Media Releases

Academics fronting ghostwritten medical journal articles as ‘guest authors’ should be charged with fraud, say UofT law professors

August 3, 2011

Ghostwriting and guest authoring in industry-controlled research raise ‘serious ethical and legal concerns, bearing on integrity of medical research and scientific evidence used in legal disputes’

TORONTO, ON — Two Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Fac­ul­ty of Law pro­fes­sors argue that aca­d­e­mics who ‘lend’ their names, and receive sub­stan­tial cred­it as guest authors of med­ical and sci­en­tif­ic arti­cles ghost­writ­ten by indus­try writ­ers, should be charged with pro­fes­sion­al and aca­d­e­m­ic mis­con­duct and fraud, even if they con­tain fac­tu­al­ly cor­rect infor­ma­tion.

In an arti­cle pub­lished today in PLoS Med­i­cine, Pro­fes­sors Simon Stern and Tru­do Lem­mens argue “Guest author­ship is a dis­turb­ing vio­la­tion of aca­d­e­m­ic integri­ty stan­dards, which form the basis of sci­en­tif­ic reli­a­bil­i­ty.” In addi­tion, “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.”

In “Legal Reme­dies for Med­ical Ghost­writ­ing: Impos­ing Fraud Lia­bil­i­ty on Guest Authors of Ghost­writ­ten Arti­cles,” Stern and Lem­mens argue that since med­ical jour­nals, aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions, and pro­fes­sion­al dis­ci­pli­nary bod­ies have not suc­ceed­ed in enforc­ing effec­tive sanc­tions, a more suc­cess­ful deter­rence would be through the impo­si­tion of legal lia­bil­i­ty on the guest authors, “and may give rise to claims that could be pur­sued in a class action based on the Rack­e­teer Influ­enced and Cor­rupt Orga­ni­za­tions Act (RICO).”

The authors con­tin­ue: “The same fraud could sup­port claims of ‘fraud on the court’ against a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny that has used ghost­writ­ten arti­cles in lit­i­ga­tion.” Such a claim could pre­vent the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal spon­sor of the arti­cles from pre­sent­ing them as evi­dence in court, and could also lead to sanc­tions against the lawyers who sought to treat the arti­cles as legal­ly valid evi­dence.

Con­cerns about ghost­writ­ing have trou­bled the med­ical pro­fes­sion and edi­tors of med­ical jour­nals for years.  Indus­try-spon­sored arti­cles, with only minor con­tri­bu­tions from aca­d­e­m­ic “guest authors,” have been pub­lished in lead­ing med­ical jour­nals, includ­ing arti­cles on Hor­mone Replace­ment Ther­a­pies, Vioxx, Neu­ron­tin, Fen-Phen, and var­i­ous anti-depres­sants.  These arti­cles are often cit­ed by the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal spon­sors to pro­mote off-label use of their prod­ucts.

Lem­mens, who is also cross-appoint­ed to the Temer­ty Temer­ty Fac­ul­ty of Med­i­cine, has tough words for aca­d­e­mics who par­tic­i­pate in this guest author­ship-ghost­writ­ing dance. “It’s a pros­ti­tu­tion of their aca­d­e­m­ic stand­ing. And it under­mines the integri­ty of the entire aca­d­e­m­ic pub­li­ca­tion sys­tem.”


Author bios: and

PLoS Med­i­cine:

Fund­ing: The research is sup­port­ed by a grant from the Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties Research Coun­cil on The Pro­mo­tion of Integri­ty in Bio­med­ical Research.




For fur­ther infor­ma­tion please con­tact:

Prof. Simon Stern
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Fac­ul­ty of Law
Toron­to, Ontario, Cana­da

Prof. Tru­do Lem­mens
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Fac­ul­ty of Law
Toron­to, Ontario, Cana­da
**Prof. Lem­mens par­le fran­cais**

Lucian­na Cic­co­ciop­po
Direc­tor, Exter­nal Rela­tions
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Fac­ul­ty of Law
Toron­to, Ontario, Cana­da