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Scientific journals and conflict of interest disclosure: what progress has been made?

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Abstract

The article addresses the failure of the scientific community to create an effective mechanism to protect the integrity of the scientific literature from improper influence by vested interests. The seriousness of this threat is increasingly recognized. Scientists willing to distort scientific research to serve vested interests receive millions of dollars for their services. Organizations such as the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, the World Association of Medical Editors and the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) have launched initiatives to establish international standards for Conflict of Interest (COI) disclosure. COPE requires its 7,000 member journals to comply with its Code of Conduct for Journal Editors. While these initiatives are encouraging, they are internal educational endeavours only. Five examples are given showing failure of COPE member journals to comply with COPE's Code of Conduct. While COPE offers a complaint process, it involves only discussion and voluntary compliance. COPE neither polices nor enforces its Code. Instead of the current feeble, un-resourced process, which delivers neither transparency nor accountability, the article proposes the creation of a mechanism that will employ specific, effective measures to address contraventions of COI disclosure requirements.

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