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“Publish or Perish”. We are sure that you have heard this expression many, many times. Many academics mention the phrase “Publish or Perish Culture” to describe the scholar environment in which researchers thrive today; that is, feeling constant pressure to publish work in order to gain enough visibility among fellow scientists and, hopefully, launch their own careers in science.
In this fury to publish, authors and publishers are prone to making bad decisions regarding legal and ethical practices. Despite rigid rules and strict policies drafted by independent expert committees and organizations, several forms of misconduct are still identified in many recently published papers: authorship misattribution, salami slicing, simultaneous submissions, duplicate publications, and the list goes on and on… Sometimes, due to inexperience or ignorance in respect of the above policies, authors don’t even know they are offending legislation in the first place. It is always a good idea to keep up to date with new legislation, particularly in your own scientific discipline. Additionally, keep also track of policies and guidelines disclosed by the publisher to which you want to submit future work, for this might avoid embarrassing and costly mistakes for your career.
One misconduct that most affects transparency and objectivity in science is the competing interest, also referred to as a conflict of interest. It occurs when someone involved in any stage of the research and/or publishing process – it could be the researcher, author, editor or reviewer – has an interest or belief that could influence their actions inappropriately.
To prevent bias in articles, authors are always required to provide their target journal with a competing interest statement, in which he/she declares potential conflicts of interest that could interfere with his/her full capacity of being perfectly objective regarding his/her research and manuscript.
Competing interest statement
It is expected that academic evidence results from transparent methodologies and editorial processes. Medical and health care professionals, for example, rely constantly on research for their daily practice and so it is of extreme importance that their outcomes and findings are precise and objective. However, for this to happen, all stakeholders involved must adopt an honest attitude in every stage of research, editing and reviewing. That is, to constantly evaluate their surrounding reality and identify situations that might interfere negatively with their jobs.
At the time of submission, authors must report which competing interests could be relevant to the submitted work (competing interest statement). These could be of financial, professional or personal nature. For example:
- Owning stocks or shares;
- Being a member of the board;
- Being paid for employment or consultancy;
- When research grants are involved;
- When gifts are expected;
- Receiving grants or honoraria for travelling and/or participating in meetings;
- Being a member in a government or other advisory board;
- Maintaining relationships with organizations and funding bodies;
- Being a member of advocacy or lobbying companies;
- Having friends or family members involved in the submission or evaluation of the paper;
- Having strong political/religious/ideological beliefs related to a paper’s topic that could lead to biases.
For Editors and reviewers:
Professional or academic editors and reviewers must also declare their own competing interests – if existent– and may decline to work on papers that could compromise an independent evaluation. Some of the most frequent reasons include:
- Working closely with the author (in the same institution or organization);
- Having collaborated with the author (currently or recently);
- Having published with the author any time in the past five years;
- Having held grants with the author any time in the past five years;
- Having a personal relationship with the author.
If an author declares a serious situation of competing interest, the most probable outcome is that his paper is rejected for publishing. If you find yourself in this situation, despite your best intentions, we recommend informing your publisher right away, adopting a position of total transparency. Cooperate closely with all counterparts and work together to resolve the problem in order to minimize any negative impact on your reputation or career. Evaluate critically your research one more time and think if there is anything you can change to avoid competing interests. If a case of competing interest is spotted after publication, publishers should openly inform the community.
Remember that conflicts of interest aren’t necessarily a bad thing. They can happen to anyone, anywhere. The most important thing is to declare them. Although competing interests render a good reason for rejecting a paper, there is still a chance that the evaluator decides that the stated conflict of interest doesn’t significantly compromise the integrity of your work. After all, there have been many cases of published research with declared conflicts of interest.
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