PLoS Medicine article advocates using legal system to stem ghostwriting

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

An essay published by PLoS Medicine makes the case that the “guest” authors of ghostwritten articles – typically academic researchers who provide little or no input – in medical journals should be held legally liable for damages or deaths caused by the drug or device that is the subject of articles they sign their names to.

The article points out that ghostwriting “openly infringes academic standards and … contributes to fraud” but that journal editors have been ineffective at putting a stop to it.

We argue that when an injured patient’s physician directly or indirectly relied upon a journal article containing false/manipulated safety and efficacy data, then pursuant to the legal authority outlined above, the authors of that article, including guest authors, are legally liable for patient injuries and could be named as defendants.

Xavier Bosch, Bijan Esfandiari and Leemon McHenry, authors of the PLoS Medicine piece, even endorse the theory that the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) could be used, something that was mentioned in an article last year. Other recourses the authors recommend include the False Claims Act and the Anti-Kickback Statute.