Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Ghostwriter's Tale

The Berliner Tagespiegel reports on a case of ghostwriting.

Eight years ago, an out-of-work biologist was hired by a surgeon to write a book together with him. The surgeon delivered the data and explained the procedure, the biologist wrote the book. It was to be published together.

But there were disagreements after the manuscript was finished that were so massive, that the two met again in a courtroom. An agreement was made, the biologist was paid, and the surgeon had the "author's rights" to the book. But in the EU, the author's rights are only the rights to publish and sell the material and to reap the rewards - not the right to say that one is the author.

But the material turned up again - this time with only the name of the surgeon on it - as a habilitation thesis. In Germany, one doctorate is not enough, you have to submit a second thesis as a post-doc in order to be considered for a professorship at a university. Officially, this has been done away with, but in reality, you are nothing without a habilitation in many German universities.

The Charité, the medical school to which the habilitation was submitted, has started an investigation into the matter. The dean of the medical school quickly took action after he finally learned of the accusations, that apparently had taken some time to find their way to him. Not only the procedure must be from the person submitting the habilitation, the text must also be written by that person. It will be interesting to see how this well-documented case progresses.

Another verion of the article can be found offline in the weekly newspaper Rheinische Merkur number 22/08 from May 29, 2008.

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