There should be no conflicts of interest between the authors, on the one hand, and any member of the review team, on the other hand. The principle of conflict of interest is more easily stated, agreed upon, and understood than specific rules of conduct. It is, in brief, that the reviewer should not tied to the author(s) in any way that would weigh against her/his rendering a fair and unbiased assessment of the manuscript.
Some institutions have hard and fast directives regarding conflict of interest. Since these appear to vary widely, it may be helpful for all parties to at least be cognizant of these even though we would judge their applicability on a case-by-case basis at EMR.Among selected institutions, a conflict of interest is said to include, but is not limited to situations where authors and evaluators are:
- associated through dissertation advising, including chair-student relationships and committee member-student relationships (sometimes limited to the previous five year period; others set no time period)
- published coauthors during the previous five year period
- currently working together on a research project
- colocated at the same institution at the time of manuscript submission
- tied through reviewing of a previous version of the author’s paper at another publication venue
The list is suggestive without being proscriptive. Indeed, the principle of this ethical guideline for conflict of interest is more important than any specific letter of the law. If prospective reviewers are invited to be part of the review team, and they feel they cannot be impartial in reviewing the manuscript, then they should recuse themselves from handling the paper.
When in doubt, ask. If you have a question about a possible conflict of interest, escalate the question in the review hierarchy. Questions from reviewers should go to the AE. Further questions from the AE should go to the Editor in Chief.