Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 857–874 | Cite as

Conflicts of Interest, Selective Inertia, and Research Malpractice in Randomized Clinical Trials: An Unholy Trinity

  • Vance W. BergerEmail author
Original Paper


Recently a great deal of attention has been paid to conflicts of interest in medical research, and the Institute of Medicine has called for more research into this important area. One research question that has not received sufficient attention concerns the mechanisms of action by which conflicts of interest can result in biased and/or flawed research. What discretion do conflicted researchers have to sway the results one way or the other? We address this issue from the perspective of selective inertia, or an unnatural selection of research methods based on which are most likely to establish the preferred conclusions, rather than on which are most valid. In many cases it is abundantly clear that a method that is not being used in practice is superior to the one that is being used in practice, at least from the perspective of validity, and that it is only inertia, as opposed to any serious suggestion that the incumbent method is superior (or even comparable), that keeps the inferior procedure in use, to the exclusion of the superior one. By focusing on these flawed research methods we can go beyond statements of potential harm from real conflicts of interest, and can more directly assess actual (not potential) harm.


Conflict of interest Incentives Selective inertia Technology transfer 



The review team offered insightful comments that resulted in a vastly improved revision.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht (outside the USA) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Cancer Institute and University of Maryland Baltimore County, Biometry Research GroupNational Cancer InstituteRockvilleUSA

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