With research being funded more and more by the pharmaceutical industry and incentives in the form of shares or cash for rendering various services becoming the order of the day, there is a compelling need for physician-researchers to disclose any conflict of interest when submitting papers to journals. While clash of interest by itself may not necessarily mean any wrongdoing, revealing it would help editors and those involved in the publication process take an informed decision, and the readers view the results of a study in the proper perspective. The requirement to declare conflict of interest covers the entire spectrum — authors of papers, editorial writers, peer reviewers and so on — to alert readers of any potential bias. Yet, medical journals have been struggling to find a way to make the self-declaration comprehensive. Ambiguity and lack of uniformity in self-declaration policies by different journals have been the main reasons why authors fail to reveal competing interests while submitting their work to different journals. Whatever the reason, the non-declaration affects scientific enterprise and erodes the credibility of peer-reviewed literature. It is to remove these deficiencies that the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) has recently come out with a uniform format for disclosing competing interests.
The format, to be adopted in April next year after taking into account the concerns of the users, requires a declaration that covers a wide range of issues. Apart from the standard declaration of association with commercial establishments, the users are required to disclose non-financial benefits — political, religious and personal, to name a few. Though the requirement to declare religious conflicts may appear an overzealous attempt, certain areas of medical research do evoke religious conflicts. That many scientists are opposed to embryonic stem cell research on ethical and religious grounds is well known. In fact, opposition to infertility research in general on religious grounds is a historical fact. The users would also be required to declare any financial association involving their spouse or children under 18 years. Much like its success in bringing about more accountability and transparency in the way clinical trials are conducted by forcing the industry to fall in line and register trials prior to the recruitment of the first volunteer, the ICMJE’s latest initiative will go some way to cleanse the system.