Scientists Take Stock of Their Ethics

Taking the old adage, invest in what you know; it would be logical to assume that those working in the life sciences would gravitate toward financial investments in the health care sector. This is not to say that “insider knowledge” is the motivating factor, but rather that if one is a scientist, one has a natural affinity for science and hence might favor “science-related” stocks.

However, when asked how much pharmaceutical and/or biotechnology stock NIH employees should be able to own, one-third of the respondents in a Science Advisory Board-sponsored Instant Poll cited that they should not own any. This assessment is even more conservative than the guidelines NIH has proposed, which limit such stock holdings to less than $15,000.

“Even the appearance of a conflict of interest is considered suspect in the research community,” explains Tamara Zemlo, Ph.D., MPH, Executive Director of The Science Advisory Board, “therefore scientists would rather error on the side of caution than risk suspicion.” Since deciding such matters on a case-by-case basis is unrealistic, many members of The Science Advisory Board favor broader and stricter regulations that would be applicable to all NIH employees.

Despite this stringent emphasis on ethics, nearly one-fifth of the 230+ polled believed “the sky’s the limit” and were not in favor of putting a monetary limit on NIH-employees’ health and tech stock holdings. These individuals expressed confidence in the integrity of the individual and believe that the government should not interfere with his or hers private financial decisions.



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