Disclosure of conflicts of interest is essential to preserving the integrity of published research. Though previous COPE guidelines have addressed the editor's role in administering undisclosed conflicts of interest, less attention has been paid to the appropriate means of handling financial or nonfinancial conflicts of interest that are fully disclosed at the outset of the review process for papers or post-publication commentaries.

While disclosure should not serve as a rubber stamp, affording authors the opportunity to advance any argument regardless of personal interest or biases, it is also clear that overly aggressive treatment of work by authors with disclosed conflicts of interest also presents a disservice to the scientific record, as it neglects the notion that authors might present meaningful research or commentary despite the existence of a conflict, and it also incentivizes authors to avoid disclosure of information that might preclude fair consideration of their work.

1. What additional procedures are appropriate to evaluate work from authors with disclosed conflicts of interest?
2. How should editors handle manuscripts or commentary refuting the work of others?
3. How should information about conflicts of interests be shared with reviewers, editors, etc.?

This will be discussed at the start of the next COPE Forum on Friday 3 February. Please do leave any comments below, whether or not you are planning on joining the meeting

Comments are reviewed and, on approval, added below. 


  • Posted by Michael Wise, 2/2/2017 9.58am

3) I think it is reasonable to not tell reviewers about potential conflicts of interest as their role is to scrutinize the proposition being put forward in the manuscript together with the supporting evidence, on its own merits, shorn of the politics. However, before that happens, the editor needs to form a view as to whether the CoI is such as to overshadow the paper's conclusions.
2) This is a separate issue, orthogonal to CoI. Every paper repudiates some aspect of previous understanding, so a complete refutation is just a larger version of the same process, entailing selection of appropriate reviewers, as usual. (Agreed that that is far easier said than done these days.)

  • Posted by Zoe Mullan, 2/2/2017 10.32am

1. If an author disclosed relevant conflicts in an original research article, I would simply want to make sure that all of my reviewers were squeaky clean. However, our journals have a strict policy on COIs for commentary and review material, since biases or spin in these types of article are more insidious than for original research. From our info for authors: "For Comment, Seminars, Reviews, and Series, The Lancet will not publish if an author, within the past 3 years, and with a relevant company or competitor, has any stocks or shares, equity, a contract of employment, or a named position on a company board; or has been asked by any organisation other than The Lancet to write, be named on, or to submit the paper."

2. COIs should be sought and stated, and the original authors given a chance to respond.

3. My feeling is that transparency throughout the process is best. So while I can see Michael's point about reviewers assessing the submission on its own merits, those very merits might take on a different appearance if the COI was known. Reviewers might reasonably feel a bit hoodwinked if the information was withheld from them. Again, it depends on the article type somewhat - certainly reviewers ought to see any COIs disclosed in reviews or commentaries.

  • Posted by Daniel Kulp, 2/2/2017 2.57pm

1 and 3. If an author discloses a COI in a research article, it is important that all parties in the process are fully aware and able to to see the work in context of the conflict. I agree with Zoe that it is important that process be as transparent as possible. Editors have to be aware of author COIs to insure that referees don't have associated or similar conflicts. As noted by Zoe, Referees should also be informed of the conflicts and instructed by the editors how they should act on this information.

2. This is tangential to primary query, but a good question in of itself. If the paper/commentary significantly refutes or strongly questions previous work (beyond what one might expect as advancement of the science), it seems that the original authors deserve the opportunity to respond to the criticism.

  • Posted by Charon Pierson, 3/2/2017 12.23am

Regarding questions 1 & 3, for my journal, I do the screening of both manuscripts and reviewers prior to assigning reviewers. I also have an editorial board of very trusted people who I know do not have any COIs related to products, drugs or finances. What is more difficult is subtle COIs or bias about certain issues. If there is a potential COI on the part of the authors, I will assign reviewers as usual, send them the relevant disclosures, and also assign an editorial board member to review the manuscript as well as the reviews. This does not happen often, but it has happened on a few occasions. It makes a lot of additional work for me as well as the editorial board, but it has worked well thus far. Regarding question 2, as mentioned by others, complete transparency is essential. The authors should be given the opportunity to respond. I also rely on my editorial board for advice if I have a concern, and I don't hesitate to obtain extra reviews if I have any questions. I edit an association journal and have been a long-time member and leader in this association for all of my professional career, so I believe I have a strong network to rely on. I can see where this might not be the usual situation for journal editors.

  • Posted by Mohammad Abdollahi, 3/2/2017 7.52am

I would like to say that sometimes reviewers are not aware of what is considered as a COI while they have and thus do the review but not necessarily with an intention to do something wrong; Therefore, the journal should provide COI checking by just asking some little check box questions and if COI exists then the system can automatically prevent reviewer to do the review. As a matter of fact, COI is a general term and not specified properly. Thus, the publisher or journal should facilitate that process by providing enough info what is COI.

  • Posted by Trevor Lane, 3/2/2017 3.35pm

For multi-author papers, if at least one of the authors declares a relevant CoI, the other authors could be asked to vouch that they had full access to the data and checked the text is unbiased, and a statement could be added at the end of the paper.