Q: Disclosure of conflicts of interest: what do journals expect from authors?

Detailed Question -

The Editor of the journal to which I have submitted my paper, has written to me about the disclosure policy of the journal. This is what he says: “According to our disclosure policy, a competing interest exists when professional judgment concerning the validity of research is influenced by a secondary interest, such as financial gain. So, we require that our authors reveal all possible conflicts of interest in their submitted manuscripts. So, please let me know whether you have any conflict of interests in your manuscript.” What should I do now? I am worried. Please advise.

1 Answer to this question

This is nothing to worry about. Like many other journals, this journal seems to have a formal policy requiring a statement of declaration of conflicts of interest. According to the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME), a conflict of interest or COI "exists when a participant in the publication process (author, peer reviewer, or editor) has a competing interest that could unduly influence (or be reasonably seen to do so) his or her responsibilities in the publication process."  

A potential conflict of interest could arise from financial relationships, personal relationships or rivalries, academic competition, or differences in ideologies or beliefs, etc. Most international journals follow a policy of complete disclosure when it comes to COI. As the author, you will have to submit a statement ensuring that:

1. Any kind of financial support (funding, grants, sponsorship) that you have received has been acknowledged. 

2. Any commercial or financial relationship that might have the potential of being viewed as a conflict of interest has been disclosed in the cover letter.

3. You have not signed any agreement with the sponsor that will bias the results of your research in any way.

If you feel you do not have any potential conflict of interest, you should give a declaration mentioning that.

Finally, check the manuscript submission guidelines of the journal and see whether the journal has a specific form or any specific requirements for declaration of conflicts of interest. You can also have a look at the ICMJE guidelines on conflicts of interest  to have a clearer view on the subject. They also have a form that you can refer to while writing your declaration in case the journal does not provide a form.