Code of conduct for scientific review panel members

The following Code of Conduct is provided to guide the conduct of scientific review panel members. It deals with both conflict of interest and bias. While the two concepts are often confused, they are both serious matters as they may be seen to undermine the integrity of our research/assessment process.

Conflict of interest

The following Conflict of Interest Guidelines are intended to govern the conduct of members of scientific review panels regarding the disclosure and avoidance of conflicts of interest.

Scientific review panels have the primary responsibility for the assessment of research proposals. Some of the best researchers in Canada have applications in front of the Canadian Cancer Society’s scientific review panels every year and it is important to the assessment of research proposals that these individuals are not automatically precluded from acting on a scientific panel. The relatively small size of the research community within certain sectors may make it difficult to construct effective panels if these principles were unthinkingly applied. However, the Advisory Council on Research (ACOR), which brings recommendations for funding to the CEO must be satisfied that any real or perceived conflict of interest has not had an adverse impact on the proposal assessment and the granting process.

Conflicts of interest occur when the panel member’s individual research program, individual research interests and goals and/or individual institutional or job-related interests are sufficient that they may have an influence on the granting process. Conflicts may also exist when the panel member has the opportunity to influence the assessment and recommendation of research in ways that could lead to professional, personal or economic gain, or otherwise give improper advantage to the panel member, the panel member’s family, or institutions in which the panel member or the panel member’s family hold official positions or significant economic interests. Conflict exists where there is a perception of conflicting interests, regardless of the intention of the individual and whether or not the individual is actually influenced. The principles in this definition apply equally to Panel Chairs and their family members.

 

Procedure for disclosure

Each member of a scientific review panel shall agree to maintain the confidentiality of the Canadian Cancer Society’s information and to adhere to the Institute’s Code of Conduct for Scientific Review Panel Members. Management shall carry out such assessments as is necessary in the allocation of research proposals in order to avoid conflicts of interest. The details of management’s procedure shall be reported annually.

Conflicts of interest for panel chairs

The research application of the chair of a panel shall be assigned to another panel. If this is not possible, the chair shall step down from the panel in the competition that his or her application is reviewed.

Panel members who are Principal Investigators

The applications of other members of a panel, including Scientific Officers, who would be considered Principal Investigators shall be assigned to another panel, to the extent feasible.

If it is not feasible, the member shall step down from the panel in the competition that the application is reviewed.

Panel members who are co-applicants

To the extent feasible, the applications of other members of a panel who would be co-applicants shall be assigned to another panel, provided the expertise is available and no unfairness to the applicant will ensue.

If it is not possible, the member shall:

  • Step down from the panel in the competition that the application is reviewed; or,
  • Be absent from the panel during the discussion, review and determination of the rating of the application. The other members shall not indicate the rating of the application to the applicant.

Procedure

The staff will report annually on a prescribed form to ACOR on all cases that involve real or apparent conflicts of interest to provide ACOR with data to help ACOR determine whether further guidelines need to be recommended.

Bias of panel members

Maintaining the independence, objectivity, rigour and integrity of the assessment process is vital. Panel members should strive to avoid situations in which prior relationships or experience may consciously or unconsciously bias their judgment and make it difficult to assess a research proposal objectively. Examples of such bias may occur where the panel member and applicant:

  • are members of the same academic department
  • have collaborated on research in the past three years or propose to collaborate in the immediate future
  • have a professional association as a student, postdoctoral fellow or supervisor in the past three years
  • have a close personal or business relationship
  • are known to be direct competitors, or known to have strongly conflicting professional or scientific views

This list is not exhaustive.

When any such circumstances occur, they shall be disclosed to the staff and to the panel Chair, who shall make a determination as to whether:

  • the panel member should be excluded at the outset from all further aspects of the evaluation of the proposal in question; or,
  • the panel member should remain on the panel and the nature of the possible bias should be disclosed to the panel at the time of its meeting in order for the panel to determine an appropriate action at that time

Last modified on: October 20, 2017