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Unethical Ghostwriting

Ethical Editing – Ghostwriting is an unhealthy practice

 January 16, 2014

unethical ghostwriting
Image SciELO.

(Editor's Note: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed below are not necessarily those of Ghost Writer, Inc. But I thought I'd run this, to give readers a good idea of the arguments against hiring a ghostwriter for academic and other related unethical purposes. In my opinion, hiring a ghostwriter to write a book, screenplay, business document or music lyrics is not an unethical practice, nor is it plagiarism.)

The term Ghostwriter is defined as a professional writer who is employed to write works for which he will receive no official credit but will instead remain anonymous. This has been a very common practice since time immemorial when secretaries and scribes used to write speeches and letters for their country’s leaders, or the pupils of a particular teacher would complete their master’s work under his direction and sometimes after his death. Even today, it is customary for presidents to give public speeches which have been written by someone else, or for ghostwriters to respond to letters written to citizens in the name of the president. They may even be contracted to write their “autobiographies”. Ghostwriting also frequently occurs in the world of journalism, in the production of comics, and some encyclicals have even been written for Popes by ghostwriters.

What is wrong with this ? Nothing. But….in the world of academic studies in general and the field of research in particular, ghostwriting is also considered to be a form of plagiarism, unethical behavior which could even go as far as to cause health problems for the population, with corresponding legal repercussions. Let’s investigate this further.

The ghostwriter is a resource frequently used by university students who must present a piece of written work to enable them to graduate, a Masters and even a post-graduate thesis, and for this they contract professional writers who do the work for them. As a result of this practice, “paper writing factories” have come into existence which levy a charge to write all kinds of academic works. These have sprung up by the dozen over the last ten years, offering their services on-line. The basic services offer previously written essays at affordable prices, but a “personalized” writing service is also offered at a higher price, which frequently ranges from US$10 to US$50 per page.

The problem is even more critical when we get into the field of academic research and that of publications which appear in peer-reviewed journals. The ghostwriter is encountered most frequently in health sciences journals, and marginally so in other research disciplines. But how frequently does ghostwriting occur or how extensive is it? To get an idea of this, we carried out some research using Google Scholar (our enquiries were carried out on 10/11/2013).

For our first enquiry we searched for the general term ghostwriting and obtained 9,570 results. As many of the results related to journalism in general or to the publishing industry, we reduced the scope of the enquiry by limiting our search query by using the terms “research” or “academic”, excluding the sub-set “-students”, only searching for items published in 2013, and excluding citations and patents. We finally obtained a result of 199 published articles, almost all of them relating to the field of biomedicine. Almost 200 articles produced in only 10 months of this year, not an insignificant number!

Ghostwriting can constitute serious unethical behavior and could also be a form of plagiarism

It may come as a surprise that ghostwriting can be thought of as a form of plagiarism, but this is how it is defined in dictionaries. People and institutions also have the same opinion when referring to the matter.

For example, The Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy (Diccionario de la Real Academia Española – DRAE) gives as the first meaning of “plagiar


(From the Latin “plagiare”)

tr. To copy in their entirety, the works of others, passing them off as one’s own.

Likewise, in English, The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines plagiarism as

to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own to use (another’s production) without crediting the source

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) considers that ghostwriting could in some cases be treated as a case of plagiarism. This viewpoint is expressed at least twice in a report produced by the US Senate and commented upon later in this document, and again in an article which appeared recently in the journal Bioethics. Lastly, in a work published on the  iThenticate blog, a company which specializes in offering plagiarism detection services, it states that

Based on these definitions, the concept of ghostwriting at its base level is plagiarism. After all, the whole point of ghostwriting is to hide credit from the real author and instead recognize another source. However, there are several factors based on different methods of ghostwriting that make the subject not black and white.  (2011)

In other words, the ghostwriter can be both acceptable and unacceptable.




Malcharist Ghostwriter

Malcharist: Fact or Fiction? Big Pharma, Psychiatry’s Key Opinion Leaders and their Ghostwriters

By Leemon McHenry

Malcharist ghostwriter

September 16, 2020

Malcharist, Paul John Scott, Vancouver: Samizdat House, 2020.

