Journals & conflict of interest declarations

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In our newest “how can we help you?” thread, a reader asks:

I recently submitted a paper to Phil Studies, which was sent back by Springer’s editorial office because I didn’t include a conflict of interest statement *in the blinded manuscript*.

I have never been required to do this before, and it seems quite obvious that this potentially violates the manuscript’s anonymity. For example, my research is funded by a scholarship that is only awarded once every year, so it is very easy to deduce my identity.

Has anyone heard of such requirements before? I just cannot quite comprehend that this is the policy at Springer journals, but maybe I’m missing something.

I have to confess that I’ve puzzled over this too, as it has happened to me too. Another reader submitted the following reply:

Once one of my manuscripts was bounced back for the same reason, but then all they wanted me to write down was a line that essentially said, “Here is my statement on conflicts of interest. There aren’t any”. So, it did not violate anonymity, but it did feel silly.

This seems right (it’s what I’ve done too), but it still raises the questions: (1) Why are some journals now doing this?, and (2) is there any (justified) point to it?

I suspect that the answer to (1) is probably straightforward: publishing companies may require statements like these as some sort of legal cover in case problems arise (as they sometimes do in science, when for example studies on the health effects of tobacco are funded by tobacco companies), and these companies simply develop policies and apply them indiscriminately.

But this brings us to (2): is there any justification for the practice, say in philosophy specifically? I’m actually a bit more uncertain about the answer to this question than I suspect many readers might be. Why? Well, because private funding seems to be playing an ever-increasing role in higher education, including in philosophy and the humanities more generally–something that has often been called the ‘privatization of higher education.’

If (e.g.) a given paper or philosopher is funded by a particular private agency, and (let’s say) that private organization is active politically (e.g. supporting particular parties or political candidates), then is that a “potential conflict of interest” worth disclosing?

I dunno…maybe?–if only to disclose and keep track of the ways that non-academic economic and political forces may be exerting influence over academic work. At least offhand, these do seem to me to be things that we should want to keep track of–not because I think that we should exclude private investment from academia (which I am uncertain about), but because it seems to me to be wise for the public to be aware of potential outside influences on research trends, etc. 

So, maybe as silly as these kinds of journal requirements may seem (and as irrelevant as they may be for many philosophy papers), maybe there is a justified point to having them (though, I would add, it’s not entirely clear that there are clear norms in our discipline for what would constitute a conflict of interest–something that seems to me to be worth clarifying!).

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours?

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More

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