Conflicts of Interest in the Assessment of Chemicals, Waste and Pollution

When developing the structure and scope for the new Science-Policy Panel of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) on chemicals, waste and pollution prevention it is of utmost importance to address the issue of Conflict of Interest. Specifically, experts with a Conflict of Interest participation in the decision-making process and the core work of the Panel would come with a high risk of conflicting and/or incompatible outcomes or delayed implementation of solutions. This is one of the main messages of a new scientific publication conducted by experts representing 36 institutions around Andreas Schäffer, Institute for Environmental Research of the RWTH Aachen.

Right now the Open Ended Working Group of the UNEA is developing plans for the structure and scope of this new Science-Policy Panel. A Conflict of Interest policy to govern the new panel must be decided. Failure to manage Conflicts of Interests in the Science-Policy Panel may result in: conflicting and/or incompatible outcomes, delayed implementation or promotion of inappropriate solutions, eroding trust in sci-ence and scientists.

What is Conflict of interest?

Conflict of Interest refers to financial or other related interests which could significantly impair an individual’s objectivity or create an unfair advantage for any person or organization. It is unavoidable that every expert holds a particular point of view or perspective that could be seen as biased, but a Conflict of Interest only arises when an individual could have a direct and material gain in a certain outcome of an activity.

What are the tactics for manufacturing doubt?

According to the scientific publication more than two dozen strategies and tactics have been used to counter scientific evidence or to promote narratives favourable to specific industry sectors. Examples include: Criticizing study designs or overemphasizing the shortcomings of scientific studies; Discrediting, intimidating or threatening scientists; Publishing misinformation, e.g. through scientists employed by consulting companies that specialize in supporting private interests; Hiding or obscuring the sources of funding for research; Cherry-picking data, designing studies to fail or come to a desired conclusion, or conducting metaanalyses that dilute scientific evidence; Extensive lobbying towards regulators and policymakers so that the voice of the vested interest is often the main or even the only one heard in public consultations.

The publication: http://doi.org/10.1021/acs.e­st.3c04213