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register of interests policy: guidance note for scientists

This guidance note explains the SMC’s register of interests policy, what type of interest should be declared, when and how to declare such interests, where the potential for conflicts of interest may arise and how such interests will be dealt with, so they do not prejudice the activities or reputation of the SMC. Individuals should be aware that it is their personal responsibility to declare their interests.  The SMC will accept declarations on trust, and we will only question a declaration if we think something important has been omitted.

This is a live document that remains responsive to feedback from scientists and journalists while it is in use.  We will also complete a formal review every five years.

Why do we have a register of interests policy?

The remit of the SMC is ensuring UK national news coverage of science, health or environment subjects are informed by the best available evidence and expertise so we aim to avoid situations where there may be a conflict between the SMC’s aims and those of an individual, as well as being as transparent as possible about the interests of the experts we work with.

We strongly believe that journalists benefit from hearing from experts across the whole mainstream scientific community, whether based in a university, industry, learned society or scientific institution. There may be circumstances where an individual’s professional/personal interests or loyalties may conflict (or be perceived to conflict) with their role as an expert in a news story and while that should not stop you from working with us, it is important that interests are openly declared. Declaring an interest does not necessarily mean there is a conflict of interest.

Who must complete a declaration of interests?

All experts approached by the SMC with a request for media engagement will be asked to declare their interests before taking part in a briefing or supplying a quote. A fresh declaration will be requested each time an expert is approached. 

If a declaration is not received, the SMC will follow up with an additional request.  However, for clarity and to avoid delays, any quotes we issue which were not accompanied by a declaration will be marked ‘no declaration received’ rather than ‘nothing to declare’.  If a late declaration is subsequently received from an expert, it will be added alongside their quote.

What should I declare?

Do you have any interests which might be regarded by a reasonable and objective third party as giving rise to a conflict with your role as an independent expert in this story?  These might include (but are not restricted to):

  • paid employment or self-employment
  • grant funding
  • voluntary appointments
  • memberships of relevant professional bodies/ charities/ voluntary organisations/ lobbying organisations
  • decision-making or advisory positions
  • close personal or professional relationships
  • other financial interest, both personal and that of your institution or membership organisations (in regard to financial declarations of interest, do make it clear whether it is you, your department, the institution etc. that is receiving the money)

Try to think of the wider context of this story and how it will be represented in the news.  Full disclosure of interests is always important, whether perceived or real, but experts should pay particular attention when the subject matter is controversial.

What should I do if I am unsure whether to declare a matter as an ‘interest’?

“When in doubt, declare”. Please ask yourself: “Are there any circumstances in which this interest could prejudice or influence your activities with the SMC, or be reasonably perceived to do so?”  If the answer is “Yes” you should declare the interest.  It’s always better to be transparent.

What about past interests?

Current interests are the most important, but there is no fixed time by which past interests become irrelevant.  Experts should use their own judgement about any past interests that might still be considered important.

What about close personal or professional relationships?

Sometimes experts will find themselves asked to comment on the work of a colleague, collaborator or personal contact.  That does not automatically constitute an interest, but experts should consider including it in their declaration.  If you’re ever unsure, we encourage you to contact the SMC for advice.

How are interests registered?

The SMC will request a fresh declaration each time an approach to an expert is made. Declarations will be made available to journalists alongside quotes or at the start of a briefing. If you have recently declared your interests to us and nothing has changed, please let us know and we’ll use the same declaration as last time; but please consider (i) anything new that should be added, and (ii) whether your previous declaration is still correct in this new circumstance.

Last review: June 2022

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