During peer review of a manuscript submitted to journal Y, one of the referees indicated a belief that at least one of the authors had not declared a relevant conflict of interest (CoI). The article indicated that the authors had no relevant CoIs. The referee provided a URL to a press release that supported the allegation. It appears that one of the authors is the discoverer of a series of compounds that are the subject of the article. The compounds have been licensed to a company.
The authors were asked to clarify the situation and have provided a revised declaration that acknowledges the CoI.
Journal Y recently (September 2007) published another article by this group on the same subject that contained a declaration indicating no relevant CoI. Journal Y is in the process of indicating to the authors that a correction to the published article with the correct CoI declaration will be necessary.
Journal Y is also aware that another article by this group was published in journal Z six months earlier and did not reveal the CoI. Journal Z has a stated policy on declaring CoIs that we strongly suspect was in place when this article was submitted. Journal Y is intending to contact Journal Z to inform them.
Does the Forum recommend that other affected articles should be sought out and other affected journals be alerted in this way? If so, perhaps the question “Are other articles affected?” might be added to the flowcharts.
Does the Forum consider that the seriousness of this omission is compounded by its repetition? If so, should there be any additional sanction (other than publishing multiple corrections) in this and similar cases?
The Forum questioned whether it is the editor’s role to police all journals and so rejected the idea that other affected articles should be sought out and other affected journals be alerted. Editors should spend their time editing not policing. However, most agreed that the author’s institution should be informed, asking it to investigate, but warned about making any allegations. The Forum believed that the seriousness of omission of a CoI was compounded by its repetition but only if it had been done knowingly and if the omission occurred after it had been made clear to the author that this was not good behaviour. Some warned that this may not be so clear cut. Instructions to authors can vary widely and often CoI statements are not requested.
The journal brought the previously published article lacking a declaration of the potential conflict of interest to the attention of the authors of that article and requested that they supply a corrected declaration for publication as an rrratum. The authors agreed and the erratum has been published. It appears this was a case of omission rather than anything else and the journal has not informed the affected author’s department.