Reader Comments

Post a new comment on this article

Apocryphal plagiarism and ghostwriting

Posted by plosmedicine on 31 Mar 2009 at 00:34 GMT

Author: Anibal Morillo
Position: Dr./ Radiologist
Institution: Institutional Radiologist/ University Hospital of the Fundacion Santa Fe de Bogota
Submitted Date: March 03, 2009
Published Date: March 4, 2009
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

One of the fundamental rights of fiction authors is to decide whether or not to publish their own works. “Previously Unreleased” intellectual products are not uncommon in literary circles. In contrast, it is generally regarded as unappropriate to keep the results of scientific research unpublished. The main reason for this is almost obvious, for it is easily understood that it could be unethical not to reveal findings of well-conducted investigations that might imply changes in the way patients are treated. The inappropriateness of not publishing research results falls in a similar category as does failing to reveal researchers’ conflicts of interest that could bias any results presented, such as financing by the pharmaceutical industry that owns the molecule of a drug that is being investigated.
The rules of scientific authorship have evolved into a series of strict laws that have to be followed in order to try to assure the highest level of confidence in those results that finally attain publishing status.
In fiction literature, there is a modality of authorship transfer that I call apocryphal plagiarism. I define it as the false attribution of a written piece to an author. Mainly due to transmission of popular belief, a text can be mistakenly ascribed to a well-known author, with or without its intervention in the dissemination of such attribution. Curiously enough, some apocryphal authors do not rectify the mistaken authorship.
The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges was falsely ascribed a piece actually written by Nadine Stair; Bertolt Brecht has been erroneously attributed the authorship of an anti-nazi manifest by the Lutheran pastor Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller; more recently, a poem entitled “The Marionette” was distributed on the internet under the false pretension of being authored by Gabriel García-Márquez. In this case, the Colombian Nobel laureate expressed publicly that to be thought of as the author of such a piece was simply offensive. After his announcement, it was then its real author’s turn to feel deeply hurt. A news magazine then arranged a meeting between García-Márquez and the mexican ventriloquist Johnny Welch, who dedicated the poem to one of his marionettes. In a humorous ending, both authors agreed in continuing to give García-Márquez credit for “The Marionette”, as long as Welch could then acquire the authorship of García-Márquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera”.
One would anticipate that such a stunt should be unthinkable in the scientific literature. Alas, the retrieval of published papers and public sanctions to authors that do not comply with the rules of proper conduct in research are not uncommon: plagiarism, unrevealed conflicts of interest, data fabrication, and, more recently, ghost-writing are ever-present in the academic news.
An author that does not reveal its participation is intentionally hiding it. I cannot imagine an explanation for this practice other than some kind of conflict of interest being in action. When an author knowingly lends its authorship and fails to reveal it, a ghost-writer is conceived: the dividing line from apocryphal plagiarism to deceit is crossed.
If in fiction this has been considered as a minor offense, it seems to me that there is no justifiable reason to permit this practice in the scientific literature.

No competing interests declared.