Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Competing Interests

When do your politics become a competing interest?

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 25 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d269
  1. Gerry McCartney, head, Public Health Observatory Division, NHS Health Scotland,
  2. Lisa Garnham, PhD candidate, University of the West of Scotland,
  3. Darryl Gunson, lecturer in philosophy, University of the West of Scotland,
  4. Chik Collins, senior lecturer in politics, University of the West of Scotland
  1. Correspondence to: G McCartney gmccartney{at}

Might the declaration of authors’ political affiliations undermine the conditions for rational discourse?

A recent BMJ article asked, “Would action on health inequalities have saved New Labour?” (BMJ 2010;340:c3294, doi:10.1136/bmj.c3294). Its conclusion leaned heavily towards an affirmative response. An anonymous spokesperson for the Scottish Labour Party subsequently dismissed the article and its conclusions as “political point scoring”—on the basis that its lead author, Gerry McCartney (also lead author of the present article), “is a member of the Scottish Socialist Party” (, even though he had declared this membership as a competing interest.

McCartney’s declaration was in line with the guidance provided to authors by leading journal editors in recent years. In 2009 a group of these editors requested that authors declare relevant “personal, professional, political, institutional, religious, or other associations” (BMJ 2009;339:b4144, doi:10.1136/bmj.b4144). And in the latest iteration of the uniform disclosure form, the question relating to non-financial competing interests has been replaced with: “Are there other relationships or activities that readers could perceive to have influenced, or that give the appearance of potentially influencing, what you wrote in the submitted work?” (BMJ …

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