Research Integrity: Concise

Conflict of interest

Introduction

'Conflicts of interest' occur when personal interests and other interests, such as financial interests, conflict with professional interests and responsibilities

Researchers are often faced with conflicting interests as a normal part of the complex lives they lead. They are expected to be teachers, entrepreneurs, advisors and professional leaders, as well as researchers. Each role comes with its own and potentially conflicting interests. Discovery-orientated researchers usually have an interest in sharing knowledge; entrepreneurial researchers may have an interest in protecting what they discover.

Two fundamental responsibilities

Although not inherently wrong, conflicts of interest (COIs) come with two fundamental responsibilities:

  • Identify: researchers must be able to identify their own conflicts of interest
  • Disclose: researchers must know when and how some conflicts of interest should or must be disclosed.

Four basic categories of conflicting interests

The responsibilities to identify and report are not limited to financial conflicts of interest. The primary interest all researchers presumably have – to advance knowledge for the benefit of society – can be compromised by four basic categories of conflicting interests. Click on the segments in the diagram below to find out more.

Financial
interests

Scholarly
interests

Categories
of conflicting interest

Professional
interests

Personal
interests

Interest in receiving financial benefits from:

  • Consulting fees
  • Business profits
  • Book or patent royalties
  • Return on personal investments
  • Grant funds
  • Support for travel
  • Other types of financially compensated additional work.

Interest in benefiting from:

  • Adoption of your theories and ideas
  • Promoting the overall importance of your field of research
  • Undermining the work of competing researchers, theories and fields.

Researchers' primary interest – to advance knowledge for the benefit of society – can be comprised by four basic categories of conflicting interests.

Interest in benefiting from:

  • Serving on review and professional committees
  • Being in a leadership position
  • Recognition as a leading expert on a particular problem or field of research.

Interest in benefiting from:

  • Rapid advancement in your employment
  • Personal relationships
  • More flexibility in your personal life.

This course summarises your responsibilities for identifying and disclosing your conflicts of interests, as set out in:

  • Government policies
  • Institutional policies
  • Professional policies.

The course then considers what can go wrong when conflicts of interest are undisclosed, and provides information on conflict of interest policies in Australia.