A legal remedy is needed to curb unethical “guest authorship” in medical journals.
Medical “guest writers” might be sued for fraud. For some time, commentators have called for sanctions against academic doctors who agree to sign their names to articles that are planned and developed by medical writing companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Some have even called these practices fraudulent, but have not confronted the legal difficulties with that approach—namely that the grounds for fraud are hard to establish: those who have been harmed by the drugs (the patients) are unlikely to have read the article, and therefore cannot claim to have believed that the “guest” was the true author, while the doctors who found the article persuasive are unlikely to have used the drug themselves.
We argue that the readers of medical journals are also victims. The value of their subscription is diminished when the editors unwittingly publish articles signed by guest writers who falsely claim to be the author. This violates the journal’s publication requirements, making the articles themselves fraudulent. We also argue that when the pharmaceutical sponsors use these articles to defend themselves in lawsuits (for example, to prove a drug’s safety), that effort should be treated as a fraud on the court, resulting in a verdict in favor of the opposing party.