The “Shadow Scholar” reported that he did not do any writing that required math. I guess it is harder to bullshit your way through mathematics. He seemed to be doing mainly education and business papers, neither of which require much in the way of original research. Henry James to the locals . There is more than one person in my field who splits the difference between a talented researcher and what you describe. That is, these people have spent years studying the field and attempting to do real research. However, they have not succeeded, but have mastered the art of writing abstracts and introductions to such a degree that they regularly get papers with incorrect results accepted. I do theoretical work so it usually amounts to having a theorem that is false, or whose proof is invalid even if the theorem is (accidentally) true, or so ill-defined and ambiguous that it is not even a theorem. I am certain that every field of science and math has these people. The closest equivalent in experimental science is an unreproducible experiment.
I think you’re right. I’ve done freelance editing for years (mainly in the social sciences), but the only ghostwriting I’ve done involved lit reviews/persuasive arguments. I can’t imagine ghostwriting for my clients in fields like biomedicine. While I can effectively edit their articles or grant proposals, there is no way I’d be able to present their data in a manner that sounds professional and up to the standards of their field. Unfortunately I’ve ghost writed for someone, though only for business papers, I’m professionally a physical scientist, and it is actually pretty easy. However, I honestly don’t think the other way round is possible. I’ve tried that approach during my troubled period but ended up having the re-write the whole thing afterwards. Don’t recommend and never again! I have done a lot of (mostly voluntary and unpaid) editing of papers, dissertations, and grant proposals for other students and faculty in my department. I don’t think I would have been able to do as effective a job if I did not have a scientific background. In some cases the editing required was very minor — basically correcting some grammar and language usage problems for non-native English speakers.
In those cases, the scientific content was already there, so I would have been able to do ok even without my scientific background. However, many times the science was very poorly presented or the rationale for the research was completely lost in the poorly written document. In those cases, my knowledge of the field was essential to the task of “fixing” the writing. In all cases, it helped to be able to work together with the author to put together the kind of document he/she wanted and to convey his/her message accurately. The goal in these cases was not to write the paper for the author — rather, it was to improve their own writing skills for the future, especially in the cases of other students. Knowing the science behind what they were doing was key to those discussions as well. I can take your last 3 or 4 papers, your new data set and 2 hours of your time and write a great paper that will be published. I see this in grad school all the time.
A student can take their new data and just loosely copy their advisors old work. It is not that hard to do. I have a friend who does this for a living. She is paid VERY well to write other people’s articles for them. She has a PhD in a related field, though. This is a very common practice and recently has gotten a lot of press thanks to allegations of misconduct/ethical violations. Does anyone care if someone else does the dissertation writing, as long as the grad student does everything else (data, ideas, interpretation, whatever)? Like most native English speakers in the sciences, I’ve done a fair amount of (unpaid) editing for colleagues. The basic stuff, like fixing wayward prepositions, doesn’t require an expert. But it takes someone with a reasonable background to follow the logic (and therefore complain when the logic gets lost). Not to derail from the main question, but I wanted to comment on why blog spam has bad spelling and grammar.