Public trust in the review process and the reliability of published articles depend in part on how successfully the conflict of interest is resolved during the writing of the article, its review and editorial decision-making. A conflict of interest arises in the course of a relationship as a “dual relationship”, “competing interests” or “competing loyalty”. Such relationships can range from insignificant to having a large potential impact on decision-making. Not all relationships represent true conflict of interest. At the same time, there may be room for conflict of interest regardless of whether or not a person believes that this relationship affects their scientific judgment.
Conflicts of interest can occur for reasons of personal relationships, competition in the academic environment and intellectual enthusiasm.
All participants in the peer review and publication process should disclose relationships that may lead to a conflict of interest. Disclosure of such relationships is also important when publishing editorial and review articles, as it is more difficult to identify bias in these types of publications than in original research reports.
Editors can use the information specified in the conflict of interest reports as a basis for making certain decisions. Editors should publish this information if they believe it may have an impact on the evaluation of the manuscript.
Potential conflict of interest related to the obligations of individual authors
When authors submit a manuscript of any format, they are required to disclose all relationships that may have affected their work. To prevent ambiguity, authors should clearly indicate whether there is a possibility of a conflict of interest. This should be indicated in the manuscript as a special form of notice of conflict of interest on the page following the title page. If necessary, additional information should be provided in the cover letter. Authors should indicate the persons who provided assistance in writing the article or provided other types of assistance.
Researchers should inform other participants about the potential conflict of interest and indicate in the manuscript whether they have done so.
Editors also need to decide whether to print information disclosed by authors about potential conflicts of interest. In ambiguous cases, the publication of these data should be preferred.
Potential conflict of interest related to project support
Increasingly, funds for individual research are provided by commercial firms, private organizations and the government. The terms of such funding could potentially lead to a biased evaluation of the work or otherwise discredit the study.
Scientists have an ethical obligation to submit the results of funded research for publication. Moreover, researchers who are responsible for their work should not enter into agreements that may affect the availability of full access to and independent analysis of data and the preparation and publication of manuscripts. Authors should indicate the role of the sponsor of the work, if any, in the design of the study, the collection, analysis and interpretation of data, in the writing of the report and the decision to submit the report for publication. If the above aspects of the work were carried out without the participation of sponsors, the authors should also indicate this. The potential ambiguity of the work that arises when sponsors are directly involved in the study is similar to a methodological systematic error.
Editors may require that authors of research funded by agencies with a material or financial interest in the results of the work sign a statement, for example, “I have full access to all data in this work, and I am solely responsible for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of their analysis.” Editors should review copies of protocols and/or contracts related to this type of research before accepting these papers for publication. Editors may choose not to consider an article if a sponsor has asserted control over the authors ‘ right to publish.
Potential conflict of interest related to the obligations of editors, journal staff or reviewers
Editors should avoid selecting external reviewers with potential conflicts of interest, for example, if these reviewers work in the same Department or institution as one of the authors. Authors often tell editors who they think should not be asked to review a manuscript because of a potential, usually professional, conflict of interest. If possible, authors should be asked to explain and justify their concerns about potential conflicts of interest among reviewers. This information is important to the editors in deciding whether to grant the authors ‘ request.
Reviewers should inform editors of any conflict of interest that may affect their opinion of the manuscript, and they should independently refuse to review if there are grounds for bias. Just as with authors, if reviewers do not report a potential conflict of interest, it could mean that a conflict exists and the reviewer has not disclosed it, or there is no conflict. Therefore, reviewers should also be asked for a clear explanation of the presence or absence of a conflict of interest. Reviewers should not use information about the reviewed work to their advantage before it is published.
Editors making final decisions on manuscripts should not have a personal, professional or financial interest in any aspect of the published work. Other editorial staff, if they participate in editorial decisions, must inform the editor-in-chief of their interest and independently refuse to make decisions in the presence of a conflict of interest. The editors should not use the information obtained when working with manuscripts for personal purposes. Editors should publish regular disclosure statements about potential conflicts of interests related to the commitments of journal staff.