Policy on conflicts of interest, bias, or professional misconduct by members of IAC study panels
Importance of the issue
Extensive efforts are made by the Inter Academy Council to ensure the soundness and effectiveness of its reports by selecting members for its study panel who meet the highest possible standards of professional competence in their fields. A most essential element of that effort is the nomination of candidates for IAC study panels by all science academies that are member of the Inter Academy Panel on International Issues. However, in selecting a panel more is at stake than professional competence: reports from fully competent panels may be undermined by allegations of conflict of interest, bias, or professional misconduct - however competent a panel may be.
No easy solutions
Dealing with possible conflicts of interest, bias or professional misconduct is not simple at all. For example, the most competent persons in a field are often also persons holding a variety of positions and some of these positions may be easily construed as a possible conflict of interest - while in reality that position may bring to an IAC study panel much needed insights and expertise. The same may be true for bias: a particular view may be needed in a panel to balance another strongly held view. And allegations of professional misconduct are easily made and often very difficult to refute. For these reasons we have come to the conclusion that it is not wise to adopt a set of rigid standards and procedures to be followed at all times in selecting members for an IAC study panel.
If general standards and procedures are not the way to go, the issue of conflict of interest, bias or professional misconduct must be considered on a case-by-case basis and in relation to specific panels and/or persons. What may be an unacceptable conflict of interest in one situation may be quite acceptable - and even desirable - in another situation. We also consider that the IAP member academy that nominates a person for membership of an IAC panel is in a much better position than the IAC itself to assess whether or not questions of conflict of interest, bias or professional misconduct arise in relation to that person.
Role of IAP academies
Ultimately, it is of course the IAC that is exclusively responsible for selecting and appointing the members of a study panel. However, the above observations indicate that IAP member academies may greatly assist the IAC in ensuring inasmuch as possible that IAC panels and report are not undermined by unwarranted allegations of conflict of interest, bias or professional misconduct. In fact: their support is most essential as they have first-hand knowledge of the persons they nominate.
To assist IAP member academies in the matter we attach a brief checklist to be used by them in nominating candidates for an IAC study panel. We only ask that the items on this checklist be taken into account when making a decision. Accordingly, we do not expect the checklist to be returned to the IAC whenever an academy submits a nomination to us.
Finally, we also intend to request prospective panel members to sign a simple statement essentially saying there are no unacceptable conflicts of interest. This statement will not address bias or professional misconduct as we consider these areas too subjective for the IAC to judge.
Bruce Alberts Goverdhan Mehta
IAC Co-Chair IAC Co-Chair
Checklist to be used in nominating candidates for IAC study panels
1. Does the candidate hold any position in an organization that may profit financially or otherwise from conclusions and recommendations that may emerge from the study panel?
2. Does the candidate have any position through which he or she may profit financially or otherwise from conclusions and recommendations that may emerge from the study panel?
3. Did the candidate ever take a position on any particular issue relevant to the study that raises questions in regard of his ability to accept and respect different views?
4. Have there ever been allegations that the candidate did not meet the standards that are expected from a professional scientist or engineer of good standing?
For further information on these questions or on this memorandum in general, please contact:
Albert W. Koers
IAC Executive Director