Scientific integrity: How to handle conflicts of interest

December 10, 2012

The International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST) has released a new Scientific Information Bulletin (SIB) entitled “Ensuring Scientific Integrity: Guidelines for Managing Conflicts.”

A considerable and growing body of literature has evolved in recent times on the subject of conflicts of interest (COI) and their potential influence on the scientific record and the integrity of scientific research. In much of the literature, conflicts are treated as disqualifying factors in scientific papers and research. For example, scientists with conflicts of interest are viewed as being at least partially integrity-compromised and, even with complete and open disclosure, are regarded, at least to an extent, as of suspect scientific credibility.

This SIB aims to define and clarify the highly complex issues involved in questions of conflict and scientific bias, particularly with regard to that portion of research funding originating with the food industry. The focus is confined to one specific issue and its relationship to bias: financial conflicts of interest and, specifically, funding-based conflicts. The focus of this SIB is on the management of potential bias from industry funding of science.

Given the critical role that industry has played and will continue to play in the research process, the International Life Sciences Institute North America (ILSI NA) Working Group on Guiding Principles, several years ago, set out proposed COI guidelines regarding industry funding for protecting the integrity and credibility of the scientific record, particularly with respect to food, health, and nutrition science. This SIB is based on that original ILSI NA paper, “Funding food science and nutrition research: financial conflicts and scientific integrity.” Although the issue of scientific integrity and the principles enumerated here have global applicability, the context for their development was focused on the United States and Canada.

SIB paper (pdf)