The top medical journals in the world, including the Canadian Medical Association Journal, will soon start demanding more stringent and uniform conflict of interest declarations from researchers than they have in the past.
The requirements will go beyond existing disclosure rules at many medical journals to include items such as financial relationships involving spouses, partners or minor children. Also required will be disclosure of nonfinancial conflicts, such as religious and political affiliations. Such disclosures are used in medical journals to alert readers to potential biases in research.
At least a dozen publications have agreed to use a new, standardized disclosure form, which will be phased in over the next several months.
By standardizing what researchers report to different medical journals, the editors are attempting to address complaints about the existing system for disclosing conflicts of interest. Researchers say medical journals' differing policies are confusing and lead to inadvertent omissions. Advocates for better reporting of financial conflicts say a researcher's potential conflict may be listed in one publication but not another.
The new standards are the products of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, and are signed by the editors of 14 leading medical journals around the world, including Paul Hebert, editor-in-chief of the CMAJ, as well of editors of such respected journals as the Lancet, The Britich Medical Journal, the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine.
Under the new rules, researchers will have to fill out a form detailing their possible conflicts of interest. The ICMJE says the standardized form will make the process of disclosure simpler for all involved. "Our goal is to make the process of disclosure uniform and easy; the new form should eliminate the need to reformat disclosure information for specific journals," reads an association editorial on the new standards.
The Scientist magazine, meanwhile, has opened a discussion forum asking researchers what they think of the new form. The ICMJE says the form may be adjusted next spring, depending on how well it works out in the initial "beta" run.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that up to half of researchers fail to properly discloe all potential conflicts of interest.