Thursday, August 06, 2009

Ethical issues of ghostwriting

An article that just made top headlines highlights one of the main issues of ghostwriting: being sure you are not accepting payment to do something unethical.

Medical Papers by Ghostwriters Pushed Therapy

Basically, over 7 years ghostwriters were paid by the pharmaceutical company Wyeth to produce 26 scientific papers supporting hormone replacement therapy for women. According to the article:

The articles, published in medical journals between 1998 and 2005, emphasized the benefits and de-emphasized the risks of taking hormones to protect against maladies like aging skin, heart disease and dementia.

Of course, in 2002 a real study found that hormone replacement therapy was actually connected to some very serious complications, such as increased risk of breast cancer and dementia, and the drugs fell out of favor.

But what about those ghostwriters who traded their morals for a nice fat paycheck from the pharmaceutical companies?

This demonstrates a very simple rule when ghostwriting: Don't write anything under the protection of anonymity that you wouldn't write under your own name. Even if none of these writers are ever identified and publicly discredited, how do they sleep at night knowing they pulled the wool over millions of women's eyes?

Another rule: Don't ever be dishonest about your motives. If someone is paying you to review their product, don't try to conceal that relationship. It could really come back to bite you in the butt if you do.

The potential conflict of ethics is actually one of the top reasons I hear other writers saying they don't do ghostwriting. I personally think you can be a ghostwriter and still maintain your morals, but in order to do so you have to be sure that your clients know right from the beginning what you will and won't write.

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