[*quote*]Being the Ghost in the Machine: A Medical Ghostwriter's Personal View
Linda Logdberg worked full- or part-time as a medical writer and was paid by medical communications companies from 1991 until 2006. Most of this work was under contract with pharmaceutical, biomedical, or medical device companies. She is presently employed as a high school science teacher and does not have any financial links to pharmaceutical, biomedical, or device manufacturers.
[...]For almost 11 years, I worked as a medical writer
, creating a variety of pieces including the occasional ghostwritten article. For the most part, I never saw the finished paper, nor did I care to. This article describes what I did, why I did it, why I stopped doing it, and what I think might be done about the problem of fraud in authorship.What I Did
In line with the description on the American Medical Writers' Association Web site about what medical writers do , I wrote 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 (meded) company for the pharmaceutical corporation.
Medical writers are highly deadline-driven. For one hormone patch product I worked on, writers and “creatives” were asked to remain at work until close to midnight to await results from physician focus groups on the West Coast. After receiving the client's (i.e., pharma's) take on the focus group results for that day, we rewrote the messages for the next day's groups and sent them to the West Coast. A slide rose or fell on subtleties: in one slide kit draft in my files, an account executive added “Importance of early intervention” to a slide titled “Chronic Pain.” The bullet does not help define chronic pain, but it plants the idea that treatment should be started ASAP in the mind of the listener. Clients admonished us to always distinguish between “adverse effects” (for competitors' products: Drug X could have caused the heart attack) and adverse events (our product: some patients taking Drug X just happened to have a heart attack).
Ghostwriting was a small, but real, part of my duties. I have seen published pieces that are virtually identical to the final drafts I submitted. Regardless of what I wrote, though, for many years I considered my role to be similar to that of a highly paid technician and did not question its ethics.Why I Did It
My background may not have been typical for a medical writer, but neither was it uncommon. I enjoyed a research career up to the point where I no longer enjoyed it, which came a few years after receiving my PhD. 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: there were 12 newly hired assistant professors in the department where I did my second postdoc, with an average time to tenure of more than 10 years.
Ironically, though, it was the ethics of authorship that sent me fleeing academia. I ran afoul of a colleague in my last 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. Faced with the need for a job, I resigned and answered an ad in The New York Times for a company that needed medical writers. This began a series of freelance and in-house jobs with a range of medical communications companies.
So far as an intro.
* Linda Logdberg
Biologist, Fernbank Science Center, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America
Citation: Logdberg L (2011) Being the Ghost in the Machine: A Medical Ghostwriter's Personal View. PLoS Med 8(8): e1001071. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001071
Published: August 9, 2011
Copyright: © 2011 Linda Logdberg. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Funding: The author received no specific funding for this article.
Read the complete article:http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1001071