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An article in The Telegraph claims that 26 of the 27 scientists who wrote a letter in The Lancet last year, dismissing the idea that COVID could have come from a lab in Wuhan, actually have a conflict of interest.

One of the claimed conflict of interest is:

A further three of the signatories were from Britain’s Wellcome Trust, which has funded work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the past.

Does this usually qualify as a conflict of interest that should be declared? I can easily see myself not declaring this connection as well, which is unsettling.

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In this situation, I think it would be very important to make a distinction between conflict of interest and appearance of a conflict of interest.


I can clearly see, that there might be an appearence of a conflict of interest in the aforementioned situation. Which can be summarized and paraphrased for this specific use as:

...the impression that a reasonable person might have, after full disclosure of the facts, that an [individuals'] judgment might be significantly influenced by outside interests, even though there may be no actual Conflict of Interest.

So, simple facts that scientists are in some shape or form "linked to Chinese researchers" does not lead to a conflict of interest right away. Is it enough to justify the appearance of the conflict of interest according to to some definition? Probably, yes.

Given enough good\bad firepower of information research, data compilation, presentation of facts with a different focus, it might be possible to create an appearance of a conflict for very far-fetched theories. Notice, there is an ongoing debate about the good and bad of the ethics prohibiting engagement in the situations that might result in the appearance of the conflict of interest (see this, for example). So, in some situations, even the appearance of a conflict might lead to bad consequences for the people involved.

I would attribute a lot here to the desire of media to create a more scandalous header and attract the reader. However, one would need to use more legal grounds to determine whether in this case, the conflict of interest indeed exists. And the standards and guidelines for conflict of interests differ from country to country, organization to organization, and jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

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