Avoiding plagiarism :Guideline 27-Conflict of Interests

A brief overview on Conflict of Interests
When an investigator’s relationship to an organization affects, or gives the
appearance of affecting, his/her objectivity in the conduct of scholarly or scientific
research, a conflict of interest is said to occur. The relationship does not have to be a
personal nor a financial one. For example, a conflict of interest could arise when a family
member of a researcher is associated with an organization whose product the researcher is
in the process of evaluating. Does the family member’s association with the organization
compromise his ability to carry out the evaluation objectively? Perhaps. Let’s consider
another example, imagine an investigator who has been conducting basic science on the
various processes involved in the release of certain neurotransmitters and whose work has
been steadily funded by the maker of one of the most popular antidepressants. Now
imagine a new situation where the research carried out by that investigator naturally leads
him to study the efficacy of that same antidepressant while being funded by the company
that manufactures it. In conducting the research, is that investigator’s objectivity affected
by his long-standing relationship to the drug company? Perhaps it hasn’t.
Naturally, some conflicts of interest are unavoidable and having a conflict of
interest is not in itself unethical. However, the increasing role industry has played in
sponsoring research that bears on commercial applications has led to a focus on how such
sponsorship affects the research process and outcomes. The situation appears to be
particularly serious in the realm of pharmaceutical research. For example, Stelfox, Chua,
O’Rourke, and Detsky (1998) collected a sample of published reports (e.g., studies, letters
to the editor) on the safety of calcium channel blockers, drugs used to treat cardiovascular
disease and correlated the authors’ conclusions about their efficacy with whether or not the
investigators had received financial support from companies that manufacture those types
of drugs. The results revealed a strong association between conclusions that were
supportive of the drugs and prior financial support from companies that were associated
with those types of drugs.
To ameliorate the situation, research institutions, professional societies, and an
increasing number of journals have formulated guidelines for dealing with potential
conflicts of interest. Essentially, most of these guidelines require authors to disclose such
conflicts either in the cover letter to the editor of the journal to which an investigator
submits a manuscript and/or in a footnote on the manuscript itself.
GUIDELINE 27: Authors must become aware of possible conflicts
of interest in their own research and to make every effort to disclose
those situations (e.g., stock ownership, consulting agreements to the
sponsoring organization) that may pose actual or potential conflicts
of interest.
Links to resources on Conflicts of Interest listed by ORI
On Being A Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research
Draft Interim Guidance on Financial Relationships in Clinical Research: DHHS
Report on Individual Financial Interest in Human Subjects Research: AAMC
Report on Conflict of Interest in Biomedical Research: GAO
Conflict of Interest Statement – NIH

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