An online post-publication literature evaluation service aiming to highlight the best papers in medicine, received an evaluation of a basic science study funded by an NIHM grant. The evaluator declared in his/her competing interests that he/she is the director of a project that included the evaluated study as one of its components. The overall project was funded by an NIHM grant and paid the salary of the study’s first author. The evaluator did not supervise the study or write the paper. As competing interests were declared, the editor decided to publish the evaluation.
The editor presented the case in an editorial meeting, raising the following concerns:
Can we accept this evaluation considering the evaluator is the director of the overall project and may gain from promoting this study’s results?
The meeting made the following decision:
As competing interests were declared, the meeting felt we could go ahead with publishing the evaluation.
Competing interests declaration:
I am the director of the grant that paid some of the expenses for the conduct of this study, including the first author’s salary. I did not supervise the work or write the paper, as you can see I am not a co-author. If you look at the paper, it indicates the financial support of a NIMH grant. I am the director of the overall project that included a component directed by the first author that conducted this study.
Would you have taken a different course of action? In particular, do you think it was right to publish the evaluation and is the declaration of interests sufficient in its current form?
Seeing that approximately 1% of evaluators declare any competing interests when probably 90% (again, a rough guess) have interests with regards to the articles they evaluate, would you have any suggestions on how we could improve the situation?
The chair commented that the post-publication literature evaluation services do raise some very interesting and new issues not encountered in paper journals. The majority view of the committee seemed to be that there was a clear and unacceptable conflict of interest and some argued that the evaluation should not have been published. However, the committee advised that it might have been useful to have determined in advance the exact involvement of the author in the study and to publish a more detailed competing interests statement. The editor should consider whether the service’s published advice on competing interests is sufficiently comprehensive.