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Account Res. 2013;20(3):184-205. doi: 10.1080/08989621.2013.788383.

Taking financial relationships into account when assessing research.

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National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709, USA.


Many scientific journals, government agencies, and universities require disclosure of sources of funding and financial interests related to research, such as stock ownership, consulting arrangements with companies, and patents. Although disclosure has become one of the central approaches for responding to financial conflicts of interest (COIs) in research, critics contend that information about financial COIs does not serve as a reliable indicator of research credibility, and therefore, studies should be evaluated solely based on their scientific merits. We argue that, while it is indeed important to evaluate studies on their scientific merits, it is often difficult to detect significant influences of financial relationships that affect research credibility. Moreover, at least five factors can be examined to determine whether financial relationships are likely to enhance, undermine, or have no impact on the credibility of research. These include as follows: whether sponsors, institutions, or researchers have a significant financial stake in the outcome of a study; whether the financial interests of the sponsors, institutions, or researchers coincide with the goal of conducting research that is objective and reliable; whether the sponsor, institution, or researchers have a history of biasing research in order to promote their financial goals; how easy it is to manipulate the research in order to achieve financial goals; and whether oversight mechanisms are in place which are designed to minimize bias. Since these factors vary from case to case, evaluating the impact of financial relationships depends on the circumstances. In some situations, one may decide that the financial relationships significantly undermine the study's credibility; in others, one may decide that they have no impact on credibility or even enhance it.

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