During the peer reviewing process there is a scope for conflict of interest to arise. Interests that are conflicting may not essentially indicate any kind of wrong doing if it is done in a manner that is ethical. The peer reviewing process has certain ethical norms in place that are used to tackle instances where conflict of interest has occurred. These norms are being continuously developed for further improvement. However, norms relating to conflict of interests would vary from journal to journal and is never applied evenly. As per the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, authors are under an unspoken obligation to assess the reputation, history, integrity and practices of journals where they are desirous of submitting their manuscripts.
When instances of conflict of interest arise, it has the potential to generate bias in research. Conflict of interest can be both disclosed and undisclosed. Both have the propensity to make a negative impact on the quality of the research and the public good on the whole. In this particular article we focus on conflict of interest in the peer reviewing process.
There are several types of peer reviews which include; open, anonymous, double-blind etc., where the identity of the person reviewing the research paper is not revealed to the author and the identity of the author is not revealed to the peer reviewer. Irrespective of the type of review it is imperative that reviewers act in an ethical manner with the highest moral principles. The cape of anonymity does not mean that scientific misconduct can be covered. It is recommended that the reviewer refrains from doing the review if there is even the minutest possibility of conflict of interest to arise.
Conflicts are known to arise especially when for instance; the research paper is poorly constructed and there is ample scope for rejection. Nonetheless, there are some novel ideas that could be applied by the reviewer in their own research or an author might be working on almost similar lines as your research paper. Most requests for peer review initially only offer the abstract of the paper and the entire paper is only provided after the reviewer accepts the peer reviewing tasks. In instances where conflict of interest is clear, refrain from accepting the review assignment. When there is conflict, there is often a grey area. In case of any doubt, it is best if you consult with the editors who have requested the review.
Avoiding conflict of interest and altering the institutional structure to make avoiding conflict of interest relatively easy is often encouraged. Ethical policies in certain specific journals strictly prevent peer reviewers from conflict of interest issues by outlining strict policies. Policies in this case would pertain to barring them from accepting gifts from authors or organizations that are associated with their work. Appropriate information and adequate education on matters related to managing conflict of interest can also prove to be an effective tool in helping reviewers to avoid the scope of conflict of interest.