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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Conflicts of Interest

a conflict-of-interest? Some thoughts.

Thought One

PROF: I can't vote on Professor X's Full Prof case since I have a conflict.

CHAIRMAN: (There are not that many Full Profs around so he is concerned about having a quorum.) Really? Whats your conflict?

PROF: My wife works as an F.R.A (Faculty Research Assistant) for Prof X.

CHAIRMAN: Is that really a conflict?

PROF: (Surprised) Uh--- I really think it is.

CHAIRMAN: Which way would it bias you?

PROF: (Even more surprised) I don't think that matters.

The odd thing is that it really is hard to say which direction it would bias PROF in. Does the wife like her job? Does she know that the prof is really good at what he does? Really bad at what he does? It could go in any direction.

Thought Two

I have reviewed two books that my advisor wrote in my SIGACT NEWS column. For his excellent books BLOWN TO BITS I have at the beginning of the review:
Disclaimer: Harry Lewis, one of the authors, was my PhD advisor.
That seems fair. However, the reader may wonder which direction the bias goes. In my case I thought Harry was an excellent advisor (Disclaimer: I also know that he reads this blog). But what if I thought he was a terrible advisor? I wonder if the reader has a right to know which direction the conflict goes in. Perhaps disclaimers should be of the following form.
Disclaimer: Harry Lewis, one of the authors, was my PhD advisor; however, I believe this review is unbiased.
Disclaimer: Harry Lewis, one of the authors, was my PhD advisor; He was an AWESOME advisor. Hence this review may be positively biased.
Disclaimer: Harry Lewis, one of the authors, was my PhD advisor; He was a TERRIBLE advisor. Hence this review may be negatively biased.
(The advantage of the last one is that if it is a positive review then the book must be really really good.)

Thought Three

Lets say I was having the NSF theory director over to my house for dinner on his birthday. Since he may give me a grant someday, should I charge him for it? How about a compromise- he pays for the dinner but I pay for desert. I think the rule may be that I can spend less than ten dollars over the course of the year. (Richard- I hope you enjoyed your birthday desert, since that's it for the year.)

7 comments:

  1. Ah yes "The Lady or the Tiger" :-)

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  2. Wow, buying someone a whole desert is a bit much. What will they do with all of that land?

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  3. Do people vote AGAINST a full prof promotion? There's no real change for anyone doing the voting, is there? It adds to the prestige/power of the department to have more full profs, right?

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  4. Do people vote AGAINST a full prof promotion?

    It has been known to happen. There is a notion that someone might not be ready yet.

    There's no real change for anyone doing the voting, is there?

    It changes who will be in the room for the next vote.

    It adds to the prestige/power of the department to have more full profs, right?

    Not clear. It says that there are fewer faculty who are expending the energy in research trying to become full profs. More seriously, if a department's full profs didn't have that strong a record to begin with, that's not a great sign of quality in a department.

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  5. No matter how hard you try, the article will be biased in some way. So why even bother drawing attention to that fact?

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  6. Further, I don't think the reviewer is competent to judge whether the review is positively or negatively biased. Disclose the conflict and leave it at that.

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  7. Is the academic world too incestuous in general to avoid bias one way or the other in most scenarios that matter?

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