Science letter

[From Mary Powers (921224.1200)]

The following letter appeared in Science for 11 Dec 1992. It
should be of interest to CSGnet.

          Conflicts of interest

In his article "When does intellectual pas-
sion become conflict of interest?" (Special
News Report, 31 July, p. 620), Eliot Mar-
shall wrongly focuses on individual passion.
Shared intellectual passions generate much
more powerful conflicts of interest and are a
greater threat to scientific progress. Enthu-
siasts for widely held ideas are in a strong
position to promote their interests by ad-
vancing cherished, but flawed, theories.
Consensus among many scientists is no
guarantee against major errors in thinking.
Lone thinkers have only the strength of
their aruments behind them, yet some-
times their arguments prevail and lead to
major advances.
  Proposals to censor unfavored ideas by
invoking legalisms such as "conflict of
interest" are alarming. Suppression of the
opinions of scientists with strongly held,
idiosyncratic points of view is profoundly
antiscientific. Individual intellectual pas-
sion remains essential for scientific prog-
                    Jerome L. Sullivan
           Veterans Affairs Medical Center,
              Charleston, SC 29401-5799