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Conflicts of interest / Competing interests

There must be clear definitions of conflicts of interest and processes for handling conflicts of interest of authors, reviewers, editors, journals and publishers, whether identified before or after publication

Our core practices

Core practices are the policies and practices journals and publishers need, to reach the highest standards in publication ethics. We include cases with advice, guidance for day-to-day practice, education modules and events on topical issues, to support journals and publishers fulfil their policies.

The incomplete systematic review


A systematic review on the effectiveness of a comparatively new group of drugs was submitted. The review had originally been for an independent body, so the submission was an abridged version. A reviewer pointed out that the review made no reference to a Cochrane review and the trials it cited, which had been published some four months before submission of the paper to the journal.


The undeclared competing interest


An author wrote us a letter for publication on the importance of doing research on a long established drug. He did not declare any competing interest, but we were later informed that he was conducting a trial of the drug funded by a pharmaceutical company. We approached him and asked him to declare his competing interest. Have we done the right thing? Should we do more than simply ask him to declare his competing interest and publish that declaration the journal?


The dubious scientist


A scientist wrote to a medical journal asking if it was interested in receiving an editorial from him. The editorial would criticise current HIV vaccine research. The scientist is the senior partner of a technology company, and he printed his company’s website in his communication to the journal.


Authorship dispute


An article was published with three authors’ names. Not all of the authors’ signatures had been included on the original submission letter. A complaint was lodged by Y, who said that X had submitted the paper without either his or Z’s consent or knowledge, and that there were several specific errors and omissions. Y then submitted a statement for publication in the journal dissociating himself from the published article.


Undeclared conflict of interest


A paper on a controversial topic from three authors was published. All three authors completed forms to say that they did not have competing interests. This was stated at the end of the paper. A reader subsequently contacted the journal to say that she had clear evidence that one of the authors did have competing interests. He had, she said, been involved in legal cases and received substantial payments for his work. The article related to these legal cases.


The declared and the undeclared competing interests


An editorial was published on a particular subject in which the author’s competing interests were declared. He had given evidence on behalf of patients making a claim against a manufacturer. Three people then separately pointed out that we had already published a commentary on the same subject in which there had been no declaration of competing interest for the author. The three people all said that this author did have competing interests.


Confidentiality and conflict of interest


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.


Disagreement between a reviewer and an author


We sent a paper to a reviewer, who suggested that we should reject the paper, principally because he thought it “virtually identical to a paper in press by the same authors”. We rejected the paper with these comments. The author came back to us saying that he did not believe that he had had a fair review of his paper because, he thought, the reviewer had a conflict of interest.