Northwestern Events Calendar


Medical Ghostwriting: Strange Appropriations and Emergent Authorship

When: Monday, April 23, 2018
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM Central

Where: University Hall, Hagstrum 201, 1897 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: FREE

Contact: Janet Hundrieser   (847) 491-3525

Group: Global Medical Cultures and Law (Buffett Institute)

Category: Lectures & Meetings


Pharmaceutical companies are known to commission ghostwritten articles to so-called medical education companies according to a careful publication plan developed by, or in concert with, their marketing departments. Provided with a topic, an argument, relevant data, and about $25,000, these writing companies produce texts highlighting the benefits of their clients’ drugs while occasionally downplaying their dangerous side effects. As a manuscript nears completion, one or more leading academic researchers are contacted and asked to provide comments. And if they seem positively responsive to the paper’s claims, they are invited to put their name on the manuscript and take on the role of its official authors. Typically, these articles’ published versions do not mention the role and identity of the ghostwriters, their affiliation to their "writing services companies", and those companies' work-for-hire relationship with the pharmaceutical industry. They also tend to misrepresent the actual contribution, if any, of the people listed as authors. (Sergio Sismondo has carefully analyzed these scenarios).

Perhaps because these works seem to go against all ethical norms on the books, its been paradoxically difficult for critics to pinpoint exactly what kind of ethical or legal violation they instantiate. By showing how the notion of plagiarism can be used to produce profoundly different and contradictory readings of the authorship of these texts, Professor Biagioli argues that we are in fact not witnessing a simple case of appropriation but rather the emergent of a new author function - as problematic or undesirable as we may find it.

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