FMCH’s COI policy generally follows those of the ICMJE Recommendations. Conflicts of interest (sometimes referred to as competing interests or dual loyalties) are common, some would say almost inevitable. Conflicts of interest are secondary interests (eg personal, commercial, political, academic or financial) that may influence judgements on a primary decision, in this case what is published. They have been described as those which, when revealed later, would make a reasonable reader feel misled or deceived. Financial interests may include employment, research funding, sponsorship, stock or share ownership, payment for lectures or travel, consultancies, company support for staff commissioning/ funding/sponsoring of any element of the paper, any financial or potential financial benefit, or PR firm involvement.
Management of conflicts of interest
FMCH takes the view that any potential conflicts of interest must be recognised and stated. If there is doubt about the existence of a conflict, it is preferable to err on the side of disclosure. Most conflicts of interest can be managed, as per the following procedures; however, there may be occasions when the conflict of interest is so extreme as to make publication impossible.
This is not an exhaustive list of potential conflicts, rather an indication of the range of potential conflicts of interest:
- Potential Author COIs
Authors are asked to consider conflicts of interest in both the instructions to authors and then to declare in writing on a form.
- Instructions to authors – includes the following: ‘Authors must declare any competing interests by completing our standard form. Conflict of interests/competing interests can be defined as factors which could influence the judgment of an author, reviewer or editors, and may be personal, commercial, political, academic, or financial in nature. Put simply, they are interests which, if revealed later, would make a reasonable reader feel misled or deceived’.
- Conflict of interest form – requires authors to disclose any potential conflicts of interest relevant to the publication of the manuscript.
- Potential Reviewer COIs
Editors will try to avoid inviting individuals to review who have potential COIs. Editors will also attempt to honor authors’ requests to exclude potential reviewers, provided that the reason for exclusion is a true COI and that rigorous and comprehensive review is possible if these individuals are excluded. At the time they are invited to review, individuals must disclose any COIs that could bias their opinions, and they must disqualify themselves from reviewing when appropriate. If a COI becomes apparent during the review process, the reviewer must contact the journal office and, when appropriate, ask to be recused. The following situations are considered conflicts and should be avoided:
- Co-authoring publications with at least one of the authors in the past 3 years
- Being colleagues within the same section/department or similar organisational unit in the past 3 years
- Supervising/having supervised the doctoral work of the author (s) or being supervised/having been supervised by the author(s)
- Receiving professional or personal benefit resulting from the review
- Having a personal relationship (e.g. family, close friend) with the author(s)
- Having a direct or indirect financial interest in the paper being reviewed
It is not considered a Conflict of Interest if the reviewers have worked together with the authors in a collaborative project (e.g. EU) or if they have co-organized an event.
Editorial Board Member COIs
Articles by Editorial Board members will be treated as usual for that category of article and undergo the same peer review process. In this case another editor would be appointed to manage the peer review process. If no editor can be identified who does not have a conflict of interest then a guest editor may be invited to manage the manuscript. Any guest editor must have a good understanding of the journal.
- Potential Editor COIs
Editors will not act as the decision maker in articles with which they feel they have a conflict of interest, such as working with the authors or performing competing research. If the editor has not worked with the author for more than six months, then they may be eligible to edit an article. Some conflicts will be insurmountable for editors, for example personal friendships, which will not have a time expiry. Knowledge of an author or being an acquaintance is not enough on its own to mean that the editor cannot manage the article. Editors should err on the side of not taking articles with which they may have a conflict of interest and discuss with the Editor-in-Chief any concerns about their own conflicts, so a decision can be made about the most suitable editor for the article.