Confidentiality and conflict of interest
Case text (Anonymised)
A paper reporting an attitudinal study was sent for peer review. The editor received a letter from the reviewer stating that as he was personally acknowledged in the paper, he felt there was a conflict of interest and so unable to review the paper. The reviewer also pointed out that the research in question was part of a larger commissioned project with strict conditions of confidentiality. The persons surveyed were given assurance that the views expressed would remain unattributed and that the information gathered would be for research purposes only. The reviewer asked the editor to put the article on hold until he clarified whether or not the publication of part of the research findings would be acceptable,given the confidentiality agreements undertaken. What should the editor do now?
There is a breach of confidentiality here. The editor should go back to the first author seeking clarification of the supposed premature publication/breach of confidentiality, stating that a reviewer had brought this to his attention. If the reply is unsatisfactory, the editor should refer to the head of the institution. The reviewer should not lead this; the editor should.
The editor was satisfied with the lead author’s reply and publication proceeded.