Recently, two articles that seemed related in a spooky manner caught my eye — namely, they both involve ghosts.
The first article, a New York Times story about ghostwriters of medical research and reviews, covers the clearly unethical practice of taking an article written by a paid writer (usually paid by a corporation), getting an academic to put his or her name on it, and publishing it as if it were written by the named author without disclosing the real author’s name or role.
The second article, from The Scientist, explains the growing role of contract/clinical research organizations (CROs) in medical and scientific research. Often, CRO researchers play a vital role in conducting and completing research, but are not named in the subsequent reports of the research. However, this is not viewed as unethical if there’s transparency to the academics involved — a few years ago, the ICMJE noted the ethical faults inherent when CROs and their corporate sponsor withholding information from their academic counterparts. To counter CROs, academic research organizations (AROs) have emerged, allowing academic centers to serve as outsourced research hubs.
As an article in The Scientist entitled, “Life in a Rent-a-Lab,” states in a section outlining the pros and cons of working in a CRO, “you won’t gain recognition through publication.” These truly are anonymous workers.
On the surface, these seem like two sides of the same coin. In both cases — a ghostwriter or a ghostresearcher — the actual worker is hidden from the reader. While there’s transparency to the academic putting his or her name over the final publication, the reader is presented with an opacity — the real ghost. The reader’s perception is that independent academics labored over the work involved, rather than just approving the work of unnamed contributors.
When you add this to the citation diversion and invention that can occur in social citation (as opposed to scholarly citation), the specter of a belief system rises up even further.
To me, the ghosts in our texts and labs means there’s a lot to exorcise if we’re going to have a system bereft of supernatural forces.
And that can feel a little scary.