From Wikipedia:

A conflict of interest (COI) is a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interests, financial interest, or otherwise, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation of the individual or organization.

Question: In the context of gender studies, what constitutes a declarable conflict of interest in gender studies?

As some hypothetical examples:

  • A woman scientist is writing about male violence against women, and is herself a victim of such violence.

  • An LGBT person is writing about an LGBT topic.

In both cases, the work will likely be influenced to some degree by the author's personal experience, i.e., one could argue that there is a conflict of interest. However, it seems unreasonable to insist that a victim of violence declare the fact. Similarly, it seems unreasonable for an LGBT person to declare their LGBT status, and possibly face discrimination as a result.

In these scenarios, there's a conflict of interest in declaring a possible conflict of interest.

  • 7
    A bias does not imply conflict of interest; though conflict of interest usually implies bias.
    – Hao Ye
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 0:38
  • 7
    "A study of average heights of males in Swahili. Disclaimer: Author is male." Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 3:46

6 Answers 6


Usually, these relationships are financial.

For example:

  • In a paper talking about how Twitter has failed to police harassment, a professor who's an investor in an early-stage social network competitor would have to declare that.

  • Similarly, board memberships, speaking gigs, etc. are things that would have to be declared. For example, while writing a paper about abortion access rights, a professor should disclose if she was a paid speaker for a pro-choice advocacy group.

Generally, "I really care about this" for personal reasons doesn't so much count as a conflict of interest. I cannot imagine, for example, a journal intending for those writing in gender studies to disclose if they had been victims of intimate partner violence.

  • 51
    +1. More generally, I would say the question is whether the author stands to receive a tangible gain from the work, and that usually means money. Intangible gains like personal satisfaction, increased attention to a demographic group, etc, are beyond the scope. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 3:20
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    In addition to being conflicted by people who pay you, you're also usually conflicted with immediate family and current or former romantic partners, or with anyone who those people have a financial relationship. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 4:02
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    Thanks. Judging from the votes, this seems to be the consensus. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 5:41
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    @NateEldredge: I would argue that publishing is tangible gain and therefore, we need to refine what we mean by "gain" in this context.
    – Paul
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 16:22
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    Trying to think of a strong edge case for demographics disclosures: if you're part of a very small group on which you're doing research, say you're studying residents of your own Island and come to the conclusion that they're statistically ridiculously honest, skilled, smart and are fantastic lovers compared to the general population.... should you mention that you're talking about yourself and your own ingroup and or highschool friends even if you don't stand to gain financially directly.
    – Murphy
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 20:43

As a matter of nomenclature, I would say that a conflict of interest is related to material gain (aka financial gains) that hinge on the results of your work going a certain way. @Fomite does a good job of describing this.

What you're talking about is probably better described as bias. All researchers have some bias for their own work, this is normal and expected. For example, at the low-end you have "I spent two years on this work and don't want it to go to waste", and at the high end you have "I have a deep personal connection to this work" or even "I really think this is the right theory, even if I can't quite find the right evidence to support it". Having a strong connection to your work is a good thing! As long as it doesn't affect your objectivity...

Conflicts of interest are easy to identify and disclose (do you own shares of a competing company? Yes / No?), while biases are more subjective and much harder to spot - and in many cases would be silly or a violation of personal privacy to declare. Good researchers / authors are expected to recognize and control their own bias in their writing, but sometimes it leaks through and this is where editorial review and critical reading come in - don't take everything in a paper at face value!

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    I think you hit the nail on the head. Bias can affect how we interpret results, but is usually not (expected to be) declared.
    – Floris
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 19:13
  • How would bias not influence results in the exact same way as financial gain? A good researcher/author should be equally able to recognize and control their "conflicts of interest". I think it is probably even far easier to control and be more objective in that case than when the person has a personal bias. I actually think it is close to impossible for a person to ignore their personal bias and present "fair" evidence against their bias because then they'd probably not have the bias. OTOH it is quite easy to be fair and ignore potential financial gain, if the person so chooses.
    – Dunk
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 22:51
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    @Drunk yeah, I think the point is that in the case of "you will lose your funding if you publish a negative result about us" the researcher doesn't want to ignore their conflict of interest. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 23:15

You are confused between a conflict of interest and bias. A conflict of interest is when it is in your personal best interest if the results are interpreted in a particular way, regardless of whether that way is correct or not or supported by the data you have gathered. As others have said, that is most frequently financial, but there are other *consididerations. Bias is more or less having an opinion.

