When reading articles or hearing about products, you may often come across individuals or companies disclosing a relationship with products recommended. So what is a conflict of interest (COI)?
The gist of the COI is to define to the reader of an article circumstances that could potentially create a risk to professional judgment or actions that could be influenced by secondary interests. Stating a COI does not imply impropriety. It just means there is the potential for it.
Stating the COI for a researcher is a fact of life and most conflicts are difficult to avoid. For example, an Orthopaedic surgeon designing the perfect implant for a surgical procedure they routinely perform based on their expertise will likely financially benefit from its use in the procedures performed. The surgeon will disclose this to their patients - to build trust. The goal is to protect the professional integrity. If a financial or other association is found afterwards without earlier disclosure, this will only serve to erode public trust more so than if this was pre-empted.
Federally funded research was more prevalent post WW2. Commercial funding grew in the 1970s and 1980s which led to relationships between researchers and the private sector. With the rise in commercial funding came a rise in concerns and scrutiny over commercial bias in research. There is also an understanding that this funding is necessary and we all benefit in many ways from this research. Researchers and institutions have learned that by disclosing this information ahead of time they can effectively self-police and maintain the integrity of their publications. Research still must be reviewed and approved by an institutions IRB or institutional review board. By adding these layers, there is an attempt to internally further regulate projects to ensure their scientific validity.
To answer your question- this type of conflict of interest is not problematic, it’s inevitable. Addressing the COI is a reality of the state of modern research by understanding and directly addressing the complexity of funding sources in addition to financial and personal benefit.