The HKU Policy on Research Integrity covers conflict of interest in the following sections:
Section 1 (‘Principles of Research Integrity’):
In pursuing their research activities, members of the University should adhere to good research practices; and should not be engaged in research misconduct such as … non-disclosure of potential conflict of interest.
Section 2.2 (‘Publication-related conduct’):
Where appropriate and with their permission, names of individuals or organisations which have made significant contributions to the research and the roles they played in the project should be acknowledged in publications. These include funding agencies, sponsors, and research collaborators and assistants who do not meet the authorship criteria.
Section 2.5 (‘Disclosure of conflict of interest’):
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. In reviewing research proposals and editing or reviewing research publications, a reviewer or an editor who has a relevant conflict of interest should abstain from the decision making process. For potential, minor or unavoidable conflict of interest, it should be unambiguously declared. (emphasis added)
Section 3.4 (‘Non-Disclosure of Potential Conflict of Interest’):
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.
Members of committees responsible for the allocation of research or conference grants should not participate in any way in the determination of their own applications, or normally those of students whom they supervise.
The source of funding for research work should always be acknowledged, unless the donor requests anonymity and such request is approved by the University. (emphasis added)
The external documents cited in Section 2 of the HKU Policy on Research Integrity state the following in relation to conflicts of interest:
The ORI Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research states the following:
Researchers’ interests can and often do conflict with one another. The advancement of knowledge is usually best served by sharing ideas with colleagues, putting many minds to work on the same problem. But personal gain is sometimes best served by keeping ideas to oneself until they are fully developed and then protected through patents, copyrights, or publications. Legitimate research interests can create competing responsibilities and lead to what is commonly called conflicts of interest.
It is important to understand that conflicts of interest are not inherently wrong. The complex and demanding nature of research today invariably gives rise to competing obligations and interests. Researchers are expected to serve on committees, to train young researchers, to teach, and to review grants and manuscripts at the same time they pursue their own research. Conflicts of interest cannot and need not be avoided. However, in three crucial areas:
- financial gain,
- work commitments, and
- intellectual and personal matters,
special steps are needed to assure that conflicts do not interfere with the responsible practice of research.
[Detailed discussion on how to deal with conflicts of interest is set out in pg 68-78]
The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity states the following:
All authors should declare any relevant conflict of interest, which may be financial, commercial, personal, academic, or political.
An editor or reviewer who has a relevant potential conflict of interest – which may be personal, acadmeic, political, commercial or financial – should, ideally, withdraw from involvement in any publication decision. If the conflict is considered minor or unavoidable it should be disclosed to the readership.
The Singapore Statement on Research Integrity states the following:
Researchers should disclose financial and other conflicts of interest that could compromise the trustworthiness of their work in research proposals, publications and public communications as well as in all review activities.
In addition, standards which appear in other sources may be useful as a point of reference and comparison for legal researchers:
The ICMJE Recommendations state the following (nb although the ICMJE Recommendations are aimed at editors of biomedical journals, they may nonetheless be of interest for researchers in law, as they are cited in the ORI Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research which is referred to in Section 2 of the HKU Policy on Research Integrity):
A conflict of interest exists when professional judgment concerning a primary interest (such as patients’ welfare or the validity of research) may be influenced by a secondary interest (such as financial gain). Perceptions of conflict of interest are as important as actual conflicts of interest.
Conflicts can occur for other reasons, such as personal relationships or rivalries, academic competition, and intellectual beliefs. (emphasis added)
The following case studies are related to conflict of interest:
- CityU researcher convicted after failure to disclose interest
- How should researchers procure goods and services?
- How to decide whether to accept sponsorship funding: PERIL analysis
- R (BAT) v DOH – a landmark judgment on research integrity
- Should you accept conference honoraria/travel funding from a sponsor?