Ghostwriting and “good scientific practice”

Essay good Ghostwriting and “good scientific practice”

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It states: “Science is founded on honesty. This is one of the essential principles of good scientific practice and therefore of any scientific work. “


The brochure outlines the requirement for scientific practice, which includes not only compliance with the technical rules and documentation of the results, but also “strict honesty with regard to the contributions of partners, competitors and predecessors.”

Specifically, this means that the thoughts and basic ideas cited in the text should be attributed to their authors – for example, it would be dishonest to make oneself the creator of the theoretical concept of another author or in a scientific discussion the contributions of a counterparty in a distorting manner to make it easier to criticize.

Is ghostwriting compatible with “good scientific practice”?
The DFG brochure does not mention ghostwriting. Recommendation 11 on “Authorship of publications” (page 29) merely states:
“Authors of scientific publications always share the responsibility for their content. Author or author is only, who made a substantial contribution to a scientific publication. A so-called “honorary authority” is excluded.

The wording “substantial contribution” is not further explained and is extremely spongy as a criterion. The reasons for this should not be speculated here.
What is certain is that

in the use of academic ghostwriters sweeping statements on scientific honesty make little sense and the circumstances should be examined. For the assumption that academic ghostwriters are only used for self-profiling or even deception does sometimes not go well with reality.

Ghostwriting seems to be a topic that is completely ignored.

A search on the pages of the DFG – an institution, which i.a. engaged in the creation of guidelines for “good scientific practice” delivered on 18.05.2018 not a single result.
Either you want to avoid any reference or you can not or do not want to clarify to what extent ghostwriting would be compatible with scientific honesty. Such a clarification might possibly lead to a need to rethink the practice in many chairs; For often enough, scientific assistants are used as convenient, inexpensive ghostwriters.

Honest, dishonest or gray area?

If the text of an academic ghostwriter is issued as one’s own, the circumstances of each case should be considered. For example, if this happens in a situation where the written work is an examination, it is clearly a violation. A gray area would be given, for example, if a scientific author threatens to miss his deadline and therefore entrusts a ghostwriter with the completion of the text, which the author finally reviews, complemented and corrected by his own expertise.

If a ghostwriter creates a text that is not intended for publication, it may well be consistent with good scientific practice. If the client uses the text only for his own use – for example, to get a quick overview of a research topic – this is quite legitimate and comparable to the use of scientific assistants.

In addition, it should be noted that many ghostwriters are not only active as such, but can take on a variety of consulting, research or translation tasks that are clearly compatible with good scientific practice.