Research policy being reviewed

Monday, February 2, 2009

Brown’s policy on conflict of interest in research is under review, Vice President for Research Clyde Briant told the faculty at its monthly meeting in December. The revised policy, which is not yet available, will be brought to the faculty and the Corporation this month.

The review was initiated at the request of the Corporation in light of recent national concern regarding the relationships of researchers and faculty members with industry.

“There’s just no news yet about what it’s going to contain,” said Professor of Philosophy James Dreier, who chairs the Faculty Executive Committee. “I think people are kind of concerned and interested and want to see it, but I don’t know how there could be a specific reaction to it yet.”

He added that he is unsure how the new policy will affect professors and researchers because, as far as he knew, the revisions were not complete.

The conflicts of interest that have received the most national attention have had to do mainly with research that was funded by pharmaceutical companies, Dreier said.

Last September, The Herald reported that Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Martin Keller was targeted in an investigation regarding his study on antidepressants in children.

The current policy – available on the University Web site and last revised about three years ago, according to Dreier – states that “a potential financial conflict of interest exists when an investigator’s significant financial outside interest could lead an independent observer to reasonably question whether the design, conduct or reporting of research might be influenced by the possibility of personal gain.”

“If somebody from the federal government – say someone from the Senate committee – says, ‘What is Brown doing to make sure this kind of terrible stuff doesn’t happen,'” said Dreier referring to the Senate Finance Committee that investigated the Keller incident, “they’ll have a good answer.”

But Dreier said he can only speculate about what the changes may be.

“I would assume there might be some tightening of some of the restrictions on what kind of research could be funded by whom,” Dreier said. “And if things aren’t disclosed, what kind of steps should be taken to make sure that the funding for us doesn’t influence the research.”

Many faculty members had concerns about the current conflict of interest policy, Dreier said. For example, he said, faculty members are required to fill out an annual disclosure form indicating potential conflicts of interest regarding funding, stock holdings and institutional relationships, and some faculty consider it “unfair” that they have to disclose that information

Despite the suggestion in December that the policy would be ready later this month, Dreier said he does not know when to expect the revision.

“All I can say is that I think it’s supposed to happen this semester,” he said.

Briant declined to discuss the revision in an e-mail to The Herald. “You should know that the new policy is still very much in draft form at this time,” he wrote.