Ghost writing in Science, plagiarism with a twist

Read yesterday in the Guardian that a MD was being accused of plagiarism with an interesting twist. Basically he had been accepting cash to add his name to medical articles written by a drug company.

Doctors have been agreeing to be named as authors on studies written by employees of the pharmaceutical industry, giving greater credibility to medical research, according to new evidence.

The Guardian has learned that one of Britain’s leading bone specialists is facing disciplinary action over accusations that he was involved in “ghost writing”.

When talking to students about plagiarism I tend to say that plagiarism is any attempt by a student to use the ideas or words of others in an attempt to deceive the examiner into believing they are students own. But is what the MD is doing plagiarism? And how does this differ from the more accepted forms of collaboration? For example lazy co-authors or large teams working together. How much does the “author” of a paper actually need to write him/herself for it not to be plagiarism? Some papers are co-authored by hundreds of researchers who have worked together to varying degrees. ScienceWatch reports on multi author papers and give examples of papers with up to 900 collaborators!

The question is naturally important but what is the difference between 900 collaborators or a paper ghost written by the company to which the MD agrees?

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