Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Out of Hours

Don’t give up the ghost

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 14 October 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4214
  1. Christopher Martyn, associate editor, BMJ
  1. cmartyn{at}

    Though medical ghostwriting has had pernicious effects, openly acknowledged ghostwriters may improve medical publishing

    Several years before he became president of the United States, John Kennedy published a book, Profiles in Courage, that told the stories of a number of US senators who had been brave enough to ignore party lines and public opinion to do what they believed was the right thing. The book was widely acclaimed and won a Pulitzer prize, although it emerged later that it was largely, if not entirely, the work of a man called Theodore Sorensen. Rather more recently Gordon Brown, just before he became prime minister, published a book with a strikingly similar title and structure: Courage: Eight Portraits. I’ve no reason to believe Brown did not write the book himself, and in this regard my view coincides with that of a disobliging reviewer in the London Review of Books who assumed that he must have done, observing that no self respecting ghostwriter could have produced prose of such faultlessly plodding banality.

    But, revisionist historians apart, does anyone care whether Brown or Kennedy actually …

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