In the medical domain, it frequently happens that papers are written by a pharma company or it's contractors and then given to an academic to publish.

The word "ghostwriter" seems to be appropriate for the person who actually wrote the paper. What's the best word to describe the person who is officially the first author of such a paper but who had little input in it's writing? I'm searching for a specific word to categories the behavior.

  • 17
    What about dishonest?
    – StrongBad
    Nov 9, 2017 at 19:06
  • 4
    Sounds like a Leach. Nov 9, 2017 at 19:52
  • 14
    The first word that comes to mind is "fraud".
    – JeffE
    Nov 9, 2017 at 20:44
  • 3
    "... frequently"? That is rather concerning TBH.
    – o4tlulz
    Nov 10, 2017 at 1:45
  • 3
    I honestly feel that I would lose all respect for a scientist if I find out that they contributed to such a practice, as it is just fraud. There is nothing preventing the pharma company from publishing the paper themselves as long as they list their conflicting financial interests.
    – Bas Jansen
    Nov 10, 2017 at 9:13

2 Answers 2


Phrases like "guest author", "honorary author", or "courtesy author" have been used to describe this practice.


  • 3
    Hmm... I don't think this is correct. These terms are used for people who were a named author on the paper but it was actually written by the other named author(s). The "ghostwriter" is usually not named at all, and the paper is solely "authored" by someone uninvolved. I don't think you'd normally describe this as guest/courtesy authorship. Nov 9, 2017 at 19:39
  • 1
    The OP mentioned "ghost writer", but that wasn't what the question was about. Nov 9, 2017 at 19:52
  • I agree we're not looking for a term for the ghostwriter - but the person who has their name on a ghostwritten article isn't the same sort of thing as the "guest author" on an otherwise normally authored paper without a ghostwriter. Nov 9, 2017 at 21:02
  • 2
    "Honorary author" sounds rather grandiloquent for what is essentially academic fraud. I truly doubt it has ever been applied to the setting OP has certainly in mind (involving a famous agrochemical company).
    – user9646
    Nov 10, 2017 at 8:26
  • @CapeCode The sentence "the overall prevalence of articles with honorary authorship, ghost authorship, or both" in the second reference you wrote indicates that "honorary authorship" doesn't necessarily entail ghostwriting, nor conversely.
    – user9646
    Nov 10, 2017 at 12:39

"Dummy author", by analogy with dummy corporations, comes to mind. Other expressions could be "straw author", or "front author".

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