Engineering Ethics University of Illinois University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign
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Conflict of Interest

In the professional world, many decisions involve a conflict of interest. The best way to determine the most ethical course of action is to find which route is the most fair to all parties involved. Let's begin by defining fairness. Fairness refers to words or actions that balance what is best for everyone concerned. Failing to maintain this balance leads to inappropriate prejudice or bias in favor of one or more people. This is the basis for a conflict of interest. Conflicts of interest in the science and engineering field have become increasingly prominent in the news. Debates have begun over issues such as ozone depletion, smoking, and breast implants. Due to the large burden of public trust put on scientists and engineers, they especially must act ethically and must take special care to avoid even the appearance of improper behavior.

A common example of a conflict of interest is when a scientist is hired to examine the effectiveness of a drug but holds stock in the pharmaceutical company that hired him. The scientist may be tempted to alter the results to favor the company so that he may profit. Although the scientist may take the moral high road and report the exact findings, the whole situation may look unethical. The best antidote to conflict of interest is full disclosure. By releasing all of the information about possible conflicts of interest, the parties can decide whether the conflict of interest is too severe and what action should be taken to reduce or eliminate it.