Public Attitudes About Financial Ties of Researchers

Investigator: Lisa Bero, PhD
Sponsor: National Science Foundation (NSF)

Location(s): United States


The investigator proposes studies to examine public attitudes toward financial ties and research. The investigator will triangulate data collected using different, rigorous methodologies to address the research question. To assess how information on financialties and research is presented to the lay public, the team will: conduct a content and frames analysis of lay press coverage (1999-2004) of researchers' financial ties to industry, and interview journalists who report on scientific research to assess their perspectives on researchers' financial ties. The principal investigator is one of the leading researchers in the area of conflicts of interest and research. Her previous work found that the most frequent way that research institutions deal with financial conflicts of interest is to require disclosure of financial ties in scientific publications and public presentations. There are strong opinions both for and against the appropriateness of disclosure as a strategy for managing financial conflicts of interest. However, there is little empirical evidence about the effect of financial disclosures on the research enterprise or what disclosure means to the public. Public attitudes are ultimately responsible for maintaining public financial support of and participation in research. Thus, the proposed examination studies one aspect of the interaction of science and society. The findings will evaluate the potential effects of financial ties of researchers on the public's trust and investment in research. Growing private investment in science and the personal financial ties of scientists with research sponsors raise ethical questions about the appropriateness of such ties. Thus, this proposal will gather data to address some fundamental questions about the disclosure of financial ties and research: How is information on the financial ties of researchers presented to the lay public? Are the disclosures framed in a way that could affect public trust in and support of scientific research? The findings will provide new information on whether the existence or disclosure of financial ties of investigators has potentially beneficial or adverse effects on the research enterprise. The project will gauge the value of public disclosure as a means of addressing researcher conflicts of interest. This information will have significant impact on the methods commonly used to manage financial conflicts of interest relating to research in government and academia. It will guide research institutions in making decisions about how to manage conflicts of interest in ways that will foster public trust in research, as well as collaboration among public and private partners. The investigators will disseminate their findings in the peer reviewed scientific literature, the lay media, and directly to policy makers who are concerned about conflicts of interest in science. Other venues for disseminating the results include the American Public Health Association meeting, which serves a wide audience. For example, the Principal Investigator has presented previously in the environmental science section, law and ethics section, media studies section, and tobacco, alcohol and other drugs section. Other possible venues for dissemination are the Center for Science in the Public Interest meetings and Sequestered Science meetings.