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Competing financial interests

The Nature journals have adopted a new policy as of 1 October 2001, pertaining to disclosure of possible competing financial interests by the authors of primary research papers. The policy covers research published in Nature, Nature Immunology and the other Nature research journals (for more information on the policy, see Philip Campbell's editorial in the 23 August 2001 issue of Nature 412 , 751, journal/v412/n6849/full/412751a0_fs.html).

Scientists in many disciplines now either work for, or receive funding from, industrial sources or have financial interests in companies whose economic health may be affected by the data they report. After intense discussion, the editors agreed that it is in the best interest of the reader to publish financial ties related to the data simultaneously with the research papers.

The lack of transparency with the present status quo concerned the editors, as did the limited degree of voluntary disclosure of financial conflicts, as discussed in a study that was released earlier this year ( Krimsky, S. & Rothenberg, L. S. Sci. Eng. Ethics 7 , 205–218). On the other hand, consistent transparency of possible competing financial interests will positively enhance the public's perception of the scientific enterprise in general. Disclosures will now be integrated into reader's assessments of the new data. Industrial ties are necessary and important and, if early press coverage of Nature's announcement is any indication, revealing relationships “up front” was perceived, as a step in the right direction. Although many journals, particularly in the medical field, have disclosure requirements, they are often ignored or insufficiently utilized as a vehicle for informing the readership about possible conflicts.

The editors of the Nature journals strove for a better way to inform the reader of financial conflicts. The challenge was to find a procedure that was fair to all authors and simple to implement. We settled on a policy that requests that corresponding authors select a declaration, out of three stock statements, to be printed at the back of the research paper (Reviews, News & Views and other front matter are currently excluded). This scheme guarantees that all papers will contain some sort of declaration, not just those that are self-selected by authors for disclosure. Competing interests will be transparent and available for the reader, without putting any undue burden on authors.

The stock statements from which the author can choose cover three areas. One informs the reader that the authors have competing financial interests (the details of which will be presented on our website), another states that none of the authors have competing financial interests and the last states that the authors have declined to give information pertaining to possible competing financial interests. The corresponding author will be the responsible representative for all authors. Given that papers often are collaborations between two or more groups, the major competing financial interests of all of the collaborators needs to be enumerated. In cases where the competing financial interests are many, the authors will be given the option to state that the conflicts are too numerous to itemize.

Declaring the existence of possible competing financial interests and making the details of the major conflicts available enables the reader to make more complete assessments. It is not for editors or authors alone to decide behind closed doors whether a financial interest could have bearing on the results or conclusions of a study. Now the reader will be better equipped to make that judgment. One of the issues that the editors grappled with was how far to extend the declarations. Why stop at financial interests? The editors decided that financial ties, although not the only influences on scientific judgment, are the most readily quantified and identified. Let us get this working before trying to tackle other, more intangible and elusive, conflicts. And what of the other participants in the peer review process? Our policy hasn't changed on this point. We continue to ask referees to declare any financial, social or scientific conflicts that may inadvertently bias interpretations. In addition, editors are expected to recuse themselves from decisions in which they have potential conflicts.

The Nature journals will be relying on the community to police itself. We cannot guarantee the veracity of the disclosures. Guidelines for when to disclose are discussed in Nature's editorial. The basic rule of thumb is, if third-party disclosure of your financial interests would be a source of embarrassment, disclosure is probably warranted. These statements are not required before peer review, nor will they have any bearing on acceptance decisions. We are not passing judgment on current financial practices. We do feel, however, that we owe our readers information that may bear, in their minds, on the significance of a paper. Determining significance used to entail rigorous peer review and the most selective scientific standards in the world—but this is no longer enough. We must recognize the growing interdependence of industry, academia and individual investigators. We acknowledge this shift and have moved to meet it.

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Competing financial interests. Nat Immunol 2, 891 (2001).

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