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According to legal experts, doctors and scientists who put their names on medical articles in which they have not written should be charged with fraud.

The experts want to stop the shady business of "guest authorship," which is when a research paper is written by pharmaceutical companies or industry-sponsored medical writers and are passed off as the work of influential, independent academics.

Doctors received payments or other incentives to endorse articles in some cases, which often were even done without being familiar with the studies or data of the reports.

Legal experts want to draw more light on the darkened subject as the issue becomes increasingly harder to ignore. In recent years, drug companies have used the tactic as a marketing tool.

Simon Stern and Trudo Lemmens, who are law professors at the University of Toronto, warn that measures brought in by publishers and professional bodies to stop guest authorship have failed to tackle the problem so far.

The two law professors call for more severe sanctions against those involved.

"It's a prostitution of their academic standing. And it undermines the integrity of the entire academic publication system," Lemmens said.

"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," the authors wrote in the journal PLoS Medicine.

The authors continue: "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."

The two say that pharmaceutical companies and the medical writers they sponsor may also incur liability for soliciting and facilitating fraud.

Some journals called for bans on guest authors and warn that unacknowledged ghostwriting will be retracted if discovered after publication.