In a recent article published in Research Integrity and Peer Review, Dunn et al argue the benefits of having a fully-accessible, central database for researcher conflicts of interest.
While improvements are being made in data transparency, declarations of interest are still often missing from published research. The majority of journals require authors to disclose any potential conflicts, however around half of studies involve investigators that have failed to declare all relevant information. Financial remuneration often constitutes a conflict of interest, yet it is not just traditionally-recognised competing interests that may cause bias in research. Other interests, including ideology, religion, politics and personal relationships, may affect both study design and reporting.
The authors suggest that precise, structured, comprehensive reporting of competing interests will allow readers to treat conflicts like any other confounder. One way to facilitate this reporting would be to maintain a publicly accessible, online database of interests declared by researchers. Publishers, funders and institutions, as well as benefiting from such a registry, are in an ideal position to encourage its use. Researchers may also find a central database advantageous, as the production of standardised conflict of interest information should streamline the process of its inclusion in research reports.
The authors suggest five key features of a global public registry for researcher conflicts of interest; enforceability, transparency, interoperability, taxonomy and automated disclosures. They argue that such a comprehensive approach should foster a more productive and trustworthy partnership between researchers and industry and will enable greater understanding of how conflicts of interest relate to biases in research.