Something to declare?
January 9, 2023 | 4 min read
By Katie Eve
Disclosing potential competing interests made easier with the Declaration Tool
Publishers play a critical role in nurturing trust in science. As part of this, it is vital that we equip editors and reviewers with tools, services, and information to help them evaluate the reliability and ethics of submissions. We must also provide transparency for readers to ensure they have all the information necessary to assess the research that is presented to them. Readers are also researchers who often go on to build from the work they read, so transparency plays a further role in the progress of science which is “built on the shoulders of giants.”
For cases where these needs interface with the Aries' Editorial Manager (EM) submission system, used by Elsevier journals, we are proud to have a dedicated “Trust & Transparency” team committed to delivering solutions. This team is headed by Product Manager, Darci Dubreuil, in close collaboration with publishing ethics expert, Catriona Fennell, Director Journal Services.
One of the first tools developed by Darci and her team is the DeclarationTool(opens in new tab/window). Declarations of potential competing interests, also known as “conflicts of interest,” are an essential part of promoting trust in research, and incomplete or omitted declarations can require article correction or even retraction(opens in new tab/window). The Declaration Tool guides the corresponding author step-by-step through four sections (or screens) within the tool: support for the reported work, relevant support outside this work, intellectual property, and other support. The corresponding author enters information into the Declaration Tool on behalf of all the authors: they can either enter relevant information, or “toggle off” a section if they have nothing to declare in that particular section.
The tool offers several benefits:
First, it aids creation of comprehensive and transparent statements. By asking specific questions, the Declaration Tool helps authors understand the various scenarios that could cause a potential conflict but that may not be immediately obvious, e.g., patents, or APC sponsorship. Evidence shows that asking authors a series of closed questions, covering the full gamut of potential competing interests, leads to more complete disclosures.
Second, the statements produced meet industry best practice, most notably for health and medical science journals, including ICMJE (opens in new tab/window)standards.
Third, statements generated by the tool are consumable by our production system enabling these declaration statements to be published as part of the article ensuring full transparency for readers. This is something to which abstracting & indexing services such as Medline and Clarivate understandably pay close attention when evaluating titles for inclusion. By publishing declaration statements consistently, a journal promotes its reputation as a custodian of trust and transparency in science.
We began rolling out the Declaration Tool in late 2020 and by year-end 2022 had successfully implemented it for c. 900 journals, as well as making it the default for any new journals. If you are an editor whose journal is not already taking advantage of this new tool, we invite you to reach out to your Publisher to discuss next steps for configuring it.
Darci commented, “We're delighted by the positive reception the Declaration Tool has received from users, whether they are experienced authors who value the ease in creating a declaration or early career researchers who appreciate the guidance the tool provides in what needs to be disclosed.” She added, “My team and I are excited about potential future opportunities to integrate the tool within Editorial Manager to make the author experience more seamless, for example by automating the upload of the tool’s output to EM, and to extend the technology behind the tool to provide transparency for other types of ethics statements and patient consent documentation.”
Stay tuned for future updates about new tools and services we are releasing in this area, and we welcome your feedback on the Declaration Tool below.