Unfortunately, the use of ghostwriters and guest authored journal papers hasn't gone away. But here's good news: two prominent attorneys are speaking out that the practice is not just a sham but constitutes legal fraud.
So why be concerned about ghostwriting in the medical profession? It turns out that Big Pharma and other medical industry sponsored research has been published with the names of academic "guest authors" tacked on -- although these highly degreed "authors" may have made slim to no contributions to the so-called research.
Yet these very articles have been published in leading medical journals and through the years have helped hype hormone replacement therapy, numerous anti-depressants and other potentially dangerous drugs including Vioxx, Neurontin and Fen-Phen. In turn, these articles are often cited by their drug company sponsors to promote off-label use of their products and bring in more millions to the prescription pharmaceutical industry.
The ghostwriting and guest authoring of industry-controlled studies clearly raise what the law experts call "serious ethical and legal concerns, bearing on integrity of medical research and scientific evidence used in legal disputes."
It is such a breach of ethics that Professors Simon Stern and Trudo Lemmens of the University of Toronto law faculty have flat out called for "guest" authors of medical and scientific articles to be charged with professional and academic misconduct and fraud, even if the articles attributed to the "ghost" or "guest" writers contain factually correct information. The law experts compare the academic "ghostwriting" and tacked on bogus academic authorships to racketeering and even the world's oldest profession.
In a media release about their article (which was just published in the journal PLoS Medicine), the law professors stated: "Guest authorship is a disturbing violation of academic integrity standards, which form the basis of scientific reliability. The false respectability afforded to claims of safety and effectiveness through the use of academic investigators risks undermining the integrity of biomedical research and patient care."
Lemmens, who is also a member of the University of Toronto's school of medicine faculty, had particularly hard hitting words for academics who participate in guest authorship which involves "lending" their names and receiving substantial credit where little or none is due. "It's a prostitution of their academic standing," said Lemmens. "And it undermines the integrity of the entire academic publication system."
In their article, entitled "Legal Remedies for Medical Ghostwriting: Imposing Fraud Liability on Guest Authors of Ghostwritten Articles," Stern and Lemmens argue that because medical journals, academic institutions, and professional disciplinary bodies have done little if anything to enforce effective sanctions against this practice of bogus authorship of research papers, a more successful effective approach would be to take legal action. Imposing liability on the guest authors "..may give rise to claims that could be pursued in a class action based on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)."
"The same fraud could support claims of fraud on the court against a pharmaceutical company that has used ghostwritten articles in litigation," the law professors added. Moreover, that kind of claim could prevent the Big Pharma sponsor of "ghosted" and "guest authored" articles from presenting them as evidence in court, and could result in sanctions against attorneys who try to use any of these articles as legally valid evidence in a malpractice, drug injury or other case.