Conflicts of interest policies for authors, peer reviewers, and editors of bioethics journals

Zubin Master, Kelly Werner, Elise Smith, David B. Resnik, Bryn Williams-Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: In biomedical research, there have been numerous scandals highlighting conflicts of interest (COIs) leading to significant bias in judgment and questionable practices. Academic institutions, journals, and funding agencies have developed and enforced policies to mitigate issues related to COI, especially surrounding financial interests. After a case of editorial COI in a prominent bioethics journal, there is concern that the same level of oversight regarding COIs in the biomedical sciences may not apply to the field of bioethics. In this study, we examined the availability and comprehensiveness of COI policies for authors, peer reviewers, and editors of bioethics journals. Methods: After developing a codebook, we analyzed the content of online COI policies of 63 bioethics journals, along with policy information provided by journal editors that was not publicly available. Results: Just over half of the bioethics journals had COI policies for authors (57%), and only 25% for peer reviewers and 19% for editors. There was significant variation among policies regarding definitions, the types of COIs described, the management mechanisms, and the consequences for noncompliance. Definitions and descriptions centered on financial COIs, followed by personal and professional relationships. Almost all COI policies required disclosure of interests for authors as the primary management mechanism. Very few journals outlined consequences for noncompliance with COI policies or provided additional resources. Conclusion: Compared to other studies of biomedical journals, a much lower percentage of bioethics journals have COI policies and these vary substantially in content. The bioethics publishing community needs to develop robust policies for authors, peer reviewers, and editors and these should be made publicly available to enhance academic and public trust in bioethics scholarship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)194-205
Number of pages12
JournalAJOB Empirical Bioethics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2018


  • academic publishing
  • bioethics
  • conflicts of interest
  • journal policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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