Research and conflicts of interest

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Often when publishing your research you are asked to state that you have no conflict of interest in the publication. What does this mean and how should you respond?

Typically, conflicting interests, whether they be financial or non-financial, are interests that could undermine the objectivity, integrity or value of the publication, usually through influencing the judgements and actions of authors with regard to objective data presentation, analysis and interpretation.

Declaring a potential interest therefore helps readers form their own judgements about any potential bias. Normally, the corresponding author is responsible for submitting a competing interests’ statement on behalf of all authors of the paper.

Examples of conflicts of interest include scenarios where an author’s funding (including salaries, equipment, supplies, and other expenses) may be gained or lost through the publication; the funder has had a role in the design, data collection, data analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript; employment of an author, present or anticipated, may result through the publication; an author’s stocks or shares in a company may rise or fall through publication; an author’s consultation fees may be affected by the publication; the value of an author’s patents or patent applications may be affected by the publication; an author has an paid/unpaid role in a government or non-governmental organisation that relates to the research; the author is a member of an advocacy or lobbying organisation relating to the research; the author has an advisory position in a commercial organisation relating to the research; or the author acts/acted as an expert witness in relation to the research.

In terms of a financial conflict of interest, rather than operate on a given monetary threshold, it is often wise to consider whether the competing financial interests would embarrass you if it were to become publicly known after your work was published.

For the avoidance of doubt, typically, diversified mutual funds or investment trusts (pension funds) do not constitute a competing financial interest.

The interest can be declared in any of the following ways:

  • The authors declare the following competing interests: specified…
  • The authors declare the existence of a financial/ non-financial competing interest.
  • The authors declare no competing interests.
  • The authors declare that they are bound by confidentiality agreements that prevent them from disclosing their competing interests in this publication.

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