What would non-financial conflict of interest be? Say you were doing a study on recidivism rates of convicts that earn degrees while in prison, at the same time you were about to come up for parole...clearly it is better for you personally for people to believe that you are safe to let out.

Bias would be if your childhood best friend was studying for his degree, while you do the above study -- you may unintentionaly bias the data in favor of convict-students, but presumably there's no danger of you deliberately corrupting the data to get the result you want.

You are expected to recognize your own biases and guard against them unduly influencing your results. Bias is too pervasive and too nebulous to require reporting, there is simply no end to the things that could conceivably cause you to lean one way or another when gathering and interpreting the data.

A conflict of interest is much more concrete, and you are required to disclose a potential conflict of interest so others can judge whether you are cooking the books and/or are likely to be doing so. If you don't disclose, and the conflict is discovered, the assumption is going to be that you were.


Mere influence of personal experience on a topic is not enough to constitute a conflict of interest; if it was then arguably every belief on everything would be a conflict of interest. Conflicts of interest generally occur when there is some direct causal connection between a cause one is pursuing and some personal benefit; something more direct than a mere influence on a general topic or idea. Thus, a woman who has been a victim of male violence would not generally be considered to have a conflict of interest when writing about the general topic of male violence, but she might be considered to have a conflict of interest if she were writing directly about a police matter or court case she is involved in (e.g., a journalist writing about a court case where she is a witness or alleged victim). In the latter case the conflict should be declared in the interests of informing the reader.

When dealing with topics like gender research, it is notable that everyone is in some category that may have an interest in general outcomes of the research. As a general rule, if a purported source of bias would apply to everyone then it is probably not something that needs to be declared. For example, if being female is a purported source of bias when writing on gender theory, then presumably so is being male. Similarly, if being LGBT is a possible source of bias when writing on LGBT issues, then presumably so it not being LGBT. In such a case, it seems unlikely that every author should have to declare their gender/sexual preferences merely because every possible category might have some indirect interest in the cultural outcomes of the matter.


Unfortunately you've asked right in the middle of the gray area. For most publications and journals the conflict of interest has to be one which directly benefits the researcher in a financial or similar way. For instance receiving a job offer or being paid to do the research by the company producing the product under research. Note that these might not invalidate the research - but the conflict must be clearly stated so the reader can take it into account.

Within social sciences, however, the conflicts may become a little more subtle.

When in doubt, consult with your ethics board and the journal you plan to publish with. Reputable journals require a signed statement that includes wording about conflicts of interest such as

any real or apparent conflicting or competing interest is clearly stated on submission of their paper (this would include funding assistance) (source)

As you can see this is still quite ambiguous, and the responsibility belongs to the author to disclose any potential conflicts of interest. When in doubt, including such a statement per the journal's guidelines will give the journal the ability to make that determination themselves.

Do note that many, many social science research papers are authored by people that are close to the subject. For instance many male researchers study male violence, many women who are mothers study the impact of motherhood on children. It's natural to study those things that affect us personally.

Being a possible part of the group you're studying doesn't indicate a conflict of interest, but in the interest of transparency it's worth mentioning even possible conflicts of interest.

  • Interesting - two downvotes. One might be just a drive by, but the second suggests something is wrong with this answer. I'm open to suggestions and edits - consider improving the answer or leaving comments pointing out weaknesses in the answer in addition to your downvote.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 11:54

As others have said, the conflict of interest is about money. But also we should not pretend that there is no difference between studies measuring height of people and studies measuring, for example children well-being in LGBT parenting. Any result of height measuring is probably not going to affect social organisation of countries, etc.

I will stick to this example, because I made some preliminary studies into LGBT parenting research methodology (disclaimer: I'm not a social sciences/psychology researcher). LGBT communities have certain goals that they want to achieve. For example, many of them want LGBT parenting to be universally accepted, which is currently not the case.

So, in my opinion, it constitutes a conflict of interest if they financially support research into LGBT parenting. For example, as we can read in CV of David Brodzinsky, he received 20000$ from organisation Rainbow Endowment (which promotes LGBT agenda). In my opinion, this constitutes a conflict of interest, which extends not only on the research programme that was directly financed by the organisation.

You could argue, that you can always analyse the methodology, to ensure it is proper and the studies are not biased. If you look into 71 abstracts of positive articles listed here (I haven't analysed 3 newly added), you can see that they have many faults, for example researchers use convenience samples (lesbian researchers look for other lesbians to be objects of their study in their own, well-educated, wealthy community), strange variables being analysed (flexible view on sexuality as an indicator of a child well-being), etc. I haven't yet found a single study that contained no methodology flaws (based on abstracts that describe methodology).

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