Professor Peter Miller (School of Psychology, Deakin University) and others argue in an article that researchers should be aware that their objectivity might be compromised if they accept honoraria and travel funds from a sponsor that funds industry-favourable research. Also, they highlight the opportunities to fraternise with industry executives at such conferences.
They give the example of the alcohol industry sponsoring academics to attend conferences, at which industry executives have the opportunity to meet researchers. Miller and others argue that, because the alcohol industry funds research on industry-favourable topics (such as why regulation should not be imposed on the industry), such sponsorship and interaction with industry executives at conferences would affect the objectivity of academics.
In the HKU context, the HKU Policy on Research Integrity does not expressly prohibit researchers from accepting honoraria/travel funds from a sponsor, nor does it restrict researchers’ interactions with potential sponsors. However, Section 2.5 (which covers ‘Disclosure of conflict of interest’) states that:
“In order not to jeopardize the trustworthiness of research results, any relevant or potential conflict of interest – whether personal, financial, academic or political – should be identified and declared. Conflict of interest should be declared in research proposals, publications or other forms of dissemination of findings, etc.”
Section 3.4 (‘Non-Disclosure of Potential Conflict of Interest’) states that:
“Disclosure of any potential conflict of interest is essential for the responsible conduct of research. Non-disclosure is regarded as unethical behaviour.
A researcher’s affiliation with, or financial involvement in, any organisation or entity with a direct interest in the subject matter, or in the provision of materials for the research, must be included in a full acknowledgement.”
Thus HKU researchers should at all times be alert to the fact that their relationship with the sponsor could call in question their objectivity if they are involved in research related to the sponsor’s field.
They must also make full disclosure of any conflict of interest (including potential conflicts of interest) if they carry out research that is related to the field of a sponsor from whom they have received honoraria/travel funds or have interacted with at a conference.
Miller, P. et al, ‘Relationships with the Alcoholic Beverage Industry, Pharmaceutical Companies, and other Funding Agencies: Holy Grail or Poisoned Chalice?’, Publishing Addiction Science: A Guide for the Perplexed (2008), 194-212.