Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Conflicts of interest go beyond the drug and device companies

The World Association of Medical Editors has recently released its new policy statement for journal editors concerning conflicts on interest (COI) on the part of authors and reviewers. No longer focusing on financial conflicts due to proprietary interests, the statement takes a broader and more balanced view. It's long overdue. Some excerpts (italics mine):

Journals often have policies for managing financial COI, mostly based on the untested assumption that financial ties have an especially powerful influence over publication decisions and may not be apparent unless they are made explicit. However, other competing interests can be just as damaging, and just as hidden to most participants, and so must also be managed.

Examples cited as significant conflicts, in addition to the obvious financial conflicts, include:

Academic commitments. Participants in the publications process may have strong beliefs (“intellectual passion”) that commit them to a particular explanation, method, or idea. They may, as a result, be biased in conducting research that tests the commitment or in reviewing the work of others that is in favor or at odds with their beliefs.

Personal relationships. Personal relationships with family, friends, enemies, competitors, or colleagues can pose COIs.

Political or religious beliefs. Strong commitment to a particular political view (e.g., political position, agenda, or party) or having a strong religious conviction may pose a COI for a given publication if those political or religious issues are affirmed or challenged in the publication.

Institutional affiliations. A COI exists when a participant in the publication process is directly affiliated with an institution that on the face of it may have a position or an interest in a publication.

It'll take a while for journals to fall into compliance, but this is a welcome development.

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