How Do We Assess Conflicts of Interest?

One way to personally assess your own conflict of interest is to ask yourself 'how would this look on the 6:00 news'.   We often call that the 'smell test'. While you might not consider your relationship with, or financial interest in, a company to pose a risk to the objectivity of the design, conduct or reporting of your research, it can create that perception. Perception of bias, or the perception that harm came to a human subject in research as a result of bias, can be just as damaging as actual bias or harm. Thus, we must, and you should, ask the following questions:

Are basic academic values upheld?

  • an open academic environment is maintained.
  • there are no restrictions on publications or dissemination of research results.
  • fair licensing practices are ensured.
  • the use of University resources and facilities is appropriate.
  • students are not exploited for the private gain of their mentors, and they are free to choose and pursue research
  • the research is appropriate to the mission of the University.

What is the scientific direction of the University research and what is the scientific or business direction of the company? Is it the same? Where does it overlap?

Could these personal financial interests have a direct and significant affect on the research?

  •  how much income or equity is involved?
  •  from how many sources does it derive?
  • could these financial interests be a significant incentive for the individual with the conflict?
  • could this financial interest pose a direct conflict with the research?
  • could this conflict compromise the objectivity of the research results or their evaluation and presentation?

Could human subjects involved in the research be harmed by the conflict?

Could potential incentives to show that products are effective affect future patients negatively if the products are actually not as effective as indicated in the clinical study? 

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