Posts Tagged ‘PLoS Medicine’

Medical ghostwriters and scientists guilty of misconduct should be liable

August 3, 2011

I have long thought that scientific publications (and scientific endeavour in general) cannot be exempt from liability for scientific misconduct – at least a civil liability even if  any criminal liability would depend upon the extent of any fraud involved in a publication or in the performance of scientific activity. The liability would obviously start with the scientists/authors but the entire publishing chain including reviewers, editors and publishers and those who commission the science or the ghost writing must carry their share of responsibility and cannot be exempt.

In a scientific context I think ghostwriting – of itself – is tantamount to fraud.

Why cannot a concept of tort or “product liability”apply to scientists?  

It seems to me that the concept of tort or “product liability” should be applicable to the work of scientists and researchers where their work is the result of faking data, fraud or other misconduct since it would be work that “had not been done in good faith”. Tort would apply because the ramifications of their misconduct would extend far beyond their employment contracts with their employers.

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,”  say two University of Toronto law professors:

Legal Remedies for Medical Ghostwriting: Imposing Fraud Liability on Guest Authors of Ghostwritten Articles

by Simon Stern, Trudo Lemmens PLoS Med 8(8): e1001070. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001070

Summary Points

  • Ghostwriting of medical journal articles raises serious ethical and legal concerns, bearing on the integrity of medical research and scientific evidence used in legal disputes.
  • Medical journals, academic institutions, and professional disciplinary bodies have thus far failed to enforce effective sanctions.
  • The practice of ghostwriting could be deterred more effectively through the imposition of legal liability on the “guest authors” who lend their names to ghostwritten articles.
  • We argue that a guest author’s claim for credit of an article written by someone else constitutes legal fraud, 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 same fraud could support claims of “fraud on the court” against a pharmaceutical company that has used ghostwritten articles in litigation. This claim also appropriately reflects the negative impact of ghostwriting on the legal system.

CTV News says:

Academics who lend their names to medical and scientific articles that they didn’t actually write are doing little more than prostituting themselves, according to two law professors at the University of Toronto. …. 

Academic ghostwriting is a little-known practice that finally came to the public’s attention after some popular drugs like the now-discontinued painkiller Vioxx started showing serious problems.

Lawsuits revealed that studies that suggested the drugs were safe and effective were often not written by the scientists listed as the authors. Instead, they were ghostwritten by writers working for the drug companies that make the medications. The scientists listed as authors were offered payment in return for attaching their names.

The problem of course is that doctors rely on information in the medical literature to make treatment decisions. That’s when “ghostwritten” articles can have devastating effects: by swaying doctors to give patients improper and even harmful treatment. ….

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