By participating in the proposal review process at the Advanced Light Source (ALS), reviewers must understand the concept of a conflict of interest (COI) and its significance to the review process. They must also acknowledge that their COI may compromise the integrity of the review process.
COIs occur when a reviewer responsible for evaluating user proposals has personal, financial, or professional relationships that could potentially compromise their objectivity or impartiality in the review process. These conflicts can arise from various factors, including but not limited to:
- Personal relationships: Reviewers may have personal relationships with the researchers involved in the proposal, such as family members, close friends, or colleagues. These relationships may influence their judgment or create biases in favor of or against proposal submitters.
Examples of personal relationship COIs:
- Reviewing a proposal from a close friend or family member
- Having a close relationship with someone who will benefit from acceptance of the proposal
- Reviewer is listed as a co-PI on the proposal
- Financial interests: Reviewers may have financial investments, research funding, ownership, or employment affiliations with organizations or companies that would benefit directly or indirectly from the outcomes of the research being reviewed.
Examples of financial interest COIs:
- Owning individual shares of stock in the company involved in the proposal
- Receiving ongoing funding from the organization or individual submitting the proposal
- Having financial interest in a competing project or organization
- Professional connections: Reviewers may have professional connections, such as collaborations, joint publications, or ongoing research projects with the researchers or the sponsoring organization involved in the proposed research. These connections can influence the reviewer’s ability to provide an objective assessment of the proposal.
Examples of professional connection COIs:
- Collaborating closely on projects with the individual submitting the proposal
- Acting as a mentor or mentee of the proposal author
- Proposal submitter was your PhD or postdoc advisor
- Have worked closely together in the same research group (e.g., worked with the same PhD advisor) or co-authored publications with the proposal submitter in the last five years
- Intellectual bias: Proposal reviewers must be alert to the presence of intellectual bias, actively working to ensure that they do not favor ideas, theories, or perspectives based on personal preferences.
Examples of intellectual bias COIs:
- Scoring a proposal based on personal convictions on a topic (e.g., vaccines or global warming)
- Assuming a project can’t be successful because the project doesn’t confirm your beliefs
- “Catch all”: Proposal reviewers must be aware of circumstances in which their impartiality in the review process may be viewed as unfair. If a “reasonable person” with all of the relevant facts would question a reviewer’s impartiality in evaluating a proposal, the reviewer should recuse themselves from reviewing that project.
By acknowledging and managing these conflicts, reviewers can maintain the highest standards of objectivity and contribute to the credibility and quality of the research proposal evaluation.
Reviewer Expectations Regarding COIs
Proposal reviewers are expected to disclose potential COIs as soon as they become aware of a potential conflict, which may be at any point during the review process. Reporting a COI may be done through one of the following methods:
- On the proposal website, choose “recuse due to COI” from a drop-down list of reasons for why a reviewer cannot review.
- Declare the COI concern to the proposal coordinator via email
If a COI is determined to exist, the reviewer’s score and comments will be removed from the evaluation of the proposal. Reviewers are asked to declare any potential COI as soon as possible, allowing enough time for a new reviewer to be assigned to evaluate the proposal or for the ALS to provide guidance on how best to manage the COI during the review process. Concerns regarding impartiality or deliberate failure to disclose COIs may result in termination of the reviewer’s participation.