COI revisited: What have we learned?

COI revisited: What have we learned?

The discovery of undisclosed conflicts of interest can seriously damage public trust in science writing. But woefully insufficient guidance exists on how to help science writers decide which circumstances rise to the level of COIs, how to avoid them and how to disclose and address them in a transparent and realistic way.

In 2018, NASW asked a working group to help craft better guidance for science writers struggling to navigate the gray areas and avoid real or perceived COIs in a quickly shifting media landscape. From dozens of submissions, nine working group members identified 21 scenarios that we deemed most pertinent to science writers. We scoured rulebooks, articles and other written sources for existing guidance and solicited additional input from more than two-dozen writers, editors, PIOs and ethicists.

Because rules and standards can vary dramatically depending on the publications, editors or circumstances, our goal wasn't to provide definitive "bright line" advice on whether a scenario represents a COI. Rather, we solicited advice on what writers should think about: which questions to ask to clarify the potential for a COI and how writers and editors can have a conversation to determine whether one exists and how to address it.

This session will explore what we learned and explain how specific questions and conversations can help writers protect their reputation and avoid erosion of the public trust in our profession. After a brief panel presentation to set the stage and introduce some representative scenarios, we'll devote most of the time to audience Q&A and dialog. The session will help attendees understand the expanding gray areas, the varying standards and the tools needed to forge a personal path through the COI thicket.


Saturday, October 26th, 5:00 pm to 6:30 pm
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Boardroom, Nittany Lion Inn
Eva Emerson
  Editor-in-chief, Knowable magazine, Palo Alto, Calif.
Anne McGovern
  Science writer, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Lexington, Mass.
Nidhi Subbaraman
  Science reporter, BuzzFeed News, Washington, D.C.
Bryn Nelson
  Freelance writer, Seattle, Wash.
Bryn Nelson
  Freelance writer, Seattle, Wash.