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ghostwriting, its forms and opposites

The issue of ghostwriting seems to be a popular topic of late.  Science magazine has an article about ghostwriting in the medical profession (some egregious issues there!).  The Chronicle has an intriguing piece about an academic ghostwriter, shadow scholar “Ed Dante,” who has written everything from undergraduate term papers to a dissertation in sociology.  The wiki entry on ghostwriting is actually quite interesting, it delineates all the forms that ghostwriting takes in various disciplines.  (And, here’s an interesting discussion, in the New York Times, about the ‘market’ for ghostwriters and the $500,000 paid to Hillary Clinton’s ghostwriter.)

I don’t know what forms ghostwriting takes in the case of orgtheory.  Here are some potential candidates:

First, inadvertent ghostwriting, where the the ghost would prefer not to be one.  I have anecdotally heard of graduate students involved in research projects, even to the level of extensive writing, who then were not included in the list of authors in the eventual publication.  Perhaps they get acknowledged in the footnotes, but I’m guessing that type of acknowledgment, if co-authorship is actually warranted, is just a slap in the face.  There are many shades of gray here (when exactly does someone become a co-author, or not?), and all kinds of questions about what it means to contribute, along with disciplinary or institutional norms — definitely sticky issues.  I am guessing that civility, fairness and professionalism reign in most doctoral programs when it comes to including graduate students as co-authors.

The second form of ghostwriting, well no, it’s opposite (sort of), is where a person somehow makes a ghostly appearance as an author even though they may not have contributed at all.  Co-authors get included for various reasons (including some more unorthodox ones): perhaps they provide data, run or analyze the data, write a portion of the article (even just the introduction, I heard about this on a well-cited article, one co-author was brought in to write the introduction), provide a valuable idea or good feedback — perhaps defensible forms of co-authorship.  But, I am guessing that co-authors might get included, say, just for the sake of their name, or perhaps they wield sufficient power to somehow get added to a publication.  (I suppose the opposite could theoretically also occur, specifically where someone is heavily involved in a project but then insists on not being listed as a co-author on a publication.)

Third, the line between heavy editing and writing.  I have heard, from friends who have published in these outlets, that some unnamed, highly popular practitioner journals essentially re-write your work, to the point where it no longer resembles your work at all.  Perhaps these are isolated incidents — I don’t know what, if any, ethical issues are involved here — or perhaps this is just an instance of good editing.

I guess the above is raising some ethical issues when it comes to ghostwriting, certainly there seem to be some legitimate forms.  Overall, the matter of ghostwriting is very relevant not just to teaching (I received a ghostwritten paper from a graduate student some years ago) but obviously also relevant to our research, given that our primary research output is writing.

UPDATE:  You can join a live chat, tomorrow (11/17), noon Eastern, that The Chronicle is guest hosting with academic ghostwriter and shadow scholar Ed Dante.

UPDATE 2: Hadn’t seen this — The Chronicle has a video about an essay mill.

Written by teppo

November 16, 2010 at 11:31 pm

15 Responses

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  1. JESUS CHRIST. why did i never know about this??? so many hours typing away frantically and watching the sun come up through bleary, stinging, red eyes could have been prevented!

    In all seriousness, I am a master’s student in Sociology (hoping to get a Ph.d later on) and I have never plagiarized (and you can see it in my average grades – haha) nor have i heard of anyone i know using a service like that. but this is really shocking

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    Andrew

    November 17, 2010 at 12:19 am

  2. actually, i’m angry now. I really did spend a lot of time in college doing painstaking research for my papers and I didn’t failure but I was never an “A” student, just someone who was considered competent and who knew his material.

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    Andrew

    November 17, 2010 at 12:20 am

  3. whoops: i mean “fail any of my classes” not “failure”

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    Andrew

    November 17, 2010 at 12:21 am

  4. Andrew, a ghostcommenter would have gotten the wording right. (Apparently companies hire ghostcommenters for their blogs, the wiki entry mentions this.)

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    teppo

    November 17, 2010 at 1:02 am

  5. […] ghostwriting, its forms and opposites (orgtheory.wordpress.com) […]

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  6. […] has made the round of the blogs (scatterplot, orghteory, Marginal Revolution): You’ve never heard of me, but there’s a good chance that […]

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  7. […] » To me, the most depressing thing about The Chronicle‘s ghostwriting confession (see Teppo’s earlier post) was this admission from the ghostwriter: I haven’t been to a library once since I started […]

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    libraries « orgtheory.net

    November 18, 2010 at 4:15 pm

  8. Just a note on the third variant: HBR does that quite openly.

    “Nearly all HBR articles undergo extensive editing and rewriting, and HBR typically holds copyright on the finished product. Authors continue to own the underlying ideas in the article.”

    http://hbr.org/guidelines-for-authors-hbr

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    Thomas

    November 18, 2010 at 5:14 pm

  9. In my view, there’s nothing wrong with HBR’s practice, BTW. Just as much ghostwriting is completely legitimate. In academic contexts, there’s an important, but perhaps subtle, line that has to be drawn, though.

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    Thomas

    November 18, 2010 at 5:19 pm

  10. Inadvertent ghosting and forced ghosting are, or used to be, fairly common in songwriting. Bandleaders got writing credits in exchange for recording the song. Or “name” performers bought others’ work and put their own names on the copyright.

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    Jay Livingston

    November 18, 2010 at 6:46 pm

  11. Is there a reason why the blog-entry doesn’t mention, how some hot-shot researchers use ghost-writers, before they send out their stuff to high-end journals?

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    Anonymous

    November 18, 2010 at 9:47 pm

  12. Anonymous: I don’t know anything about that. Tell us.

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    teppo

    November 19, 2010 at 1:53 am

  13. I am not nearly as much in the loop as the bloggers here are. But I have heard from very reliable sources that the “proof-reading” you can get is basically a re-write of the paper – to suit the style of a given journal.

    Won’t name names, naturally. And I am not saying that it is wrong.

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    Anonymous

    November 20, 2010 at 4:20 pm

  14. You seem to raise issues of authorship from the perspective that a paper has been written and that someone now gets to decide whose names goes on the paper. What constitutes authorship? How does power, status, connections, and social conceptions of authorships play into this? All interesting questions. There’s a long, long, long literature in literary theory that has been obsessed with these questions. Think Death of the Author by Barthes or What is an Author by Foucalt.

    I think that a cool sociology/orgtheory take on the same issue would be focus on how authorship norms constrain the nature of collaboration. For example, I might know that a paper will be stronger if I bring in additional data or an additional writing but may be resistant to splitting authorship and credit and so choose not to. I may be more willing to work with low-status actors who I feel I can get away with not crediting than with high status actors. As you suggest in your third point, I might have interactions with editors that are only possible because editors are designated as such but that, in a different social context, might constitute authorship.

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    Benjamin Mako Hill

    November 22, 2010 at 9:01 pm

  15. I just read the Chronicle article. It’s a good read. One minor nit with your writeup. Dante says he “wrote toward” a PhD in sociology. He doesn’t say he wrote the dissertation. He says explicitly that he has written a bunch of masters theses.

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    Benjamin Mako Hill

    November 22, 2010 at 9:27 pm


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