post by Bill Gardner
This is the title of an autobiographical essay by Linda Logdberg, a former medical ghostwriter, published in PLoS Medicine. She was originally a bioscience PhD, then left it to become a ghostwriter. What is frightening is how little changed when she made the transition.
Several things about an academic career did not encourage me to continue, although I loved research and working in the lab. These included the difficulty of getting tenure and the possibility of finding myself unemployed in my mid-40s... Ironically, though, it was the ethics of authorship that sent me fleeing academia. I ran afoul of a colleague in my last [postdoctoral] research position, who assumed that postdocs would draft his grant renewal application. I commented offhandedly one day, “Well, I for one would never write something and have someone else sign his name to it—that would be unethical.” Dr. X told me that that was when he realized that it would not work out for me to continue there, as my attitude was unacceptably insubordinate.
She then took a job as a freelance medical writer, writing
...slide kits, monographs, executive summaries, journal articles, backgrounders, newsletters, competitive analyses, publication plans, video scripts, audio scripts, and continuing medical education (CME) programs for physicians and nurses. Each piece (“job”, in advertisingspeak) was born out of the publications planning strategy developed for a fee by the medical education company for the pharmaceutical corporation.
However, the medical writing job didn't work out.
...ethical issues began to tap me on the shoulder: perhaps the most memorable example of this was a contraceptive product that caused severe, unpredictable vaginal bleeding in some women. My job was to draft a monograph that would profile the product's benefits, one of which, according to the client, was that although the bleeding could be severe, it was at least something that women could anticipate. In other words—the bad news is that a meteorite will strike you, but the good news is—a meteorite will strike you!
Eventually, she went public about her trade in the The New York Times, and that ended her ghostwriting career.
So why, given her qualms about being expected to ghostwrite as a postdoc, did she take a job as a ghostwriter?
the factors that kept me in medical writing apply to most medical writers. First, I believed that I was helping people: sick people need drugs, and physicians need to know about those drugs to prescribe them appropriately. Second, I had young children and valued the flexibility of working at home... Third, the work was interesting: I interacted with top researchers [with] an ease of access that I never would have had as an assistant professor. Fourth, the money was good. Really good, especially compared with the typical assistant professor salary. And... it was fun. Traveling, eating in high-end restaurants, wearing fashionable clothes, and rushing to meet important deadlines—what's not to like?
What you do not see in that list is the intention to find the truth and tell it. Presumably because that is supposed to go without saying? Neither do you see a concern about truthful attribution of authorship in publication. But maybe that is understandable, because if truthful attribution of authorship is not normative in the university, it would be absurd to expect to find it in an advertising firm.
Footnote: If your mind works this way, you might recurse for a while on the question of whether an article that is written by a ghostwriter in her own name is, or is not, ghostwritten, and, hence whether the author is a ghostwriter, or not. "Mind works" meant loosely, in my case.