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There has been much talk on what constitutes a Conflict of Interest (COI) and what should be disclosed. This list from the journal PLoS on COIs has been circulated in the Twittersphere as an example. This list confused me, primarily because of this highlighted phrase: “A competing interest is anything that interferes with, or could reasonably be perceived as interfering with, the full and objective presentation, peer review, editorial decision-making, or publication of research or non-research articles submitted to PLOS.”
he scientists involved in the so-called GMO “FOIA-gate” did not break any of the COI and disclosure rules in their institutions. However, the controversy has continued as many claim that the scientists could have been more open: that the debate over GMOs is a public debate and the public has different definitions for terms such as “relationship”. The issue with this argument is that if you follow the activists who are the loudest voices in the GMO debate and who are driving the attempts to discredit these scientists, anything could be perceived by them to be a conflict of interest.
So, my question to the academic community is this: why are you defining conflict of interest based on the biases of the public? What I’m seeing is that scientists involved in research or outreach with the public on topics where we genuinely need more scientists involved are being penalized by having to disclose far more than what their institutions demand or, more importantly, than what is demanded by scientists in less controversial fields, because of public perception.
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