From The New York Times (19 Jan 2008): “The National Institutes of Health do almost nothing to monitor the financial conflicts of university professors to whom it provides grants, a government report found, and the huge federal research agency does not want to start now. The agency does not know the number of conflicts or the nature of them, nor does it track how universities and other institutions went about solving those conflicts, according to a report issued Friday by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services.”
The article goes on to outline NIH’s view that it would be impossible to monitor all their investigators for possible conflicts of interest; but as universities are increasingly being forced to seek funding from new sources, the problem is becoming unmanageable for them, also. According to the New York Times article, NIH investigators filed only 438 conflict-of-interest reports between 2004 and 2006, 89 per cent of which provided no details about the nature of the conflict being reported or how it was managed. Yet NIH awarded more than $23 billion last year to more than 325,000 researchers at over 3,000 universities.
The Nature journals’ policy on competing interests can be found at our author and reviewer website. It states: “competing interests are defined as those of a financial nature that, through their potential influence on behaviour or content or from perception of such potential influences, could undermine the objectivity, integrity or perceived value of a publication.
They can include any of the following:
Funding: Research support (including salaries, equipment, supplies, reimbursement for attending symposia, and other expenses) by organizations that may gain or lose financially through this publication.
Employment: Recent (while engaged in the research project), present or anticipated employment by any organization that may gain or lose financially through this publication.
Personal financial interests: Stocks or shares in companies that may gain or lose financially through publication; consultation fees or other forms of remuneration from organizations that may gain or lose financially; patents or patent applications whose value may be affected by publication.”