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New updates to the ICMJE’s reporting recommendations: focus on transparency

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For authors and publication professionals, the ‘Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals’, published by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), provide essential guidance for the conduct and reporting of medical research. In December 2019, the ICMJE published an update to their recommendations, with key changes focussed on increased transparency in author disclosures.

Principally, the updated recommendations now refer to “disclosure of financial and non-financial relationships and activities” rather than “conflicts of interest”, encouraging authors to disclose a wider range of activities that are potentially relevant to their publications. The updated recommendations note that full and transparent disclosures are essential to maintain confidence in the scientific process:

“Individuals may disagree on whether an author’s relationships or activities represent conflicts. Although the presence of a relationship or activity does not always indicate a problematic influence on a paper’s content, perceptions of conflict may erode trust in science as much as actual conflicts of interest. Ultimately, readers must be able to make their own judgments regarding whether an author’s relationships and activities are pertinent to a paper’s content. These judgments require transparent disclosures. An author’s complete disclosure demonstrates a commitment to transparency and helps to maintain trust in the scientific process.”

Other changes to the recommendations that are important for authors and publication professionals include:

  • emphasising the inappropriate nature of author agreements that restrict access to data or publication decisions, adding that “policies that dictate where authors may publish their work violate… academic freedom”
  • highlighting that authors should work collectively to determine the order of authors
  • noting that authors should avoid citing articles published in predatory or pseudo-journals, alongside their responsibility to avoid submitting articles to such journals
  • stating that study approval by an independent review body (for example, ethics committee or institutional review board) does not fulfil ICMJE requirements for prospective clinical trial registration
  • removing the recommendation against citing conference abstracts as references.

For reviewers, the updated recommendations note that assistance from trainees or colleagues in conducting peer review should be acknowledged in written communication with journal editors, recognising the contributions of these individuals.

Why not take a look at the full updated recommendations? To help you delve into the changes in more detail, the ICMJE have also made an annotated PDF available.


Summary by Beatrice Tyrrell, DPhil from Aspire Scientific


With thanks to our sponsors, Aspire Scientific Ltd and NetworkPharma Ltd

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