Personal and intellectual conflicts
ORI Introduction to RCR: Chapter 5. Conflicts of Interest
Researchers are also expected to avoid bias in proposing, conducting, reporting, and reviewing research. They therefore should be careful to avoid making judgments or presenting conclusions based solely on personal opinion or affiliations rather than on scientific evidence.
Personal conflicts are usually the easiest to identify and resolve. Researchers generally should not serve as reviewers for grants and publications submitted by close colleagues and students. Their presumed interest in seeing their colleagues and students succeed could conflict with their obligation to makes judgments based solely on the evidence at hand. Most granting agencies require reviewers to disclose conflicts of interest, including personal conflicts, as a condition of service.
Intellectual conflicts are more difficult to identify, but are nonetheless important. If a researcher holds strong personal views on the importance of a particular area of research or set of research findings, those views should be disclosed so that others can take them into consideration when judging the researcher’s statements. The same is true of strong moral convictions that could influence a researcher’s scientific opinions. This is particularly true when researchers serve as expert witnesses or advisors. It is for precisely this reason that the National Academy of Sciences, which has provided essential science advice to the Federal Government since the Civil War, carefully considers all conflicts of interest when it sets up advisory panels (see box, below).