Peter Bruggen suggests that a declaration of interest is concerned with ‘anything about us that might make us less of a ‘disinterested’ observer, researcher, etc.’ However, instructions to authors on The Psychiatrist website indicate that: ‘A Declaration of Interest must be given and should list fees and grants from, employment by, consultancy for, shared ownership in, or any close relationship with, an organisation or individual whose interests, financial or otherwise, may be affected by the publication of your paper.’
The clear emphasis here is on possible financial interests, although other ‘close relationships’ and interests are also mentioned. The problem is that if we take inclusiveness of the latter to an extreme, then all possible matters of deep concern, including our professional and academic interests and beliefs, as well as environmental, political, ethical and other concerns, as well as spiritual and religious beliefs, are potentially conflicts of interest. A cognitive-behavioural therapist involved in a trial of cognitive-behavioural therapy v. antidepressant treatment would have to declare a conflict of interests. A researcher studying any particular condition or disorder would have to declare an interest if they or their family had suffered from this condition, or if they treated any patients suffering from it in the course of their clinical work. In fact, arguably, anyone who publishes a paper on anything is far from ‘disinterested’ or else they would not be bothering to publish their paper.
But do we want thoroughly ‘disinterested’ people doing research, publishing papers or editing journals? Leaving aside for a moment the likelihood that none of us can claim to be completely objective about anything, is it not better that letters and papers are published by people who are deeply concerned to explore, research and express views which they hold dear? This does not mean that potential financial conflicts of interest should not be disclosed, as these arguably come into a different category. However, on matters such as spirituality, everyone has a perspective that is of interest. Being ‘disinterested’, if such a thing is possible, is just as much of a perspective as that of the atheist, humanist or religious person.
A distinction should be made between ‘conflicts’ of interest and ‘perspectives’ of interest. 1 We did not consider that we had any conflicts of interest to declare in regard to our article. We hoped that our perspective of interest was sufficiently identified by the statement which indicated that we were writing on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Does not membership of this group self-evidently imply that we are interested in spirituality?