Editorial conflicts of interest

From The Embassy of Good Science

Editorial conflicts of interest

What is this about?

Editorial conflicts of interest are a special type of conflict of interest (COI) in academia. They can happen when, for example, an editor of a scientific journal publishes his or her own work in the same journal. It is important to note that this is a potential conflict of interest and not an actual proof of misconduct. [1]

  1. Resnik DB, Elmore SA. Conflict of Interest in Journal Peer Review: Toxicol Pathol. 2018 Feb;46(2):112-114. doi: 10.1177/0192623318754792. Epub 2018 Jan 30.

Why is this important?

Editors play a special role in science, as they ultimately determine what gets published in their journals. We often say that editors are gate-keepers of science, because of their control over journal policies.[1] Publishing new discoveries is important in science, and following established methods of control such as the peer-review process is necessary. Sometimes, having an undisclosed interest could influence editorial decisions or hinder the proper review of manuscripts. This could lead to a loss of confidence in science, which can be particularly harmful when science is publicly funded.[2]

  1. Teixeira da Silva JA, Dobránszki J, Bhar RH, Mehlman CT. Editors Should Declare Conflicts of Interest. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry. 2019;16(2):279-98.
  2. Teixeira da Silva JA, Dobránszki J, Bhar RH, Mehlman CT. Editors Should Declare Conflicts of Interest. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry. 2019;16(2):279-98.

For whom is this important?

What are the best practices?

Different journals have different rules concerning editorial conflicts of interest. Some journals have no requirements, while others have strict rules (3). The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) states that journal editors cannot participate in editorial decisions regarding submitted articles if they have a COI. The same rules apply to editorial staff and guest editors. Editorial staff must not use information gained through working with manuscripts for private gain. Editors should also regularly publish disclosure statements about potential conflicts of interests related to their own commitments and those of their journal staff. For more information, click here.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) provided a case of an editor who submitted a manuscript to their own journal. This can often happen when the choice of journals is limited due to the highly specialised nature of the particular subject matter. In such cases, a well-documented and transparent process is necessary to minimise potential bias in the review process. This is usually done by requiring another associate editor to guide the peer review process. One could also have the manuscript anonymized (which is often impossible in a very narrow fields) and publish supplemental material to ensure transparent reporting of the peer review process.

Other information

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