Most journals require authors to submit a declaration of any conflict of interest relating to the publication of the article. There are several potential conflicts of interest but the most common one is a financial interest in the results of the publication. For example, if you are a medical researcher who is evaluating the effectiveness of an anticancer drug that is already on the market and your research results are favorable towards the drug, there are many ways in which you could have a relationship with the drug’s manufacturer. This could lead to both financial and ethical conflict of interest; moreover, the co-authors of such a study would also have a financial interest.
Often, there have been disputes between researchers because of the professional, scientific, and financial impact of a particular study. If you are reporting results on a drug you have patented and are receiving royalties on, you have a direct interest in it and should mention this while submitting the study to a journal. Some journals do not require declaring conflicts on payments of less than a certain amount, say $1000, but you should always verify the actual requirement by examining the ethical guidelines of a journal.
As a researcher, if you are on the advisory board of a company, such as a drug manufacturer, or have any other relationship with a company/journal board that has an impact on the results of your research, there is an indirect conflict of interest. Thus, can potential conflicts of interests be avoided? Suppose your research involves evaluation of the effectiveness a drug and the pharma company offers stock options as a compensation, you should always consider your ethical obligations as many researchers have been previously affected by the scrutiny from journals, scientific community, and media. Often, such unnecessary implications and accusations affect both the researchers themselves and his/her research group’s scientific integrity.