A Proposal From the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors
Many factors, including professional and personal relationships and activities, can influence the design, conduct, and reporting of the clinical science that informs health care decisions. The potential for conflict of interest exists when these relationships and activities may bias judgment.1 Many stakeholders—editors, peer reviewers, clinicians, educators, policy makers, patients, and the public—rely on the disclosure of authors’ relationships and activities to inform their assessments. Trust in the transparency, consistency, and completeness of these disclosures is essential.
Ten years ago, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) adopted the “ICMJE Form for the Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest” as a uniform mechanism for collecting and reporting authors’ relationships and activities that readers might consider relevant to a published work.2 The goal was to avoid the confusion (and often ensuing controversy) created when journals vary in how they collect and report this information. We believe a uniform disclosure form has been helpful, but problems remain. First, the software supporting the current form is increasingly problematic, making its use difficult or impossible for an increasing number of authors. More important, however, is that many authors and readers misunderstand, misapply, or misinterpret the disclosures.
Although some individuals violate the public trust by purposefully hiding relevant relationships and activities, we believe most authors are committed to transparent reporting and consider it as vital to the advancement of clinical science. Nonetheless, disagreement, confusion, and controversy regarding authors’ disclosures arise when opinions differ over which relationships and activities to report. An author might not report an item that others deem important because of a difference in opinion regarding what is “relevant,” confusion over definitions, or a simple oversight. Some authors may be concerned that readers will interpret the listing of any item as a “potential conflict of interest” as indicative of problematic influence and wrongdoing, a concern often raised regarding the requirement to report publicly funded grants. For their part, some readers fail to recognize that their own relationships and activities influence how they assess the work of others and what they deem to be a “conflict” for others or themselves.
Taichman, D.B., Backus, J., Baethge, C., Bauchner, H., Flanagin, A., Florenzano, F., Frizelle, F. A., Godlee, F., Gollogly, L., Haileamlak, A., Hong, S., Horton, R., James, A., Laine, C., Miller, P. W., Pinborg, A., Rubin, E. J., Sahni, P.,(2020) A Disclosure Form for Work Submitted to Medical Journals: A Proposal From the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. JAMA. 2020;323(11):1050–1051. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.22274