Ghostwriting is not only an unethical practice, but it may also constitute legal fraud, according to an article by University of Toronto law professors Simon Stern and Trudo Lemmens, published this week in PLoS Medicine. As such, they argue that medical academics who serve as “guest authors” could be held legally liable.
It’s irrelevant whether publications with academic guest authors are factually accurate, Stern and Lemmens say. What’s important is the false gravitas given to claims of safety and effectiveness through the use of academic authors when these claims–contained in articles ghostwritten by industry but guest authored by academics–are used as scientific evidence in the courtroom. So not only does the dishonest and manipulative practice of ghostwriting undermine the integrity of medical research and patient care (as many previous PLoS Medicine articles have argued), but now we can see how a guest author’s claim for credit of an article written by someone else constitutes legal fraud.
The legal repercussions for the company that sponsored the research reports could be severe. Stern and Lemmens say that patients and others could file class action suits based on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, as well as make claims of ‘‘fraud on the court’’ against a pharmaceutical company that has used ghostwritten articles in litigation.
Even though industry personnel write these ghostwritten medical and scientific articles, the academic authors serving as guest authors still receive substantial professional credit for their work. And so, Stern and Lemmens take a hard line, saying that the legal remedy is to charge academics who lend their names with professional and academic misconduct and fraud.
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