Financial Conflicts of Interest in Science

38 Pages Posted: 29 Jul 2011 Last revised: 8 Nov 2015

See all articles by Joanna Sax

Joanna Sax

California Western School of Law

Date Written: July 28, 2011


The Article proposes a new direction for addressing financial conflicts of interest, which plague biomedical research and threaten scientific integrity. This Article descriptively states the controversy surrounding financial conflicts of interest by explaining how these conflicts arise and the damage that can be created as a result. By describing the scientific process, the Article explains that changes to the academic environment may allow the public-private interaction to proceed, without creating the problems associated with financial conflicts of interest.

Financial conflicts of interest are created when the profit-seeking motive of a private funding source unduly influences an academic scientist’s primary responsibilities. The problem with financial conflicts of interest has grown since the passage of the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980. The cornerstone of current policies to address financial conflicts of interest is disclosure, which is inadequate and unsatisfying.

My analysis changes the trajectory of current approaches in this area by proposing that an analysis of the underlying environment and behavior leading to conflicts of interest must be considered. This Article proposes the use of behavioral economics to craft a policy that effectively addresses conflicts of interest. To this end, this Article applies research from psychology to understand both the environment of academic scientists as well as to begin to understand how academic scientists make decisions. Drawing on psychology literature, this article proposes that academic scientists may experience cognitive dissonance when faced with a situation in which a conflict of interest may arise. This helps to understand why an academic scientist may make a decision that creates a conflict of interest. In addition, this Article utilizes the results of an empirical study conducted by myself and a colleague. In this survey, we asked faculty at five medical schools to respond to an anonymous survey containing hypothetical situations in which a conflict may arise. The combination of the psychology literature and our empirical study can provide support to the creation of new policies. By understanding how the underlying environment may impact how academic scientists respond to situations in which a conflict may arise, a policy can be generated to meet the needs of the scientists such that they do not enter into situations in which a conflict may arise.

Policy proposals include the use of default rules, implementation of default rules, education, and changes to academic requirements. Furthermore, this Article considers ways to incentivize medical centers to implement effective policies as well as changes to intellectual property law.

Keywords: Health Law, Policy, Science, Conflicts of Interest, Behavioral Economics, Law and Economics

JEL Classification: K00, K32

Suggested Citation

Sax, Joanna, Financial Conflicts of Interest in Science (July 28, 2011). 21 Annals of Health Law 291 (2012). Available at SSRN:

Joanna Sax (Contact Author)

California Western School of Law ( email )

225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
United States
619-515-1555 (Phone)

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics