Conflicts of Interest in Medical Journal Publishing

medical journal publishing2

Publish or Perish sums up the urgency for scientists to publish in top journals. Scientists work in competitive environments in which publishing is essential to their careers, reputation and research funding. Journal editors and peer reviewers are the ones to judge the manuscripts for quality and safeguard the interests of the readership of the journal.

The editors have different tasks to preform in order to prevent conflict of interests and ensuring the readers of read worthy publications. The first one being the prevention of duplicate publications. This is also called the “Ingelfinger rule”. But what constitutes duplication?

Duplicate publication can take a number of forms, ranging from splitting data into the “minimal publishable unit” (MPU) described by Bill Parmley, to publishing in symposia or proceedings as well as in journals, to submitting virtually the same data to two or more journals in the same language. The issue is receiving heightened attention recently due to the dissemination of new research findings in virtually complete form on the internet and in non-subscription medical periodicals shortly following oral presentations.

If one of the people in the audience publishes a post on his blog with the results and probably a video of the event, can this be called a duplication? Should editors not only use PubMed or Medline to exclude duplication of manuscripts but also Google? Editors of the Annals of Neurology also use Google Scholar to screen for prior use of key phrases or paragraphs in a submission under review.

Another important task is the peer review. The use of peers to evaluate the work of fellow scientists is assumed to raise the quality of the submitted manuscript. There has been some research to the effect of peer review but from a systematic review of nine studies it was concluded that

Editorial peer review, although widely used, is largely untested and its effects are uncertain.

There is always an ongoing discussion whether peer review should be double blind. The argument being that if editors know the identity of the authors they may be more vulnerable to biases. Unfortunately a large study done by seven medical journals indicated that neither authors nor editors found significant difference in the quality of comments when both reviewers and authors were blinded. Moreover, reviewers could identify at least one of the authors on about 40% of the papers.

Last but not least is the disclosure of financial conflicts of interests. A new disclosure form that has been adopted by all journals that are members of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) was recently published in all journals member of the ICMJE. They encourage all other journals to adopt this form.

I tried the form, it’s very exhaustive, they ask authors to disclose four types of interest. In the accompanying editorial very convenient information about the time frames for the possible conflicts of interests are defined.

Disclosure of four types of interests:

  • the commercial entities that provided support for the work reported in the manuscript (life span of the research)
  • commercial entities having a possible interest in the area of the manuscript (36 months before submission time frame)
  • similar financial association involving their spouse or their children under 18 years
  • non financial associations that may be relevant to the submitted manuscript.

There’s also a completed sample form.
Drazen, J., Van Der Weyden, M., Sahni, P., Rosenberg, J., Marusic, A., Laine, C., Kotzin, S., Horton, R., Hebert, P., Haug, C., Godlee, F., Frizelle, F., de Leeuw, P., & DeAngelis, C. (2009). Uniform Format for Disclosure of Competing Interests in ICMJE Journals New England Journal of Medicine DOI: 10.1056/nejme0909052

Jefferson, T. (2002). Effects of Editorial Peer Review: A Systematic Review JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 287 (21), 2784-2786 DOI: 10.1001/jama.287.21.2784

DeMaria, A. (2003). Duplicate publication: insights into the essence of a medical journal Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 41 (3), 516-517 DOI: 10.1016/S0735-1097(03)00002-0

Managing Conflicting Interests in Medical Journal Publishing