ScienceInsider writes about the encouragement of PLoS Medicine to require conflict of interest disclosures from its editors as well as its writers. In an editorial, the journal describes possible sources of bias, which go beyond considerations of financial interest, to include things such as “publication bias, outcome reporting bias, financial and non-financial competing interests, sponsors’ control of study data and publication, and restrictions on access to data and materials.” Not only are editors challenged with determine possible bias in the articles they deal with, but whether or not their own biases may influence the choices of the journal. The ScienceInsider piece makes a great point in noting that PLoS Medicine hasn’t cornered the market on assertive conflict of interest policies, and other journals are dealing with the issue, or at least in discussions to do so.
Worth noting in the editorial is the inclusion of research from advocacy organizations.
“Robust journal policies regarding non-commercial competing interests…will at least require declaration of any interests that might influence reporting or review, and that would be influenced—negatively or positively—by publication. Such interests might include personal relationships or professional interactions with authors, editors, or reviewers, and strongly held political or religious views that relate to the work under consideration.”
The editors give an example about their death penalty views when dealing with an article about lethal injection. While it’s important to investigate sources to ferret out possible bias, with journals this is not always that easy to do. Policies that address biases beyond financial considerations help address this challenge.