- Inaccurate author disclosures continue to be an issue in medical publishing. A recent study shows that most authors fail to report, or under-report, ‘potential conflicts of interest’.
- The study’s authors call for action from journals to help remove stigma and increase transparency.
The fully transparent disclosure of relationships between authors of scientific research and other stakeholders is paramount to maintaining the credibility of research and upholding public confidence. Nevertheless, inadequacies in reporting practices remain a challenge. A recent study by Dr Mary Guan and colleagues shed more light on current practices through a detailed comparison of author-disclosed ‘potential conflicts of interest’ versus pharma-reported payments to healthcare professionals.
What did the research reveal?
Guan et al. reviewed disclosures from the first, second, and final US authors of 150 clinical manuscripts from the top 3 US rheumatology journals, in articles from January 2019 onwards. The researchers then compared this information with entries in the Open Payments database. The group’s analyses yielded some surprising findings:
- Disclosures were inaccurate in 92% of papers that involved authors deemed to have ‘potential conflicts of interest’.
- Of the 135 authors with ‘potential conflicts of interest’, 87% disclosed inaccurately.
- Where data were available, the total monetary value of undisclosed potential conflicts was found to be nearing $5.2 million. For those that were ‘under-disclosed’, the total value was just above $4.1 million.
- Among the 14 papers that reported clinical trial data, all authors failed to report a potential conflict of interest and in some cases also under-reported potential conflicts.
So, what can we do to improve reporting accuracy?
In recent years, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors moved to using the term ‘disclosure of relationships’ rather than ‘conflicts of interest’. This was in part to ensure that guidance was simple for authors to follow in a consistent way: all relationships should be disclosed, and readers draw their own conclusions as to which may constitute a potential conflict of interest. Guan et al. point out that perceived stigma surrounding the term ‘potential conflict of interest’ could also deter authors from accurate reporting, and that a more neutral term may encourage better compliance. Furthermore, they propose that “journals must clearly articulate their reporting expectations and also must clearly emphasise that industry payments do not, a priori, impair the validity of a manuscript”.
“Journals must clearly articulate their reporting expectations and also must clearly emphasise that industry payments do not, a priori, impair the validity of a manuscript”.