Malcharist, by Paul John Scott, is a fictional account of one of psychiatry’s most influential key opinion leaders (KOLs), his ghostwriter, and a journalist on the trail of a big scandal in the world of Big Pharma. The story didn’t happen in reality, but Scott has done his homework in such a way that one of medicine’s darkest secrets is exposed in all of its sordid detail.

For those of us familiar with industry-sponsored clinical trials such as GlaxoSmithKline’s studies 329 and 352, it doesn’t take much imagination to draw analogies to an all-too-common theme: a psychiatrist and a ghostwriter who helped create an illusion. He takes all the credit for her labors and she disappears into the background. What is presented to the medical community, however, is a story of pharmaceutical marketing masquerading as science.

The narrative begins with a terrifying description of a patient suffering drug-induced akathisia, a side-effect of antidepressants that often ends in suicide. Chapter by chapter, Scott then introduces the central characters, journalist Griffin Wagner, ghostwriter Shivani Patel, and key opinion leader Dr. Jeremy Elton, and then weaves together the plot, in which the drug maker manipulates clinical trial data to hide the dead bodies in the statistics.

In the novel, Jeremy Elton, M.D, PhD, Director of Clinical Research, University of Dallas, Institute of Brain Studies is America’s psychiatrist—overseeing $36 million in NIMH grants, co-author of 10 textbooks, author of 600 medical journal articles, paid consultant for six Fortune 500 pharmaceutical companies, and recipient of royalties from 16 pharmaceutical patents and 13 medical devices. (101) He pushes the blockbuster drug, the antidepressant Serotonal, that is fictional drug maker Krøhn-McGill Pharmaceutical’s goose that lays the golden egg, sold to prescribers and patients to correct the elusive chemical imbalance in the brain.

Vice President for Clinical Research Seamus Cole and ghostwriter Shivani Patel lure the KOLs on board with Krøhn-McGill with lavish gifts delivered at vacation venues such as ski and tropical resorts, golf getaways, and first-class hotels in the big city. Cole’s job is to make the physicians feel a little less like prostitutes and a bit more like heroes conquering debilitating illness as they assume their role as product champions for drug sales. (31) With a disingenuous self-depreciation and flattery for his new crew, he delivers a well-rehearsed message:

“I am not an expert in psychiatry but I know that every one of you are destined for the very top of your profession, and more importantly, that we can learn a lot from you. We know your peers can learn from you, as well, especially when we arm you with cutting-edge scientific presentations to deliver at forums hosted by Krøhn-McGill Psychiatric. I think you will find Krøhn-McGill KOL status is not just an invaluable contribution of your expertise to the advancement of medical practice, but a reliable and generous second revenue stream and a feather in your cap that will elevate your profile within the community of professionals…. Some of the most welcoming resorts in the world have opened their doors to those courageous professionals willing to leverage their authority in the service of eradicating mental illness.”  (31-32)



Copyrights and Ghostwriting

OP-ED: In a grey area of copyright legislation

copyrights and ghostwriting

Sept. 5, 2020 | Fahad Bin Siddique

How do copyright laws apply to the concept of ghostwriting?

What is the viewpoint of our copyright law pertaining to the concept of ghostwriting? Contracts regarding ghostwriting are an issue of enormous debate beneath the copyright law of most countries. The idea of ghostwriting is always fascinating as it stays in a grey area of copyright legislation. 

Ghostwriting is a procedure where a professional writer (ghostwriter) creates books, articles, stories, or reports for commission or payment which is formally credited to another individual and the creation is intentionally attributed to one who has not created the work, nevertheless is an eminent figure, in order to increase the marketability of the work.

Generally, in this procedure, both parties enter into a voluntary contractual relationship to execute this ghostwriting concept. It is worthwhile to note that the boundaries of this practice give the impression to be both; extensive and blurred. 

It is sometimes complicated to separate ghostwriting from analogous situations from the external standpoint. In a simple sense, a ghostwriting contract happens in two ways: Direct employment and freelance contract. In the situation of a direct employment contract, the ostensible author (whomever the ghostwriter is writing for) takes the ghostwriter as a full-time employee. And the copyright in the job they formulate as an element of that employment goes to their employer. 

