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I am writing a paper about whether in the United States, referees in my sport are biased towards players with certain attributes.

I am also employed as a referee in this sport and have credentials from the American association for the sport. However, I am at a lower level than the referees in the dataset and I was not employed during the timeframe that the data looks at. Additionally, I am only employed as a contractor, and referee less than 20 days a year. My involvement as a referee did not impact at all how I did the research, besides giving me a better understanding of the sport.

Do I need to report this as a conflict of interest?

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    Rule of thumb: If you are asking if you should report a potential conflict of interest, the answer is "yes". Feb 5 at 11:07

2 Answers 2

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I would say yes.

The key point in such disclosures is to make clear any potential factors which someone may perceive to have influenced your research if it turns out later that you did not declare it. In this context, receiving pay from the organisation you're investigating would definitely seem to meet that condition.

This isn't the same as saying that it did influence your research, of course. 'Conflict of interest' sounds somewhat pejorative, so many organisations have moved to e.g. 'disclosure of interest' as a name for this process instead, to remove the implication that all such interests necessarily affect the quality of the research.

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    Oh I had never heard or thought hard about the distinction between "disclosure of interest" and "conflict of interest". The former is much better for the reason you state. There's an interest that people should be aware of, it could be a conflict, but it isn't necessarily one.
    – Jagerber48
    Feb 3 at 20:27
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The general principle behind disclosures isn't that you objectively have a conflict of interest, but that a reasonable outside observer could perceive you to have a conflict of interest. As a consequence, if you wonder whether you should disclose something, you always should: That's because if you wonder, someone else may too, and that fits the "perception" test.

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    Basically the notice is to allow others to not be surprised when they later discover you might have a bias. It's not a declaration that you have a bias and are writing an opinion piece. As long as your paper stands on strong evidence, a reasonable audience would then see that your findings are based on the evidence and not the potential bias.
    – Edwin Buck
    Feb 2 at 18:29

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