Possible conflict of interest
Case text (Anonymised)
Our journal is attempting to encourage the adoption of a uniform standard for the reporting of population genetics data. As part of this, one of the editors of our journal has submitted a proposal requiring authors to submit their data, including raw data, to his own database. While the intention is laudable, there would appear to be a clear conflict of interest.
What can a journal do ethically to require authors to present their data in particular formats and to make their raw data publicly available?
In this situation is there a conflict of interest in the proposition that should preclude the journal adopting this policy?
What suggestions should be made to the editor concerned to resolve the conflict of interest while supporting the aims of standardised data collection and and centralised data storage and analysis.
The Forum was cautious about requiring authors to submit their data to a particular database. Some thought it was a step too far. The majority view was that instead of “requiring” authors to submit their data, it could be helpful to “encourage” them to do so and to provide information about the working of the database, but also to publish a clear conflict of interest statement about the ownership of the database when the policy is announced. The journal can only encourage authors—submission of their data should be optional and it is possible that other databases will be developed in time.
The Forum agreed that consulting with the wider community is a good idea. The editor could discuss this with the editorial board and also with other journals in the same field.
The editor noted that the comments from the Forum were very useful in guiding him to a decision on this case. The resolution was that the review article should be revised to remove any reference to future policy of the journal, and that instead an editorial piece would be written to go alongside the review, putting the case for submission of all population data to a database, such as the one described in the accompanying article. In addition, a letter would be sent to the editors of other journals in the area suggesting that they consider the benefits of such centralised data collection and suggesting that they adopt a common policy of recommending such submission.
These suggestions were passed to the associate editor/author of the review and the journal is awaiting resubmission of the amended review.