Understanding conflicts of interest

Conflicts of interest
As a journal editor, you are likely to come across this term more than once, either in your own journals or in academia as a whole, usually with some fairly negative connotations (despite the fact that a declaration of a conflict of interest in actuality ensures transparency). What are the true implications when an author declares a conflict of interest? And how do these affect the paper, and your journal? Read on to find out.

What is a conflict of interest?
A conflict of interest describes a situation in which an author or author group have potential competing interests, be it professional or financial, in the submission and publication of their paper and its research. This is to the extent that it might skew or corrupt their manuscript, or the results of their research.

Transparency is key
During a manuscript submission, the author has the opportunity to declare any interests affecting their paper, either in their cover letter, or by answering a conflict of interest question on the peer review systems submission form. By voluntarily providing this information and ensuring complete and unambiguous transparency, the author significantly contributes to diffusing any potential concerns regarding competing interests, thus maintaining the integrity of their research.

The author has declared a conflict of interest, how do I proceed?

A declared conflict of interest does not necessarily imply that the research is problematic, but it allows you to evaluate the information provided by the author, and to assess the manuscript fairly and check for any undue bias in the research.

If you conclude that the results are based on sound research, and the conclusions are reached independently of any conflicting interests, the manuscript should be allowed to progress and potentially be published following peer review. To ensure full disclosure, any conflict of interest will then be published alongside the article, ensuring the integrity of both the research and the journal.

However, if the declared conflict of interest significantly affects the interpretation of the results, a rejection should be considered. If you are concerned that the information provided by the author indicates the integrity of the research may be compromised, please contact your Dedicated Juncture Researchers Association Managing Editor.

After the fact: the author has declared a conflict of interest post-publication
If the author does not divulge any conflicts of interest until a manuscript is accepted, or following publication this could be considered misconduct on their part.

Examples of conflicts of interest might include the following, although it is not an exhaustive list:

  1. Having received fees for consulting.
  2. Having received research funding.
  3. Having been employed by a related company.
  4. Holding stocks or shares in a company which might be affected by the publication of your paper.
  5. Having received funds reimbursing you for attending related symposia, or talk.

If there are other interests which the reasonable reader might feel, have affected your research, you may also wish to declare them. 

*Please note that it is not expected that the details of financial arrangements be disclosed when a competing interest is declared. 

Author obligations regarding conflicting interests 

In your Journal Publishing Contributor Agreement you will be asked to certify that: 

  1. All forms of financial support are acknowledged in your Contribution.
  2. Any commercial or financial involvements that might present an appearance of a conflict of interest related to the Contribution are disclosed in a covering letter accompanying the Contribution and all such potential conflicts of interest will be discussed with the Editor as to whether disclosure of this information with the published Contribution is to be made in the journal.
  3. You have not signed an agreement with any sponsor of the research reported in the Contribution that prevents you from publishing both positive and negative results or that forbids you from publishing this research without the prior approval of the sponsor.
  4. You have checked the manuscript submission guidelines to see whether the journal requires a Declaration of Conflicting Interests and have complied with the requirements specified where such a policy exists.  

Additional Information 

You may find the following useful resources to refer to for more information on Conflict of Interest policies, existing codes of practices and more general good practice in relation to journal publication ethics: 

View the Guidelines published on good publication and the Code of Conduct by the Committee of Publication Ethics   (COPE). 

View the guidelines published by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). 

View a Common Standard for Conflict of Interest Disclosure published by Center for Science in the Public Interest.