Rapid Communication| Volume 41, ISSUE 12, P2643-2655, December 2019

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Disclosures and Conflicts of Interest: Solving the Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma

Published:September 13, 2019DOI:



      Confusion exists around the nature and best practices for authors in biomedical fields seeking to disclose conflicts of interest (COIs) and other information that can produce bias. Guidelines often provide principles for action and to avoid granularity that can limit their general usefulness. Journal editors must also interpret various guidelines to produce and enhance their own disclosure and COI policies. We discussion COIs and present heuristics that can enhance disclosure practices by individual authors and inform policy and practice among medical journal editors.


      The authors reviewed the biomedical literature and drew on professional and academic experience to develop examples and a suggested matrix for decision making.


      Most COI commentary centers on financial relationships. Disagreement still exists about the nature and impact of various forms of COI, making critical reasoning essential when making and interpreting disclosures. Journal editors, authors, critics, and other experts express varying opinions about best practices regarding COIs. Policy decisions should be balanced and reasonable. Narrative context may help readers understand the meaning and relevance of disclosures and COIs.


      A balance of personal responsibility and critical thinking can enhance disclosure practices as well as confidence in the medical literature. Using a heuristic to think through possible areas of conflict can help authors provide more complete disclosure information. Providing narrative context can ease the burden of peer reviewers, editors, and readers trying to understand disclosures.


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