I am totally down with this article by Simon Stern and Trudo Lemmens in PLoS Medicine.
I have written before about academic -- and specifically medical -- ghost writing, which makes my blood boil. As you know, research sponsored by drug companies is likely to be favorable to the manufacturer's products (fancy that), so the companies commonly resort to fraud. They find a high-powered academic type to pretend to be the author of a research report which he (almost always -- never heard of a woman doing this but I can't rule it out) had nothing to do with.
The harms of this practice are, what's the word I'm looking for? Ah, multifarious. I.e. there are a lot of them. E.g.:
- Peer reviewed publication is the currency of academic careers. These schtickdrecks get undeserved credit for publications which pad their resumes, increase their chances for advancement ahead of more deserving colleagues, and increase their chances of getting grant awards, other publications and invitations to speak at conferences, etc. -- all fraudulently obtained;
- The publications themselves gain false credibility which may persuade doctors to prescribe in ways which harm patients or deprive them of better alternatives;
- The publications displace more deserving material from the journal;
- The publications have a false credibility should their be litigation concerning the products in question, thereby distorting the outcomes of legal proceedings.
Physicians and other investigators who participate in this practice are obviously contemptible. Not only do they gain undeserved benefits for themselves, they harm patients and ultimately may be responsible for killing people. Yes. They ought to lose their jobs, be permanently debarred from federal funding, and from academic publication. But the actual response of universities, journals, and funders is . . .
Nothing! Stern and Lemmens discuss the reasons for this but it basically comes down to not wanting to rock the boat and mess with the powerful, highly paid bigfooted scum who do this.
So they have a solution, and believe me, it's long past due: sue them for fraud. They have perpetrated a fraud upon the journals, first of all, which generally require putative authors to sign a form saying they made "substantial contributions to conception and design, acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data," and "drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content." Ghostwriters are lying when they sign this form. Second, they have perpetrated a fraud upon the readers of the journal. Third, if the article ever is introduced in litigation, they have perpetrated a fraud upon the court.
The drug companies could also be sued, and even prosecuted criminally under the RICO statute.
I say let's do it. If anybody needs a volunteer to join a class action, you know where to find me.