Conflict of interest in social science

There is one great thing about medical and epidemiological research – declaration of the conflicts of interest.  Medical researchers, usually before they actually present any research results, declare that they are not biased by financing or obligations to pharmaceutical companies, to producers of devices, commercially promoted ways of treatment, or anything like this.
However, social scientists do not bother with such nuance. Not-so-smart ones would claim they try to be objective. Smart ones would say: “Of course we’re biased”, but would never reflect in their articles in which way (and editors would not accept such papers). Given the neo-positivist ethos of the leading journals in sociology and social psychology, conflict of interest  (or researcher’s personal bias) can undermine many conclusions without even acknowledging it. Especially when a researcher has so many degrees of freedom. It looks totally outdated, as if we haven’t had all these anti- and post-positivisms, or critical theory.  Haven’t every reader thought about comparing consistent results of some prominent scholars of, for example, values and moral attitudes with their personal views? We can try to avoid this bias statistically, but we cannot easily reshape the way we think, so the least we can do is a declaration of researcher’s personal opinions added to every article. Of course, this is a very personal stuff, but I think it would greatly amend a positivist pathos of many, many articles.

2 thoughts on “Conflict of interest in social science

  1. Paul

    Sounds like a great suggestion. Especially researchers political and religious views could help to detect bias. In this paper the authors argue that many psychologists are biased because of their left-wing views and give some specific examples http://journals.cambridge.org/article_S0140525X14000430
    I suspect this transcend political views. Based on my casual and very subjective observations, the literature about the effects of religiosity can be divided into two groups of findings based on the strength of religious beliefs of researchers: Researchers who are religious or at least agnostic show more positive effects of religion whereas researchers who are atheists show rather negative effects.

    Reply
    1. Maksim Rudnev Post author

      Hi Paul, yes, announcement of personal author’s religiosity would enable these kind of studies, and go beyond speculations on the topic – probably the personal impact isn’t as strong as we expect. Especially if one has to declare it openly.

      Reply

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