Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson
Failure to declare a conflict of interest, as Lester Crawford has been reminded (see news item), is a federal offence for United States Government employees, punishable by a prison term. To many scientists however, conflicts of interest are a fact of life. Members of hundreds of government advisory panels hold shares in, consult for, or are employed by, the companies about whose products they are supposed to provide ‘independent’ guidance (Krimsky, 2003). Similarly, many public interest organisations, notably patient groups and charities, are in the similar position of receiving money from corporations affected by their policies, conduct and advice. The prevailing attitude in science is that these conflicts either are unavoidable, because most successful scientists have them, or that they do not matter because scientists are sufficiently objective to discount them. In the words of numerous editorials and official guidelines, these conflicts are ‘apparent’ rather than real. None of these arguments should carry much weight.
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