Legal experts call for severe sanctions against scientists who ‘guest author’ papers written by drugs companies.
By Ian Sample, Science Correspondent
The proposals aim to stamp out the shady business of “guest authorship”, where research papers written by pharmaceutical companies or industry-sponsored medical writers are passed off as the work of influential, independent academics.
In the worst cases, doctors receive payments or other incentives to endorse articles without being familiar with the studies or data the reports describe. Often, the articles are biased and do not carry the names of the real authors.
The medical profession has long been troubled by guest authorship and ghostwriting, but the issue has become harder to ignore in recent years as the extent to which drugs companies use the tactic as a marketing tool has become clear.
Articles drafted by industry with minimal involvement from guest authors have been published in leading journals on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), Vioxx (an anti-inflammatory drug that was withdrawn amid safety fears), Neurontin (used in pain relief), antidepressants, and the combination diet drug, Fen-phen (also withdrawn for safety reasons).
While the practice is not currently considered to be illegal, it is widely regarded as unethical and potentially harmful to patients because it skews the information that appears in medical journals.