International Committee of Medical Journal Editors Raises the Bar on Conflict of Interest Disclosures

Search internet news for “conflicts of interest in research” and you’ll see headlines such as this: “Bail set at $1M for Harvard professor accused of lying about ties to China,” “FBI arrests Harvard chemist; two others charged in Chinese research cases,” and “Author of study saying red meat is fine failed to disclose industry funding, journal reveals.”

While these cases are extreme, any lack of disclosure or misrepresentation of conflicts undermines trust in science. Consequently, all reputable journals require authors to disclose any conflicts, whether financial or personal. Transparency builds trust.

Some authors, such as those associated with the headlines above, do not take disclosure forms seriously, blithely marking the no-conflict block when they know they have problematic entanglements. Many authors, however, simply do not understand what constitutes a potential conflict.

Recognizing the importance of disclosure and the confusion surrounding it, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) has proposed changes to its decade-old disclosure form that many medical journals currently use.

An editorial, published concurrently in several major medical journals, that explains the rationale behind the change is here, and the proposed new form is here.

The major changes the ICMJE suggests are these:

  • First, the title of the form would change from “ICMJE Form for the Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest,” which for some may imply that any relationship or activity listed represents a problematic influence or wrongdoing, to “The ICMJE Disclosure Form,” to eliminate any such interpretation.
  • Second, the new form does not ask authors to decide what might be interpreted as a potential conflict of interest. Instead, authors are asked to disclose their relationships and activities so that readers can decide whether these relationships or activities should influence their assessments of the work.
  • Third, a checklist of relationships and activities is provided to help prevent omissions and oversights.

The Ochsner Journal currently has a disclosure attestation integrated into the Author Attestation, License for Publishing CC BY, Financial Disclosure, and Permissions for Acknowledgements form. Signature on the form is the author’s certification that he/she either has no conflicts or has disclosed any conflicts in the Acknowledgments section of the manuscript. The language states:

Any author who has a financial involvement with any organization or entity with a financial interest in or in financial competition with the subject matter or materials discussed in the manuscript should disclose that affiliation. Examples of financial involvement include employment, stock holdings, consultancies, financial support of research through grants or contracts, participation in a speakers’ bureau, provision of expert testimony, or receipt of honoraria. All authors should prepare a statement revealing any such financial affiliations and include it with the manuscript submission. The manuscript should also clearly identify any financial support of the research described in the manuscript.

The ICMJE invites comments about the proposed new form through April 30, 2020, after which the organization will finalize and adopt a revised version. We will watch the developments with the proposed new ICJME form closely and will determine if the Ochsner Journal should adopt it once the form is finalized.