COMETS publishes a new Opinion «Interests and conflicts of interest in public research» (n°2019-39), approved at the COMETS plenary session of 08 April 2019.

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SUMMARY – The current social context is such that conflicts of interest that may influence decisions about public life are increasingly being brought into the spotlight. The scientific research sector is directly concerned by this issue insofar as Higher Education and Research (HE&R) players participate in assessments or expert appraisals and benefit from contracts either with the private sector, the French public sector or the European Union. It therefore appears necessary to specify the procedures for assessing and handling conflicts of interest in HE&R. Today, however, these are too often a matter of trial and error, and still include many blind spots. This COMETS Opinion focuses first on distinguishing conflicts of interest from the interests arising from protagonists’ relationships. Interests may be of different kinds: tangible or intellectual, direct or indirect. This Opinion analyses the situations in which these interests must be declared. Such declarations are necessary for the proper functioning of research and are used to avoid bias in expert appraisals of public interest. They should not, however, bring proceedings to a halt by excluding too many of the skill sets required. The recommendations of this Opinion call for the development of a clear doctrine for HE&R staff when called upon to act as assessors or experts, or in certain cases when they hold more than one position or perform more than one role. They suggest a clarification of the procedures for declaring interests arising from relationships, as well as the desirable harmonisation of these procedures among institutions and research agencies. Finally, they advocate the greatest possible transparency in the declaration of the interests of researchers and research units, including in their communication with the media, in order to strengthen public trust in science.

Crédit photo Emin Baycan