Over the weekend, I had a story in the Toronto Star looking at ghostwriting in medical journal, beginning with the case of a woman diagnosed with breast cancer after two decades of using hormone replacement therapy.
Jackie Smith thought she was doing the right thing.
With an asthmatic 4-year-old boy at home and a sick father a world away in Australia, she had no room in her life for osteoporosis or early menopause. It was 20 years ago, and when her gynecologist suggested hormone replacement therapy to stave off the effects of aging, she agreed.
"I was having these awful hot flashes," the 62-year-old recalls. "I found it really hard to deal with. There was a lot of stress in my life."
It's a moment she is revisiting now, with news that the company behind her treatment used ghostwriters to promote HRT in academic journals and play down any health threats, including breast cancer and stroke.
Last month, Smith, who was on HRT for 13 years, was told she has breast cancer. "The hardest part was telling my son," she says, adding that her boy, now living in British Columbia, flew home immediately.
News of ghostwriting has been seeping out for years, with lawsuits in the U.S. forcing drug companies to admit to the practice.
But a lawsuit against HRT manufacturer Wyeth Pharmaceuticals has gone further, finally pulling back the veil on the shadowy world of academic publishing and laying out how ghostwriting works.
In the story, I compare ghostwriting to students who hire essay-writing companies to prepare their term papers -- except the money involved is a lot bigger, and the professors get promoted for having more articles published, while students get expelled.
It hardly seems fair.In fact, Smith says she would fail any student who uses such a service.