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02May 2019

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‘Conflict of interests not always a conflict’: Rene Bernards in Nature


Last week, April 25, Nature published an opinion contribution by researcher Rene Bernards entitled 'Conflict of interests not always a conflict'.

'Transparency about competing interests is essential when reporting scientific data. However, use of the term 'conflict of interests' for such declarations can be misleading for biomedical papers.

A genuine example of a conflict of interest is when academic researchers are financially rewarded fortheir work by commercial partners. The situation might be more nuanced for reports of biomedical discoveries that can be applied in clinical situations.

After all, developing such treatments for patients is a moral obligation for academic researchers, both towards their funders and towards society at large - even though it can mean working with biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies.

Disclosing a financial relationship as a 'conflict of interest' under such circumstances implies that engagement with for-profit companies is a nefarious activity, potentially at odds with what society expects from biomedical scientists.

In that context, a 'declaration of interest' would be a more accurate term for a mandatory and transparent disclosure of financial relationships. A 'conflict of interest' should instead be reserved for authors who cannot document efforts to translate their discoveries to the clinic.'

It was a special week for Rene Bernards. Tuesday it was announced that he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This prestigious American society was founded in 1780 and is one of the oldest of its kind in the United States.

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