles that were published in medical journals between 1998 and 2005 emphasizing the benefits of hormone replacement therapy.
According to the Times’ article, the communications firm, which was paid by Wyeth, outlined the articles, drafted them, and then solicited top physicians to sign on as author of the articles, even though many of the physicians contributed little or not writing. (An August 22, 2009 article in the Toronto Star described a journal article published under the name of a Canadian researcher that was among the revealed court documents.)
As a communications consultant, I worry that such unsavory practices reflect poorly on my profession. On occasion, I am hired to write on behalf of someone else. (I suspect most good communications consultants are so hired from time-to-time.) When I am hired to write something that will go out under another individual’s name, my job is to put the named author’s expertise into words and my writing is always under the named author’s direction and subject to their close review. The idea of writing something and then going in search of a name to have it published under is not –- to my mind -– what ghostwriting is about.