Frequency and Type of Conflicts of Interest in the Peer Review of Basic Biomedical Research Funding Applications: Self-Reporting Versus Manual Detection

Sci Eng Ethics. 2016 Feb;22(1):189-97. doi: 10.1007/s11948-015-9631-7. Epub 2015 Feb 4.


Despite the presumed frequency of conflicts of interest in scientific peer review, there is a paucity of data in the literature reporting on the frequency and type of conflicts that occur, particularly with regard to the peer review of basic science applications. To address this gap, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) conducted a retrospective analysis of conflict of interest data from the peer review of 282 biomedical research applications via several onsite review panels. The overall conflicted-ness of these panels was significantly lower than that reported for regulatory review. In addition, the majority of identified conflicts were institutional or collaborative in nature. No direct financial conflicts were identified, although this is likely due to the relatively basic science nature of the research. It was also found that 65 % of identified conflicts were manually detected by AIBS staff searching reviewer CVs and application documents, with the remaining 35 % resulting from self-reporting. The lack of self-reporting may be in part attributed to a lack of perceived risk of the conflict. This result indicates that many potential conflicts go unreported in peer review, underscoring the importance of improving detection methods and standardizing the reporting of reviewer and applicant conflict of interest information.

Keywords: Biomedical; Conflict of interest; Grant; Peer review; Research funding.

MeSH terms

  • Biological Science Disciplines / ethics
  • Biomedical Research / ethics*
  • Conflict of Interest*
  • Ethics, Research
  • Financial Support
  • Humans
  • Peer Review, Research / ethics*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Self Report