Blogging from the BioEM2014 meeting in Cape Town


This year, meeting of the Bioelectromagnetics Society (BEMS) and the European BioElectromagnetics Association (EBEA) – the BioEM2014 – will take place in Cape Town, South Africa, June 8-13, 2014. The full program of the meeting and erratum are available for download.

I will be there and, as last year at the BioEM2013 meeting in Thessaloniki, Greece, I will be posting blogs, directly from the Cape Town.

Besides the blogging, I will hold an one hour plenary discussion seminar ‘Ethical and social issues in bioelectromagnetics research‘ (see p. 34 of the full program). The abstract of my presentation, will form the basis for the subsequent discussion, is as follows:

Ethics and Conflict of Interest in Bioelectromagnetics
The Institute of Medicine of The US National Academies defines Conflict of Interest (CoI) as ”a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgment or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest”.
Not all CoI are equal. Some are more significant some are less significant though classification of the significance seems to be a very grey area.
There is a continuous debate whether the formal and/or informal links of scientists with the profit-making industry are affecting what research topics are pursued and how the scientific outcomes of research projects are interpreted.
Are these “links” responsible for the stagnation in research – the same topics are studied over and over again using the same methods? Are these “links” responsible for the poor design of some studies – as if scientists would like to pre-determine with the design of the studies that results will be ambivalent?
In the absence of strong and robust effects, the interpretation of weak effects can be done arbitrarily, as in children’s play: “yes, no, may be so”.
There is talk of firewalls between industry funding research and scientists executing research. Are these firewalls real or just for the sake of “keeping up appearances”? Firewall institutions are living off the industry funding for the firewall – are the firewall institutions ready to pass funding to “undesirable” projects? Would the research tax, imposed on the profiting industry, be a better solution for research funding without industrial influence than the current appearance of firewalls?
Bioelectromagnetics is a narrow research area. Unavoidably, all science is done, evaluated and presented, to the general public and decision-makers, by a small team of “influential players”.
Large research consortia, appointed committees and self-appointed committees consist of the same “influential players”. The same applies to the narrow field of “influential” peer-reviewers of new research projects and of articles published in peer-reviewed journals.
As if by default, all of the “influential players” claim in their disclosures to either have no CoI or, if they have it, they claim to be unaffected in their scientific decisions by CoI.
However, the most commonly, the disclosures of CoI, even in very influential committees, are not standardized and not checked for their accuracy. Therefore, relying entirely on the willingness of the discloser to make full disclosure. Also, most commonly there is no punishment whatsoever for the false, erroneous or incomplete disclosures.
Finally, even in situation when disclosure of the potential CoI is done in full, what impact it has on the decisions made by the discloser? It is necessary to keep in mind that, even after the full disclosure of the potential CoI, person having the potential CoI will be making decisions. Are these decisions influenced or not influenced by the CoI, also when it was disclosed? It seems to be entirely up to the ethics and consciousness of the person with CoI, what impact the CoI has on the decisions.
As the society at large and as the scientific society, should we be dependent on the ethics and consciousness of the persons having potential CoI or should we intervene and exclude the persons with potential, and significant, CoI from the advisory or decision-making role?
These, and others, CoI-related and ethics-related issues will be discussed in more detail, although, ready answers might be not available.