Conflict of Interest in Peer-Reviewed Medical Journals

On May 19, 2010, in Big Picture, by NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine SGA

Conflict of interest in medical publishing exists when a participant’s private interests compete with his or her responsibilities to the scientific community, readers, and society. While conflict of interest is common, it reaches the level of concern when “a reasonable observer might wonder if the individual’s behavior or judgment was motivated by his or her competing interests.”1 Having a competing interest does not, in itself, imply wrongdoing. But it can undermine the credibility of research results and damage public trust in medical journals.

In recent years, the extent of conflict of interest in medical journal articles has been increasingly recognized. Medical journals and the popular media have published numerous examples of competing interests that seemed to have biased published reports.2–4 Organizations have expressed concern for the effects of conflicts of interest on research,5 publication,1,6,7 teaching,8 and continuing medical and nursing education.9

The World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) is one of the institutions engaged in this discussion. WAME was established in 199510,11 to facilitate worldwide cooperation and communication among editors of peer-reviewed journals, improve editorial standards, and promote professionalism in medical editing.12 Membership in WAME is open to all editors of peer-reviewed biomedical journals worldwide; small journals in resource-poor countries are well represented. As of December 2009, WAME had 1,595 individual members representing 965 journals in 92 countries. WAME has broad participation, as there are no dues and WAME activities are largely carried out through the member listserv and the member password-protected Web site.

In March 2009, WAME released an updated policy statement, “Conflict of Interest in Peer-Reviewed Medical Journals.”1 It details the issues WAME believes journals should address when establishing their own policies for conflict of interest. The editor of this journal thought that the issues were important enough to share with its readers. A summary statement is presented in Table 1 and the full statement1 can be found on WAME’s Web site..

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