Themes

Conflict of interest in peer review

What is this about?

When reviewers’ own interests, such as personal or work relationships, could influence the way they criticize an article and advise a journal editor, that situation is equivalent to an existing conflict of interest (COI) (1).

Why is this important?

Peer review process is vital to science, as it provides quality assurance before publication of new knowledge. Any situation which can compromise peer review process by influencing decision making should hence be reported, and prevented (2).

For whom is this important?

Researchers, Supervisors, Journal publishers, Journal editors, Senior researchers

What are the best practices?

In its guidelines for editors, Elsevier states a number of possible situations which are considered to be a conflict of interest. Some of these are: co-authoring or working in the same department with some of the authors in the last three years, being a supervisor or supervisee of the author, having a personal relationship with the author, and having a direct financial interest or other professional benefit from the review. Another example is when you are asked to review a research submitted from a competing research team (Elservier guidelines for conflict of interest in peer review provided in the tools section). Your own research experience and ambition may influence the way you see other teams’ work.

To handle this issue, not much can be done. If we would prevent everyone with potential conflict of interest to do a peer review, the quality of peer review would drop. Many researchers with knowledge and expertise can have a personal or professional connection with the authors, especially in a small and niche research area. Another option is blinding the reviewers, so that they do not know the names of the authors. Research has shown that reviewers often recognize the authors even when blinded, and blinding doesn’t mask the products or medicines used in research (3). However, any researcher asked to do a review should decline to do so if they have a COI. Clearly defined journal policies on this matter should also be put in place.

References

1. Gallo SA, Lemaster M, Glisson SR. Frequency and Type of Conflicts of Interest in the Peer Review of Basic Biomedical Research Funding Applications: Self-Reporting Versus Manual Detection. Sci Eng Ethics. 2016;22(1):189-97.

2. Resnik DB, Elmore SA. Conflict of Interest in Journal Peer Review: Toxicol Pathol. 2018 Feb;46(2):112-114. doi: 10.1177/0192623318754792. Epub 2018 Jan 30.

3. Yankauer A. How blind is blind review? Am J Public Health. 1991;81(7):843-5.

Marin Viđak contributed to this theme.

Latest contribution was May 29, 2019