Conflicts of interest (sometimes referred to as ‘competing interests’) occur when outside issues affect, or are perceived to affect, the neutrality or objectivity of research. This can happen at any stage in the research cycle, including during the experimentation phase, while a manuscript is being written, or during the process of turning a manuscript into a published article.
Conflicts of interest do not always stop work from being published or prevent someone from being involved in the review process. However, they must be declared. A clear declaration of all possible conflicts – whether they actually had an influence or not – allows others to make informed decisions about the work and its review process.
If conflicts of interest are found after publication, this may be embarrassing for the authors, the Editor, and the journal. It may be necessary to publish a corrigendum or reassess the review process.
Some common conflicts include:
Personal – a pre-existing relationship induces an individual to act inappropriately.
Financial – an individual receives payment relating to the subject of the research, or from connected organizations.
Intellectual property – an individual puts undue emphasis on patents or trademarks that they own, or are owned by their organization.
Affiliations – an individual is employed by, or is a member of, an organization with an interest in the outcome of the research.
Ideology – an individual is influenced by beliefs or associations relating to the subject of the research.
You should carefully consider how these and other similar topics may affect you, and how they could affect others involved in the handling of the manuscript.
Conflicts for authors are most often associated with the risk of bias in a manuscript. As an author, if you have any interest or association that could be seen to have influenced your decision-making process, you should ensure that it is declared at the time of submission.
You may be asked to make certain changes to your manuscript as a result of your declaration. These requests are not an accusation of impropriety. The Editor or reviewer is helping you to protect your work against potential criticisms.
If you are in any doubt about declaring a potential conflict, remember that if it is revealed later – especially after publication – it could cause more problems than simply declaring it at the time of submission. Undeclared conflicts of interest could lead to a corrigendum or, in the most serious cases, a retraction.
Whether or not you believe a conflict of interest exists, you will be asked to include a statement in your manuscript. If you believe no conflicts exist, you will be asked to confirm this in writing.
As a member of a journal’s Editorial Board, you need to be very aware of the risk of conflicts when handling a manuscript.
Firstly, you should assess your own potential conflicts. If you have recently co-authored with the author of the manuscript, you could be perceived to be influenced by your relationship. Similarly, if you have recently shared an affiliation or employment history with the author, it could also be seen to be inappropriate for you to handle their work. Khalsa publications aim to avoid assigning papers to Editors who might have conflicts, but we also expect our Editors to declare any conflicts. If you believe a conflict exists, you should refuse to handle the manuscript.
As a subject expert, the journal relies on your knowledge of the discipline to assess any conflicts declared by a submitting author. You are also uniquely placed to be able to identify any undeclared conflicts that an author might have. You should think about these factors when making a recommendation on the manuscript.
You should also consider potential conflicts when assigning the manuscript to reviewers. Khalsa publications perform a conflict of interest checks on all reviewers before they receive the manuscript for review, but you should also rely on your knowledge of the sector to inform the assignments you make. Typically, you should not select a referee who:
works or has recently worked at the same institution as the author or authors; or
has recently co-authored a paper with the author or authors; or
has a recent or current collaboration with the author.
Discretion may be applied when publications are authored by a consortium.
If you have concerns about a potential reviewer, consider appointing someone else. If you believe a reviewer’s recommendation on a manuscript was made to further their own interests, you may tell the authors they do not need to address that point.
We are aware that certain specialist areas may involve a higher likelihood of association and overlap between researchers. In some instances, you may be the best-placed individual to act as Editor despite a connection with the author or authors. In this case, you should inform your Khalsa publication’s editorial contact. They can then refer the case for review by our Research Integrity team.
By agreeing to peer review a manuscript you are providing the essential neutral assessment. As such, you should ensure that you have no conflicts of interest that could be seen to prevent you from acting in an impartial manner.
You should ensure that you have no recent association with the author and that you have not previously coauthored with them. You should also not have a recent shared employment history.
Khalsa publications operate a ‘single-blind’ approach to peer review. Your name will not be made available to the authors. This allows you to provide honest, pertinent feedback.