Yet the truth about conflict of interest remains the same. No human being with conflicting loyalties or interests can always be relied on to act in the public interest, and so we do well to remove as much temptation as possible from as many people as possible. Perhaps then the pace of innovation might slow down a bit, and some people might not be able to make a lot of money in a short time; but perhaps we could also avoid some of the disgraces that have been in the news over the last decade or two, like the clinical researchers who on the side owned a company making eye ointment and who suppressed their findings that the ointment is ineffective, until they had sold the stock in their company.
Let me leave you with the thought that these issues are not other people's problems, they are our problem, they are everyone's problem. Here are a few typical ethical problems we all face:
How much time to spend preparing for teaching, or in grading lab papers or exams, when we need the same time to do our research and prepare for our own exams? How many people outside the immediate research area should be on a student's committee, to make sure that the student isn't just exploited as a "pair of hands" on a big project?
Similarly, who should have a say in drawing up and evaluating cumulative or comprehensive exams?
Should faculty with large grants be able to offer special inducements for students to work with them rather than with professors who don't have large grants? Shouldn't students be free to choose their own dissertation topics?
Faculty evaluating others for tenure or promotion; administrators deciding how to calculate overhead charges, and how to distribute money collected as overhead; program managers in funding agencies; scientists reviewing research proposals and manuscripts intended for publication - in all those situations and many others, we as individuals have to decide how much weight to give to sheer merit as opposed to other considerations like scratching one another's back. If most of us choose the ethical thing, then science will continue to prosper. If too many of us cut corners, then science can come to a dead stop.
Version: 1.0, text updated: 5/12/1995