Carnegie Mellon University
November 11, 2019

Study: Conflict of Interest Disclosures Don’t Alter the Recommendations of Peer Reviewers

By Jason Maderer

Jason Maderer

The majority of high-quality medical and science journals require disclosure of possible conflicts of interest (COI). However, a new study suggests that such disclosures have no impact on journal reviewers, even when the authors of submitted papers did, in fact, report conflicts. The study also found that reviewers’ evaluations of seven additional measures of different facets of research quality (e.g., methods, conclusions, objectivity) were similarly unaffected by COI disclosures.

The study was conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Harvard and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). It examined the evaluations of more than 3,300 reviewers of nearly 1,500 papers submitted between 2014 and 2018 to the Annals of Emergency Medicine (AEM). The authors believe it is the first randomly controlled experiment to examine the impact of COI disclosures on actual reviewer evaluations of research papers.

leslie-john_600.jpgThe study was led by Harvard’s Leslie John, who earned her Ph.D. in Behavioral Decision Research at Carnegie Mellon in 2011. She said the findings likely are related to the ambiguity of the review process as it relates to COI disclosures.

loewenstein.jpgGeorge Loewenstein, Carnegie Mellon’s Herbert A. Simon University Professor of Economics and Psychology and a co-author of the study, noted that the paper is the latest in a long line of research showing that disclosure is an inadequate response to COIs that are rampant in medicine.

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