According to Ellie Levitt, "Psychiatry chairman faces ghostwriting accusations", The Daily Pennsylvanian 12/2/2010:
Recently discovered e-mails reveal that a document published in 2003 by Psychiatry Department Chairman Dwight Evans may not have been honest work.
Project on Government Oversight — a nonpartisan watchdog organization that unearths corruption and promotes an ethical federal government — posted on its website Monday that Evans and Dean of Research at New York University’s Mt. Sinai School of Medicine Dennis Charney claimed authorship for an editorial they did not write.
Evans, however, has said that POGO’s accusations are not true. [...]
An employee of Scientific Therapeutics Information — the marketing firm that helped promote the drug beginning in the early 1990s — is the suspected actual author of the document, POGO claimed. At the end of the editorial, Evans and Charney acknowledge the writer for “editorial support.”
I have no idea whether POGO's allegations in this case are true or not. But I do know that there's a big problem here, which academic institutions haven't (as far as I can see) found a way to face up to.
On one hand, ghostwriting, as sensationally depicted in Ed Dante's "The Shadow Scholar", The Chronicle of Higher Education 11/12/2010, is a serious and probably increasing cause for concern in academia. On the other hand, it's long been normal and accepted in the wider world for people in positions of authority to "delegate editorial duties" to others.
This cultural disconnection is a problem because students are quite aware of the double standard. Or perhaps we should say, they're aware of (some of) the multiple incompatible standards, since there's a large multi-dimensional space of differing cultural norms in these matters.
In the various posts that I've written on the topic over the past few years ("Unwritten rules and uncreated consciences", 5/4/2006; "Plagiarism and restrictions on delegated agency", 10/1/2008; "'The writer I hired was a plagiarist!'", 7/13/2010), I've observed that there are logical reasons for some of the variation in moral codes:
For students and their teachers, the key question about a text is who wrote it. When students submit essays (or problem-set answers, or anything else) as their own work, the crucial thing is that the work is really and truly their own. If they hired someone else to write it for them, that's even worse than if they copied it from some previously-written document.
For politicians, business leaders, and other celebrities, the key question about a text is who owns it. When they submit as their own work a book, a speech, a column, or whatever, the only requirement is that they haven't violated someone else's property rights by illegitimate copying. Hiring someone to write things for them is not only OK, it's the normal practice.
But we don't generally try to explain or justify these differences to our students. We just tell them that hiring a ghostwriter, like other forms of plagiarism, is a serious offense for which they are likely to be severely punished if caught.
And we also don't discuss among ourselves where the boundaries ought to be. In one of those earlier posts, I discussed the case of a university president whose syndicated column — on the subject where he had established his reputation as a scientist — was for many years researched and written by graduate students hired for the purpose, who were not given any authorship (or other) credit:
A couple of decades ago, X was a graduate student at Y University, a school that regularly appears in U.S. News and World Report's listing of the top 50 American universities, and not at the bottom of the list either. The school's president, Dr. Z, had a nationally syndicated column. It ran under his byline, but X helped pay her way through school by writing it. I don't mean that she edited it, or did research for it, or drafted it. She came up with the ideas, did whatever research was required, and wrote it exactly as it ran. Dr. Z approved it for publication, or at least was given the opportunity to do so, but he never changed anything. (Or so X told me, and I believe her.)
By the norms of American (and I suppose international) business and politics, this was perfectly ethical and expected behavior. By the norms applied to students, it would be grounds for severe punishment.
Which norms should apply to a university president, or a medical-school department chair?
[You can find more discussion of recent medical-ghostwriting in:
Duff Wilson, "Drug Maker Wrote Book Under 2 Doctors' Names, Documents Say", NYT 11/29/2010
Paul Thacker, "Ghostbusters at POGO", POGO Blog 12/1/2010
Carl Elliott, "Playing Doctor", The Atlantic 12/2010
These seem to be cases that straddled a border, where under one way of looking at them, they were normal for the culture of biomedical "thought leaders", while another perspective sees them as serious violations of ethical principles. This contested character is suggested by the fact that the authors generally deny some of the facts or at least interpretations presented in the media.
I'm more interested in the cases that are far away from the normal borderline: the speeches and editorials written for university presidents by tmembers of their staff, for example. In my opinion, this is a perfectly fine practice from an ethical point of view; but it remains a case where expected behavior for the institution's leader is proscribed and punishable for others in the same institution.]