Conflicts of Interest

Why are conflicts of interest important?

Our goal is informed, unbiased discussion of each proposal's science case as described in the Selection Criteria and Scoring System section:

  • Grading committee members should have neither direct nor indirect interest vested in the outcome of the review.
  • The subset of the review committee discussing the proposal should have sufficient knowledge to assess the science.

It is critically important that conflicts of interest, or the appearance thereof, are avoided during the selection process.

What is considered a conflict of interest?

The following are identified as conflicts:

  • Personal involvement (PI or Co-I)

  • Recent former advisor/student of PI or Co-I

  • Involvement in a closely competing proposal regardless of whether that proposal is also before your panel.

    • Proposals are judged to be 'closely competing' if their scientific goals, or their observations of the same targets, are sufficiently similar that an impartial panel, knowing one had been approved, would be unlikely to approve the other. Such conflicts should be direct and specific; a Panelist or Chair should not be excluded from considering an entire sub-category of proposals.

  • Strong competitor as the PI or co-I on the proposal
  • Close personal ties (family, etc.) with PI or Co-I

  • Close collaborator as the PI or Co-I on the proposal

    • A close collaborator is someone who is an active collaborator on a current research program, an active collaborator on at least 3 projects completed within the last 3 years, or an active co-author on 3 or more papers in the last 3 years (co-membership of a large consortium, such as SDSS, is not a disqualifying factor).
  • Any other reason why a reviewer feels they might be unable to provide an unbiased review (positive or negative).

How can I report a conflict of interest?

Reviewers are asked to identify potential conflicts of interest as part of the recruitment process. Since proposals are anonymized, STScI staff will identify conflicts using the conflict lists supplied by the panelists.

When reviewers receive their assigned proposals, they should check them all for additional conflicts as soon as possible.

If a reviewer feels that they have a conflict with any additional proposals, they should contact their panel support scientist (PSS) immediately and not take any further action with that proposal. Conflicts may be reported at any time during the review process, but the sooner the better. We will reassign conflicted proposals, so it helps everyone if we know about these early.

What happens in case of a conflict of interest?

Conflicted panelists should not read, provide grades for, or comment on a conflicted proposal.

During the discussion meeting, conflicted panelists will be asked to leave the room/call for the discussion of that proposal and only allowed to reenter once the discussion is over. During the ranking phase, conflicted panelists will be asked to leave the room/call if the proposal is discussed or compared to another.

Discussion panelists should take care not to discuss specifics or comments from proposals in slack where conflicted panelists might see the discussion.

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