On the other hand, freelance ghostwriters usually make a contract for particular write-ups with the ostensible author. Generally, in freelancing contracts, the ghostwriter obligates to create the work and releases it to the commissioning party and transfers the economic rights, while also waiving the right to attribution. 

That means the ghostwriter will permit the distribution of his creation or work under the name of the ostensible author. The freelance ghostwriter may get payment in the structure of a one-time fee, a share of royalties, or some mixture of the two. 

Additionally, if the ghostwriter’s payment is to be based exclusively on royalties from publication, the ghostwriter may wish for a guaranteed payment on the occasion the work cannot be accomplished or published due to delays or other tribulations caused by the ostensible author. 

Another situation may arise where the ghostwriting process may not engage any express contracts, and could well involve just implicit consent, in which consent may be taken by force. 

Therefore, it is essential to mention that the ghostwriter may be required by position or circumstances to provide consent to the appropriation of his creation by the ostensible author. 

Consent of the ghostwriter may not be taken voluntarily, and it can happen that the ghostwriter is not in that position to claim the loss or complain. 



Invisible Ghostwriters

 The Invisible But Invincible Ghostwriter

September 6, 2020 | Madhavi Vudayagiri

invisible ghostwriters

Usually behind celebrity autobiographies - memoirs of actors, athletes, politicians - lies a ghostwriter.

Some 60% of nonfiction bestsellers according to Madeleine Morel, a literary agent for ghostwriters, are ghostwritten, that is because celebrities sell books but can't write them.

The ghosts give up control and credit in exchange they get cash.

No, a ghost writer doesn’t write about ghosts. He or She is just invisible like a ghost; a ghost with a pen. Ghostwriting is a lucrative business. If your ego is super-big, then it is not for you; you toil and sweat and someone else gets the credit, but you don’t go empty handed, that bulky check will compensate for your effort. Of course, that feeling of pride hovers, because you have helped someone share their life message, which they probably couldn’t have done without you.

The ghostwriters are sometimes known by their name and lauded for their efforts.

Welcome to the strange, secret world of ghostwriting. With the advent of social media, one gets to see on Twitter or Facebook, hundreds of people getting instant validation for their personal stories which they serve on a platter almost daily. This potent force of getting instant recognition and praise encourages a majority of them share their stories. They wonder, ‘why not me?’ Alas, once they sit down to write, they realize that it is not that easy to write it by themselves, the content is just crap without the writing skill; enter the ghostwriter!




Ghostwriter Plagiarism

Revealed: Ghostwriter Fr. Rosica plagiarized in homilies for top Canadian archbishop

Fr. Thomas Rosica, now a byword for plagiarism in the English-speaking world, has admitted to preparing three texts containing plagiarized material for Cardinal Marc Ouellet.

Thu Sep 3, 2020 | By Dorothy Cummings McLean

ghostwriter plagiarism
    Fr. Thomas Rosica. Salt and Light Media / YouTube

VATICAN CITY, September 3, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — A priest who plagiarized under his own name for decades also plagiarized homilies he prepared for a leading cardinal.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, 61, has admitted to preparing three texts containing plagiarized material for Cardinal Marc Ouellet. Formerly the archbishop of Quebec City and the Catholic primate of Canada, Ouellet is now the prefect of the Congregation of Bishops.

The appearance of plagiarized material in Ouellet’s published homilies was discovered by Ohio Dominican University philosophy professor Michael V. Dougherty. Dougherty, an authority on plagiarism, examined the homilies in his recent book Disguised Academic Plagiarism and suggested that the cardinal’s homilies were ghostwritten by a priest he called “R.”

After first denying he was Ouellet’s ghostwriter, Rosica admitted to a Canadian newspaper that he was responsible for the controversial material.

“I did assist him with these texts back in 2006–2007. After that when he moved to Rome I had not assisted him with any texts. He is the author of his own work. I have not been his ghostwriter since assisting him on three different occasions back in 2006–2007 as he prepared for the Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City (2008),” Rosica told the National Post.

Rosica was clear that it was he, not Ouellet, who was responsible for the deception, not that he called it that.