A Comparison of Journal Instructions Regarding Institutional Review Board Approval and Conflict-of-interest Disclosure between 1995 and 2005

Document Type


Publication Date



Journal of Medical Ethics





First Page


Last Page


URL with Digital Object Identifier



OBJECTIVES: To compare 2005 and 1995 ethics guidelines from journal editors to authors regarding requirements for institutional review board (IRB) approval and conflict-of-interest (COI) disclosure.

DESIGN: A descriptive study of the ethics guidelines published in 103 English-language biomedical journals listed in the Abridged Index Medicus in 1995 and 2005. Each journal was reviewed by the principal author and one of four independent reviewers.

RESULTS: During the period, the proportion of journals requiring IRB approval increased from 42% (95% CI 32.2% to 51.2%, p<0.001) to 76% (95% CI 66.4% to 83.1%, p<0.001). In 2005, an additional 9% referred to the Declaration of Helsinki or the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors' Uniform requirements for ethical guidelines; 15% (95% CI 8.5% to 22.5%, p<0.01) provided ambiguous or no requirements. The proportion of journals requiring COI disclosure increased from 75% (95% CI 66.6% to 83.3%, p<0.05) to 94% (95% CI 89.4% to 98.6%, p<0.05); 41% had comprehensive requirements, while some addressed only funding source (6%), were vague (10%) or both (14%). Criteria for authorship rose from 40% (95% CI 30.5% to 49.5%, p<0.05) to 72% (95% CI 63.3% to 80.7%, p<0.05). Journals with higher impact factors were more likely to require IRB approval (p<0.01). Journals in anaesthesia and radiology all required IRB approval; requirements in other disciplines varied.

CONCLUSIONS: Instructions to authors regarding ethical standards have improved. Some remain incomplete, especially regarding the scope of disclosure of COI. The ethical guidelines presented to authors need further clarification and standardisation.