The Interrelationship between Research Integrity, Conflict of Interest, and the Research Environment
Quite distinct regulatory measures have been established to try to deal with research misconduct and conflict of interest. To decrease research misconduct, the emphasis has been on education aimed at promoting an understanding of and commitment to research integrity. To decrease the impact of conflict of interest, the emphasis has been on management of the research environment. In this essay I discuss the idea that research misconduct and its close relative “questionable research practices” should be framed in the context of conflict of interest. If we take seriously the implication of conflict of interest regulations that even a $5,000 financial interest might bias the design, conduct, or reporting of research, then how much more risk of bias will be in play when what is at stake is ongoing funding of short-term research grants on which a researcher’s salary and job depend? Education is important and necessary to promote research integrity but by itself will not be sufficient. Placing problems of research misconduct and questionable research practices in the context of conflict of interest makes it clear that we also will need to develop new approaches to manage the structure of the research environment. One example of such a management strategy would be for NIH to phase in a limit on the overall percentage of a faculty member’s salary permitted to be supported with NIH grant funds, complementing the already existing upper dollar limit that can be used for faculty salaries.
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