Monday, December 30, 2013

Academic Journals and Authors' Conflicts of Interest

I cited an article today in my financial sarcasm roundup about the conflicts of interest some academic researchers face in their work.  Industry pays some academics quite well to endorse their activities and I am concerned that such endorsement may color their scholarly research.  Disclosure is one way to manage conflicts of interest that occur in professional life.  Let's see what some academic journals in business have to say about disclosing conflicts of interest for submitted research papers.

The American Economic Association has a disclosure policy that requires authors to reveal any beneficial business relationships connected to their work.  That's very good.

The International Journal of Disclosure and Governance has an ethics policy that focuses on the originality of work but is silent on influential business relationships.  That's a problem.

The Journal of Economics and International Finance has publication ethics that mention conflicts of interest, but I don't see any specifics on outside business relationships.  They do mention the COPE standards below, which is good.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has codes of conduct for journal editors and publishers.  The codes specifically mention avoiding undue business influence on publishing, managing conflicts of interest, and other funding-related ideas.  These guidelines are general enough to apply to any academic discipline.  Ooh, looky, COPE has flowcharts for addressing suspected misconduct.  Those aren't as funny as my own flowcharts but that's forgivable in academia.

Here's a reality check from outside the business world.  The journal Nature has a solid discussion of the role commercial financing can play in research.  Commercial interests and objective study aren't mutually exclusive but authors, editors, and readers must see where the lines are drawn.  The academic sources serving the finance sector can take a cue from the NIH's US National Library of Medicine MEDLINE disclosure fact sheet and the ICMJE's recommended conduct.  Lives are at stake in science and medicine and those sectors' compliance reporting regimes should be tight.  Finance can gain respectability by tightening up its own ship.

This is one of my more boring articles but I want it to be a public record.  I'd prefer to liven it up with pictures of attractive women but that's not going to happen today.  Peer-reviewed journals should take conflicts of interest in sponsored research more seriously.  I've relied on scholarly works for my entire career in finance and especially since I started putting my own thoughts into Alfidi Capital.  I refer to textbooks and other sources because I want to start any analysis with as much objectivity as possible.  I would hate to think that some of the ideas I use have their origins in agenda-driven apologetics.  I had enough of that nonsense at Notre Dame in my theology courses.  I don't need nonsense informing my own decisions with money.