As regular readers may have guessed, Croakey takes a keen interest in conflict of interest issues, as indicated by the Crikey Register of Influence and our regular coverage of related stories.
Of course, it’s not only Croakey who follows such matters – conflict of interest has been one of the big and important ongoing stories of health and medical research, practice and policy for some years now. Much more detail is available from the Institute of Medicine in the US which has recently published a landmark report addressing these issues.
But Croakey has been living in something of a glass-house. We haven’t had a formal policy to help readers assess the conflicts of our contributors and also of the Coakey moderator (that’s me, Melissa Sweet).
So if you’ve time to have a quick read of the draft Croakey Conflict of Interest Policy below, your feedback would be appreciated. Much of the material has been adapted from the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) statement on this topic.
Draft Croakey Conflict of Interest policy
Why do conflicts of interest matter?
The World Association of Medical Editors notes that everyone has conflicts of interest of some sort, and that this does not, in itself, imply wrongdoing. But if these are not managed effectively, they can cause authors and editors to make decisions that, consciously or unconsciously, tend to serve their competing interests.
What are conflicts of interests?
The World Association of Medical Editors notes that there are many kinds of competing interests.
• Financial ties
Examples of financial ties to industry include payment for research, ownership of stock and stock options, as well as honoraria for advice or public speaking, consultation, service on advisory boards or medical education companies, and receipt of patents or patents pending. Also included are having a research or clinical position that is funded by companies that sell drugs or devices. Competing interests can be associated with other sources of research funding including government agencies, charities (not-for-profit organizations), and professional and civic organizations. Clinicians have a financial competing interest if they are paid for clinical services related to their research —for example, if they write, review, or edit an article about the comparative advantage of a procedure that they themselves provide for income. Financial competing interests may exist not just on the basis of past activities but also on the expectation of future rewards, such as a pending grant or patent application.
• Academic commitments
Participants in the publications process may have strong beliefs (“intellectual passion”) that commit them to a particular explanation, method, or idea. They may, as a result, be biased in conducting research that tests the commitment or in reviewing the work of others that is in favor or at odds with their beliefs.
• Personal relationships
Personal relationships with family, friends, enemies, competitors, or colleagues can pose COIs. For example, a reviewer may have difficulty providing an unbiased review of articles by investigators who have been working colleagues.
• Political or religious beliefs
Strong commitment to a particular political view (eg, political position, agenda, or party) or having a strong religious conviction may pose a COI for a given publication if those political or religious issues are affirmed or challenged in the publication.
• Institutional affiliations
A COI exists when a participant in the publication process is directly affiliated with an institution that on the face of it may have a position or an interest in a publication. An obvious concern is being affiliated with or employed by a company that manufactures the drug or device (or a competing one) described in the publication. However, apparently neutral institutions such as universities, hospitals, and research institutes may also have an interest in the results of research. Professional or civic organisations may also have competing interests because of their special interests or advocacy positions.
How does Croakey manage conflicts of interests?
• Contributors to Croakey are expected to declare any potential conflicts of interests at the bottom of their posts. Ideally, these should also be declared on comments but we acknowledge that this is difficult to enforce, given that many comments are anonymous.
• If you are not sure whether to declare something, please ask. You may wish to consider the World Medical Association of Editors prompt that, “if my competing interest becomes known to others later, would I feel defensive or would others in the publication process, readers or the public think I was hiding my other interests or could they feel I misled or deceived them?”
• If Croakey subsequently discovers that relevant conflicts of interest have not been declared, they shall be published at a later stage.
The Croakey moderator Melissa Sweet has many conflicts of interests, including:
• contributor to Australian Rural Doctor and Pharmacy News(Reed Business), Australian Nursing Journal, British Medical Journal, The Worker (published by ACP for The Worker magazine), Inside Story (Swinburne University), and the Medical Journal of Australia. She has had books published by Pan MacMillan, Allen & Unwin, and ABC Books. She is occasionally asked to review articles for the Medical Journal of Australia and the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. She is a founding member of the Foundation for Public Interest Journalism, based at the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University.
• she has honorary appointments with the University of Sydney School of Public Health and the University of Notre Dame’s medical school (Sydney campus). She is not paid for these appointments but the networks and information she obtains through these appointments do have an influence upon her thinking and work.
• she does occasional paid work for not-for-profit organisations, writing and editing reports. Clients have included the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation, the Milbank Memorial Fund in the US, the Sax Institute, the NHMRC, Research Australia, VicHealth, and the Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity at the University of NSW.
• she is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, and the Australasian Medical Writers Association, and has an ongoing association with the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma. More details about her affiliations and associations are available here.