06 January 2012

Revolutionary COI Disclosure Principles from the American Economic Association

The American Economic Association yesterday issued revolutionary -- and I do mean revolutionary -- principles for disclosure of potential financial conflicts of interest, as reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education today.  This issue was discussed one year ago today on this blog and I encourage you to watch the PBS report above for background.

Here are the principles:


Chicago, January 5, 2012
At its meeting today, the Executive Committee of the American Economic Association adopted extensions to its principles for authors’ disclosures of potential conflicts of interest in the AEA’s publications. The added principles are:
  1. Every submitted article should state the sources of financial support for the particular research it describes. If none, that fact should be stated.
  2. Each author of a submitted article should identify each interested party from whom he or she has received significant financial support, summing to at least $10,000 in the past three years, in the form of consultant fees, retainers, grants and the like. The disclosure requirement also includes in-kind support, such as providing access to data. If the support in question comes with a non-disclosure obligation, that fact should be stated, along with as much information as the obligation permits. If there are no such sources of funds, that fact should be stated explicitly. An “interested” party is any individual, group, or organization that has a financial, ideological, or political stake related to the article.
  3. Each author should disclose any paid or unpaid positions as officer, director, or board member of relevant non-profit advocacy organizations or profit-making entities. A “relevant” organization is one whose policy positions, goals, or financial interests relate to the article.
  4. The disclosures required above apply to any close relative or partner of any author.
  5. Each author must disclose if another party had the right to review the paper prior to its circulation.
  6. For published articles, information on relevant potential conflicts of interest will be made available to the public.
  7. The AEA urges its members and other economists to apply the above principles in other publications: scholarly journals, op-ed pieces, newspaper and magazine columns, radio and television commentaries, as well as in testimony before federal and state legislative committees and other agencies.
I note that the statement is of "principles" and not "guidelines" or "requirements." There is no indication of what consequence, if any, there is for authors who ignore or violate the principles. On the other hand, there are more than 300 academic economists on record calling for such principles, so it will look bad for any of them to now object or even ignore them when publishing.

The principles are a good idea for economists and others who publish policy-relevant work, but outside of the AEA's publications, the principles carry no weight, and even there it is not clear how implementation and oversight will occur.  But make no mistake, the issuance of the principles are a big deal in the profession and certain to result in much further discussion.