Ethical standards in expert appraisal activities: guidelines for analysing intellectual ties
To ensure independence and transparency in its expert appraisal activities, ANSES publishes information on the measures taken to analyse the interests declared by its experts. Alongside the matrix for analysing personal connections, it is publishing specific guidelines for analysing intellectual ties. a
In compliance with its framework for scientific expert appraisal and ethical framework, ANSES analyses personal connections based on the public declarations of interest (PDIs) made by its employees and experts, based on its guide to analysing declared interests approved by the Ethics Committee.
Personal connections refer to any interests or activities of the expert, whether professional or regarding personal assets or family, related to the subject of the expert appraisal carried out. A conflict of interest is when an expert's personal connections, owing to their nature or intensity, are liable to affect the expert’s impartiality or independence in conducting the expert appraisal for the dossier addressed.
However, this notion of a personal connection does not cover ties of an intellectual nature, such as belonging to a school of thought or involvement in studies, expert appraisals or publications directly related to the subject of the expert appraisal.
This type of link, which has no legal or regulatory definition, may nevertheless have an impact on the performance of the expert appraisal. The guide produced by ANSES for analysing declared interests already underlines the need to pursue diversity in schools of thought, but it provides no information on how to qualify or examine intellectual ties.
For this reason, the management of ANSES set up an internal working group, led by its Ethics Officer, to set out guidelines for conducting an individual analysis of intellectual ties. The ANSES Committee for Ethical Standards and Prevention of Conflicts of Interest was asked to consolidate the results of the group’s work. It has issued an opinion supporting the Agency's proposals.
As this opinion points out, intellectual ties may give rise to risks of cognitive bias, in particular confirmation biases, and conflicts of loyalty with regard to previous commitments.
The guidelines for analysing intellectual ties identify five cases and describe the approach to be implemented for each one: belonging to a particular school of thought, carrying out expert appraisals directly related to the subject of the expert appraisal in question, taking a public stance on given issues, the situation of whistle-blowers, and the existence of research work financed by ANSES.
These guidelines illustrate the vigilance exercised by ANSES to ensure its independence, as well as the wide diversity of viewpoints within its groups of experts. These guidelines will enable a discerning analysis of each profile, based on shared insights.
By publishing these guidelines, ANSES wishes to raise the awareness of current and future experts concerning the issues associated with intellectual ties and the importance of disclosing them. In this way, anybody wishing to join an ANSES expert group is asked to specify their intellectual ties in section 7 of the PDI, entitled "other ties of which you are aware and that may give rise to conflicts of interest".