General remarks on conflicts of interest
Conflicts of interest arise when authors or their institutions, reviewers or editors have financial or personal interests which may inappropriately influence their judgement. Such financial interests may for example be due to financial or other material support for the specific research project, the researcher’s secondary job (as an employee or consultant) or the researcher’s private proprietary interests (e.g. shares or patent rights), while personal interests, for example, may be due to personal relationships or competition for academic positions and reputation.
For additional information about conflicts of interest, please refer to
- Danish Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (2014), p 15
- DCSD’s Guidelines on publication matters (2009), p 36.
- ICMJE’s Recommendation on Author Responsibilities – Conflicts of Interests
- Conference on the dual roles of researchers held by the Practice Committee at the University of Copenhagen
- UBVA symposium 2019: Research and conflicts of interest (web-tv in Danish)
The topic was also discussed at the UBVA symposium in 2015:
Authors’ duty to disclose information
In order to avoid any potential conflicts of interests (bias), authors usually provide information on factors that may give rise to potential conflicts of interest related to publication. For researchers, this can both be done generally (typically through their research institution) and specifically in the researcher’s individual publications, in the course of dissemination of knowledge, etc.
At the University of Copenhagen all researchers must disclose any side-line employment or activity which could potentially give rise to conflicts of interest, and the information about this must be accessible on the researcher’s personal website. Aarhus University has more general rules, as specified in Responsible research practice at Aarhus University(2015), p. 4, which require “disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest”.
Authors are often asked to disclose information about potential conflicts of interest in connection with publications. The ICMJE has drawn up a special Conflicts of Interests form which is used by many journals – including the Weekly Journal of the Danish Medical Association, Ugeskrift for Læger.
Doubt may arise concerning whether a conflict of interest exists which should be indicated in a research publication.
- Recent practice includes the DCSD ruling of 26 November 2012: As part of a collaboration between a company and the Region of Southern Denmark, the authors of a health science article had undertaken to market the “COPD suitcase” that was part of the study leading to the article. This collaboration was not mentioned in the article. There was no remuneration associated with this marketing obligation. The DCSD found that the authors’ association with the company in question was not of a financial nature which could entail the risk of a conflict of interest, and that the marketing obligation did not in itself entail a conflict of interest.
In a case involving health research, the DCSD found that the requirements for declaration of conflicts of interest may be different when it comes to a publication of a subjective nature (in this case a “commentary”). In its ruling of 18 May 2015, the DCSD stated among other things the following:
“The Committee further notes that the Journal’s definition of a “Commentary” enables publishing of more subjective material, where it is allowed – and the reader should expect – that subjective views are expressed. The Committee therefore finds that the same requirements for declaration of conflict of interest for such a “Commentary” do not necessarily apply to articles that present new scientific results, since it is the very built-in condition in a ”Commentary” that the authors’ attitudes and perceptions of the given conditions are expressed.
On the basis of the above, the Committee finds that there is no basis to carry out a detailed assessment of whether Defendant 1 has had an undeclared “Conflict of interest” of the nature which the Complainant alleges, since the article is published as a “Commentary” where, as mentioned above, it is to be expected that the authors have a prior position regarding the topics covered in the Article.”
Assessors of research and research applications
Editors, peer reviewers and others who have a conflict of interest should withdraw from any involvement in the process, cf. the Danish Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (2014).
The DCSD’s Guidelines on publication matters (2009) (which is now regarded as a “historical document”), p. 36, state as follows:
“For editors, the rule applies that they shall not handle their own manuscripts or manuscripts from their own organisation, nor should they be in a dependency of private enterprises that have interests on the area”
Management of conflicts of interests
Danish research institutions should have a policy for handling conflicts of interest. Such a policy could for example require researchers to provide information on any side-line occupation and, as appropriate, renounce any side-line occupation which gives rise to (major) conflicts of interest. In this connection, reference is made to the individual universities, etc.