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A conflict of interest (COI) occurs when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation for an act in the other.

A conflict of interest can only exist if a person or testimony is entrusted with some impartiality; a modicum of trust is necessary to create it. The presence of a conflict of interest is independent from the execution of impropriety. Therefore, a conflict of interest can be discovered and voluntarily defused before any corruption occurs.

Conflict of interest (COI) exists when there is a divergence between an individual’s private interests (competing interests) and his or her responsibilities to scientific and publishing activities such that a reasonable observer might wonder if the individual’s behaviour or judgment was motivated by considerations of his or her competing interests. COI in medical publishing affects everyone with a stake in research integrity including journals, research / academic institutions, funding agencies, the popular media, and the public. Journals are interested in COI as it relates to a specific manuscript.

Everyone has COIs of some sort.  Having a competing interest does not, in itself, imply wrongdoing.  However, it constitutes a problem when competing interests could unduly influence (or be reasonably seen to do so) one’s responsibilities in the publication process.  If COI is not managed effectively, it can cause authors, reviewers, and editors to make decisions that, consciously or unconsciously, tend to serve their competing interests at the expense of their responsibilities in the publication process, thereby distorting the scientific enterprise.  This consequence of COI is especially dangerous when it is not immediately apparent to others. In addition, the appearance of COI, even where none actually exists, can also erode trust in a journal by damaging its reputation and credibility.

COI policies differ among journals and are evolving over time.  Every peer-reviewed medical journal (herein “Journal”) should have its own COI policies for authors, reviewers, and editors.  Journals should make these policies readily accessible to everyone involved in the publication process by publishing them with instructions for authors. The Editorial COI Policy that addresses editor COI should be published as well. This statement summarizes the main elements of COI policies with examples and options for disclosure and management.