Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Should Scientists Declare Non-Financial Conflicts of Interest?

By Miriam Wiersma and Wendy Lipworth

Conflicts of interest are rife in scientific research, but non-financial conflicts of interest are often overlooked.

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When the term “conflict of interest” arises in scientific research, often the first thing that springs to mind is the use of financial incentives by industry to unduly influence researchers.

This is not surprising given that a growing body of research has shown that studies funded by the pharmaceutical, tobacco, alcohol, food and beverage industries are more likely to have outcomes that favour the funder. While this is partly a result of the direct influence that these industries have over the design, conduct and dissemination of research (, it is also believed to result from the effect that industry funding has over the attitudes and judgements of supposedly independent academic researchers.

For example, industry-funded researchers are more likely to place a positive “spin” on the results that they report. Researchers who are paid by industry are also more likely to give research-informed policy advice that is favourable to industry. Reports of financial ties between the sugar industry and UK public health scientists acting as obesity advisors to the government made international headlines in 2015, and were perceived by many as a deliberate attempt by the sugar industry to influence public health policy.

It’s widely accepted that financial interests require...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.