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PLOS Policy on Declaration and Evaluation of Competing Interests

PLOS is committed to ensuring that research is as free from bias as possible, and is seen to be so. It is the responsibility of journals and their editors to take all competing interests into account during the review process and to ensure that any relevant ones are declared in the published article. We therefore have the following requirements.

  • Authors must declare all relevant competing interests for consideration during the review process.
  • Editors (professional or academic, paid or unpaid) and reviewers must declare their own competing interests and if necessary recuse themselves from involvement in the assessment of a paper.
  • Anyone who comments on or rates published papers in any PLOS journal must declare their competing interests at the time of posting their comments and/or rating.

PLOS Medicine and PLOS Biology each has a team of professional and academic editors evaluating papers for publication; PLOS Computational Biology, PLOS Genetics, PLOS Pathogens, and PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases are run solely and independently by their editorial boards; PLOS ONE is run as a partnership between its in-house PLOS staff and international Advisory and Editorial Boards.

PLOS has always considered competing interests carefully. The policy below outlines our position from July 2009 onward.

What is a competing interest?

PLOS defines a competing interest as anything that interferes with, or could reasonably be perceived as interfering with, the full and objective presentation, peer review, editorial decision making, or publication of research or non-research articles submitted to one of the journals. Competing interests can be financial or non-financial, professional, or personal. Competing interests can arise in relationship to an organization or another person. See below for definitions and examples of various competing interests.

Who needs to declare competing interests?

Everyone involved in authorship, funding, review, and editorial decision making of submitted articles, or who wishes to comment on or rate published articles must declare any and all relevant competing interests.

It is increasingly recognized that everyone has competing interests of some sort—authors, authors' employers (whether an academic institution, government department, commercial company, or other), sponsors of the work, reviewers, editors, and publishers. It is difficult for individuals to assess objectively whether their competing interests could have biased their presentation, peer review, or decision to publish any given work. Declaring one's competing interests allows others to better evaluate the possibility of such bias.

How do PLOS journals treat competing interests in their review and publication process?

No decision is made to publish any paper submitted to a PLOS journal until a competing interests statement has been submitted for all authors. The editors may ask additional questions or seek clarification about declarations. In addition, we require that the role of all funding sources in the work be described, and authors are required to state explicitly whether the funder was involved in the study design; collection, analysis and interpretation of data; writing of the paper; and/or decision to submit for publication (read more about our Financial Disclosure policy).

The editors of a PLOS journal may decide not to publish a paper if they believe the competing interests declared by the authors or funders are such that they may have compromised the objectivity or validity of the research, analyses, or interpretations presented in the paper. With respect to commissioned or other non-research articles, PLOS editors do not commission or publish any such article, which comments on or reviews research findings or other topics, if they are aware of a competing interest that in their judgment could introduce bias or the reasonable perception of bias.

PLOS editors do not consult reviewers who have competing interests that, in the editors' judgment, could interfere with unbiased review.

Failure to declare competing interests at submission, or when an article is commissioned, may result in immediate rejection of the paper. If a competing interest comes to light after publication PLOS journal will issue a formal correction or retraction of the whole paper, as appropriate.

The PLOS Medicine editors declare their competing interests annually here and do not participate in the editorial handling of any paper for which they have a competing interest.

Examples of competing interests

Financial

Financial competing interests include but are not limited to:

  • Ownership of stocks or shares
  • Paid employment or consultancy
  • Board membership
  • Patent applications (pending or actual), including individual applications or those belonging to the institution to which authors are affiliated and which the authors may benefit from
  • Research grants (from any source, restricted or unrestricted)
  • Travel grants and honoraria for speaking or participation at meetings
  • Gifts

Authors must declare all potential financial competing interests involving people or organizations that might reasonably be perceived as relevant.

Similarly, reviewers and academic and professional editors, paid or unpaid, must consider and declare any potential financial relationships that could reasonably be perceived as relevant and/or could influence their objective review of the paper, and recuse themselves from handling the paper if necessary.

Anyone wishing to comment on or rate a published paper must also consider, and then disclose, whether they have any relevant financial interests.

As a guide, any competing interest that arose within the five years either before or after the commencement of the research described, or within five years of the article being written, or within five years of events described in the article, should be declared. However, interests outside this time frame may also be relevant; if so, they should also be declared so that their relevance can be judged by the editorial team.

Non-financial

Non-financial competing interests include but are not limited to:

Professional

  • Acting as an expert witness
  • Membership in a government or other advisory board
  • Relationship (paid or unpaid) with organisations and funding bodies including nongovernmental organisations, research institutions, or charities
  • Membership in lobbying or advocacy organisations
  • Writing or consulting for an educational company

Personal

  • Personal relationships (i.e., friend, spouse, family member, current or previous mentor, adversary) with individuals involved in the submission or evaluation of a paper, such as authors, reviewers, editors, or members of the editorial board of a PLOS journal
  • Personal convictions (political, religious, ideological, or other) related to a paper's topic that may interfere with an unbiased publication process (at the stage of authorship, peer review, editorial decision making, or publication)

Authors, reviewers, editors, and anyone wishing to comment on a published paper must consider and then disclose whether they have any non-financial interests that might influence their reporting, handling, or review of the paper, or that might be negatively or positively affected by publication of the paper.

For example, authors are required to declare if they have served or currently serve on the editorial board of the journal to which they are submitting, have acted as an expert witness in relevant legal proceedings, or have sat or currently sit on a committee for an organization that may benefit from publication of the paper.

Reviewers are required to declare if they have held grants, co-authored papers, or worked in the same institution or organization with the authors of the study they are asked to review, or if they are in an adversarial relationship with authors.

Similarly, editors—academic or professional, paid or unpaid—are required to recuse themselves from deliberations if they cannot evaluate a paper in an objective way because of personal relationships with authors.

Finally, anyone who comments on or rates published papers in PLOS must declare non-financial competing interests at the time of posting their comments and/or rating.

See this editorial for further clarification: The PLOS Medicine Editors (2008) Making Sense of Non-Financial Competing Interests. PLOS Med 5(9): e199 doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050199.