Researchers work hard, often spending long hours and sometimes weekends
in the laboratory, library, or at professional meetings. Their motivation
for working hard stems from many sources. Research:
- advances knowledge,
- leads to discoveries that will benefit individuals and society,
- furthers professional advancement, and/or
- results in personal gain and satisfaction.
Each of these incentives or interests is commonly recognized as responsible
Researchers are allowed to and even encouraged to profit from their
work (see the discussion of the Bayh-Dole Act, below). Professional
advancement as a researcher depends on productivity. Society expects
researchers to use the funds it supplies to advance knowledge and to
make useful discoveries. Personal gain and satisfaction provide strong
incentives for doing a good job and acting responsibly.
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 inevitably
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.