Beyond funding, conflicts of interest in scientific communication can occur in quite ordinary situations, such as when the author of a manuscript proposes that a friend revise the text or when the editor of a journal feels a particular inclination towards the articles of colleagues. Virginia Barbour is chief editor of PLoS Medicine, the Public Library of Science, one of the most important freely-available scientific publications in the world. In this publication, conflicts of interests are understood as anything that could interfere with the objective of the study, ‘peer review’, editorial decisions or the publication of scientific articles.

Conflicts of interests in scientific publishing was the subject proposed by the Esteve Foundation last April 24, 2009 in Sitges, Spain for the Esteve Foundation Discussion Groups, a new international initiative in which a small group of experts discuss an aspect of their work in a particular field. Harvey Marcovitch, chairman of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and associate editor of the British Medical Journal was asked to conduct the session entitled Conflict of interest in science communications: More than a financial issue.

According to Magne Nylenna, professor at the Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services, conflicts of interests should not be swept under the carpet. The only way for institutions and journals to minimize the impact of such conflicts is none other than to maintain transparency. On the other hand, for Ana Marušić, chief editor of the Croatian Medical Journal, conflicts of interests are very difficult to avoid in small publications from countries with less scientific output. Editors with little experience, authors with poor quality research and a high prevalence of unprofessional practice form a vicious circle into which it is very complicated to introduce international standards.

Other participants who made contributions to the discussion were Carme Borrell, associate editor of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Esteve Fernandez, director of Gaceta Sanitaria, Helen MacDonald, editorial registrar of the British Medical Journal, and Felix Bosch, director of the Esteve Foundation.