Wyeth, a major drug manufacturer, has been accused of paying ghostwriters to write favorable medical journal articles, according to the New York Times. Senator Charles Grasserly has been spearheading a Senate Committee investigation of drug company practices. His staff released these documents which they discovered mostly from civil lawsuits.

This is an important example of how the civil justice system exposes some of the most egregious acts of corporate malfeasance. From tobacco, to asbestos and numerous other public health issues, lawsuits have been one of the most effective ways to expose these dark tactics. The details of this particular case are disturbing. The article states:

documents show company executives came up with ideas for medical journal articles, titled them, drafted outlines, paid writers to draft the manuscripts, recruited academic authors and identified publications to run the articles – all without disclosing the companies’ roles to journal editors or readers.

It is important to realize that this is an industry wide practice. This issue is particularly important in the context of lawsuits against drug manufacturers. Courts look at peer reviewed articles in evaluating whether a drugs side effects can be causally related to harms alleged in lawsuits. By stuffing peer reviewed journals with ghost written pieces that call into doubt studies linking a drug to harmful side-effects, these companies greatly increase the likelihood of immunizing themselves from lawsuits.