The term “conflict of interest” is typically used to refer to a situation where a person has two or more interests that could interfere with that person’s ability to make an objective, honest, and professional decision. In general, discussions about conflicts of interest emerge in research contexts because of the possibility that they could interfere with the trustworthiness of a researcher’s judgment. At least one key measure that can alleviate some of the concern is to disclose any conflict of interest that a researcher has before a project is undertaken. In some cases, a management plan may need to be developed for a conflict of interest.
A conflict of interest is often, but not always, financial in nature. For example, a situation could surface where a researcher’s financial stake in a project might interfere with the ability to present findings in a fully honest way. Researchers might own stock in a company, and at the same time, they might seek to publish data that have a bearing on a product the company produces.
Another type of conflict can emerge if researchers fill more than one professional role. Researchers might be torn between their different professional responsibilities such as the one they have to an academic laboratory and the one they have to a private company with which they work as a consultant. This kind of situation is often referred to as a “conflict of commitment.” A conflict of commitment can also result, for example, if an individual has multiple roles at their home institution, such as being both a researcher and an administrator.