By Lisa C. Braverman, MA, Sue S. Yom, MD, PhD, MAS, and Anthony L. Zietman, MD, FASTRO
Conflicts of interest and authorship status in research are attracting increasing scrutiny, with recent high-profile detections resulting in national media coverage, disgrace of respected thought leaders, and pledges for major reform from institutions and individuals alike. In the face of mounting evidence that verifications of authorship status and conflicted relationships are frequently incomplete or weakly enforced by academic journals, the Red Journal, Practical Radiation Oncology and Advances in Radiation Oncology have instituted new processes to encourage the reporting of conflicts of interest with the utmost care, avoid authorship disputes, and help protect authors against allegations of misconduct.
The Red Journal is fully committed to ethical and transparent publication practices. These processes are intended to help individuals recognize if they are being listed as responsible authors on papers without their knowledge and full consent. Additionally, the editorial team is asking each author to independently verify that any relationship that could be perceived as a conflict of interest has been disclosed. For authors at U.S. institutions, this verification includes checking Open Payments.
To verify co-authorship and conflict of interest disclosures, authors must click a link they receive in an automated email. This link will take them to the Red Journal’s submission system, where they will be instructed to log in and answer two questions about their potential conflicts of interest. Answers to commonly asked questions about the process and troubleshooting tips can be found in the Winter 2018 ASTROnews.
In the first four weeks of instituting these new co-author/conflict of interest verifications, more than 1,000 Red Journal authors completed the questionnaires. Several authors discovered they were listed on papers they did not co-author, and a few oversights in conflict of interest reporting were discovered. We believe this process has already produced tangibly improved protections for our authors.
Undoubtedly, there are challenges associated with this increased form of author engagement. Most of these are technical in nature. Verification can only happen through clicking the personalized links sent in the co-author emails. We also recognize that this system, while technically more burdensome, remains imperfect. Open Payments listings are not exhaustive or always verifiably accurate, and they do not exist for many U.S. authors, and not at all for those practicing outside the U.S. Our staff is committed to working through these barriers and improving these systems as the technological means become available.
Despite current limitations, our editorial team believes the benefits and protections resulting from verification of authorship and conflict of interest outweigh the inconveniences, in the interest of maintaining the highest standards of ethics in publication for our journal and for our authors. Please feel free to comment or ask questions.