Conflict of Interest

We recently received an inquiry about whether an author had not indicated s/he had a conflict of interest when such a conflict existed. Our first inclination was, “No conflict of interest” because the author had nothing to financially gain from the material presented in the article. However, in talking with our publisher (SAGE) and others, it became apparent that conflict of interest is not restricted to financial rewards. So…here is the question for discussion: If one is publishing research about a measurement instrument one has developed, a theoretical model one has proposed, or curriculum one has created, should one indicate a conflict of interest? Are there additional circumstances that would warrant indicating a conflict of interest?

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3 thoughts on “Conflict of Interest”

  1. There are certainly other kinds of conflict of interest, such as promoting a family member or friend over a colleague, or writing glowingly about a product or service that is offered by one’s employer. Although a curriculum is not likely to create a situation such as research sponsored by tobacco companies on the causes of lung cancer, it would be appropriate for an author to indicate a parallel connection to a publisher, for example. I would expect these situations to be rare, but there are published authors who work or worked for companies that published ability tests, but the author information usually makes this explicit.

    Although I see the potential for conflicts of interest, I do not see this as a pervasive problem in this field. At the same time, if one suspects such a conflict, dealing with it is a two-step process: Declare it and indicate the steps taken to mitigate it.

    Bruce M.Shore
    McGill University, Montreal

  2. Based on the examples given in the original post, we might define “conflict of interest” as “any circumstance in which an author’s opportunity for personal or professional gain compromises something about the writing.” What it is that has to be compromised to constitute conflict of interest, I’m not sure. I know a few things it’s not–objectivity, validity, or even truth, for example. What it means to be compromised is not even totally clear to me: it is impossible to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” in a single journal article. Academic writing is already accused of being stilted as it is. And finally, the idea that somehow I can write without thought of personal or professional gain is ludicrous. I am told in academe, for example, that for tenure and promotion purposes, I should develop a clear line of research and writing that I pursue over time. To do that, isn’t it possible (even desirable) that I might develop a theoretical model, a measurement instrument, or a curriculum that I would pursue with propositional, empirical, or practical writing throughout my career?

    Ultimately, I believe every author has some inherent conflicts of interest, but these vary by degree. The community of inquiry determines the threshold it is willing to tolerate through means such as institutional review boards, data retention requirements, “blind” peer reviews, opportunities for replication, dialectic discourse, and now, specific statements about funding and conflicts of interest. Whether or not an author reports a conflict of interest is based, not on whether or not what has been written promotes an idea or practice or product from which the author might gain (financially or otherwise), but whether or not the gain that does exist is above or below the threshold of tolerance.

  3. When someone who is perceived as a leader in any field comes across as an “infomercial” for their own product, model or position, it has the potential of tainting their reputation if it appears they are hiding that conflict of interest. I suspect everyone has attended at least one conference presentation that ended up being an advertisement or self promotion. In a relatively small field like gifted education, there is going to be an overlap between leaders in the field in a general sense, and people who have made their mark through their own product, model, or position. That’s not a bad thing and may well be why they have risen to being seen as a leader. With that understanding, however, I favor clearly stating such conflict so that one’s statements are understood within the contest of their bias and so they aren’t seen as inadvertently hiding or being deceptive. I think this benefits all parties.

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