Tell me about it

Courtesy Quapan/Creative Commons License.

To preserve trust in biomedical research findings, many journals require authors to disclose potential conflicts of interest.

Unfortunately, just about every journal—and institution and professional organization—has slightly different rules about what constitutes conflict of interest, said Christine Laine, editor of Annals of Internal Medicine. An author could disclose something for one journal and not for another and still be in compliance with the rules of both journals.

Now in beta testing until April 10: A universal disclosure form for authors of articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Laine and other members of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors proposed the common rules in an editorial published online Oct. 13 simultaneously in the 14 member journals, including NEJM and JAMA.

The criteria spring in part from negotiation among the editors. The new form’s three-year time frame, for example, represents a compromise between all the journals’ time windows, such as the Annals’ former disclosure rule of five years prior to submission of the work.

“So far, people have been most intrigued by the section asking about non-financial relationships,” Laine said. “These conflicts would be something a reader would want to know about even if you’re not getting paid for that relationship, such as serving on an advisory board of an organization with a viewpoint.”

In a sample for Kermit the Frog (link opens PDF file), the relevant non-financial association is his unpaid advocacy role for all things green as president of the “It’s not easy being green” Foundation.

The form may be tweaked for ease of use or as a result of further evidence, such as the optimal time frame of disclosures.

— copyright Carol Morton

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