Panel Selection & Conflict of Interest

The peer review and peer consultation program is a cornerstone of TERA.  This program provides independent peer review and peer consultation[1] services to a variety of sponsors.  TERA conducts these scientific peer reviews and consultations in accordance with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) "Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review"[2].   TERA’s program also follows the procedures used by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS)[3], and the U.S. EPA[4].  These organizations emphasize careful planning, independent selection of appropriate expertise, balanced panels, transparency in process and results, and public participation.  TERA ’s independent peer review program has embraced these concepts since its inception in 1996. 


TERA organizes and conducts each peer review or consultation at the request of a sponsor, which may be a government agency, a private company, or another organization.  The sponsor pays for the direct costs of conducting the peer review meeting and for TERA ’s labor costs to organize and convene the meeting.  Although the sponsor provides funding, the sponsor has no influence over the conduct of the peer review or the content of the report.   TERA has sole responsibility for selecting panel members and acts independently to organize the review and to prepare the charge to reviewers.  


Selection of the Panel and Evaluation of Potential Conflict of Interest and Biases
[5]

 

TERA’s peer review panels are selected to be free of conflicts of interest and also to be free of any biases that would prevent panel members from giving their best independent scientific opinions on the subject.  TERA follows the OMB Bulletin and NAS guidance in selection of panel member by applying the three principles of expertise, balance, and independence as discussed in the OMB Bulletin.  


The most important criterion TERA uses to consider panel members for its peer reviews is high-quality, relevant scientific expertise.  Following a careful evaluation of the draft work product and discussion with the sponsors, authors, and other interested parties, TERA determines the areas of technical expertise or scientific disciplines that must be represented to insure that the panel can conduct a comprehensive review.  Selected panel members have recognized technical expertise in one or more of the identified areas relevant to the subject matter under discussion.   


Following NAS guidance, TERA creates panels that have a balance of respected scientific viewpoints on the issues to be discussed.  As a result, TERA ’s panels have a broad and diverse range of knowledge, experience, and perspective, including diversity of scientific expertise and opinion. In addition, TERA creates panels with multiple organizational perspectives (e.g., academic, consulting, environmental, government, and industrial/commercial).   However, panel members serve as individuals, representing their own personal scientific opinions.  They do not serve as representatives of their companies, agencies, funding organizations, or other entities with which they are associated.  Their opinions should not be construed to represent the opinions of their employers or those with whom they are affiliated. 


Another issue essential to the credibility of the peer review process is the independence of each panel member.  To insure independence, TERA evaluates conflicts of interest for each candidate, following procedures described by NAS.  NAS defines a conflict of interest as “any financial or other interest which conflicts with the service of the individual because it (1) could significantly impair the individual’s objectivity or (2) could create an unfair competitive advantage for any person or organization.…The term ‘conflict of interest’ means something more than individual bias.  There must be an interest, ordinarily financial, that could be directly affected by the work of the committee.  …no individual can be appointed to serve (or continue to serve) on a committee of the institution used in the development of reports if the individual has a conflict of interest that is relevant to the functions to be performed.”[6]  NAS notes that conflicts apply “only to current interests” and that conflict of interest “applies not only to the personal financial interests of the individual but also to the interests of others (original emphasis) with whom the individual has substantial common financial interest if these interests are relevant to the functions to be performed.”[7]  Others interests may include spouse or minor children, and individual’s employer, business partners, or others with whom one has a substantial common financial interest.  


TERA
also recognizes that it is important that panels not be compromised by issues of bias or lack of objectivity.  Therefore, TERA evaluates bias as well as conflict of interest.  NAS notes that “questions of lack of objectivity and bias ordinarily relate to views stated or positions taken that are largely intellectually motivated or that arise from the close identification or association of an individual with a particular point of view or the positions or perspectives of a particular group.”[8]  As NAS notes, potential sources of bias are not necessarily disqualifying but a balance of potentially biasing backgrounds or professional or organization perspectives is needed.  However, some potential sources of bias may be so substantial that they would prevent an individual from considering others perspectives or relevant evidence contrary to their strongly held position.


TERA
utilizes a multi-step process to identify conflicts of interest or biases.  Each prospective panel member is required to disclose to TERA all information related to their association with the work product, subject matter, authors, or sponsor(s) of the review.  Each candidate is required to complete a questionnaire and sign a statement concerning conflict of interest and bias.  In conversations with each candidate, TERA discusses the nature of the review, key issues, the sponsor, and other interested parties and stakeholders.  Using questions similar to NAS and the Office of Government Ethics, TERA asks the candidates questions regarding their work and relationships with the sponsor and other affected parties, sources of employment, funding, public testimony, investments, liabilities, and other situations and matters that may create conflicts of interest or biases.  TERA staff carefully review the information provided to determine whether conflicts of interest or unacceptable biases exist.  

 

 

References 

 


[1].  The procedures outlined here for peer review will form the basis for TERA peer consultation panel formation,; however, there may be particular types of peer consultations that require a different approach to meet the goals and objectives of the peer consultation.  If any procedural modification is made, it will be publicly disclosed and explained. 

[2] Office of Management and Budget.  Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review.  December 2004.  Available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/memoranda/fy2005/m05-03.pdf.  (Last accessed 03/15/2005 ). 

[3] National Academy of Sciences. Policy and Procedures on Committee Composition and Balance and Conflicts of Interest for Committees Used in the Development of Reports. May 2003.  Available at: http://www.nationalacademies.org/coi/index.html.  (Last accessed 04/04/2005 )

[4]Environmental Protection Agency.  Peer Review Handbook, 3rd Edition.  December 2006.  Available at http://www.epa.gov/peerreview/

[5] for a more complete discussion of the TERA panel formation process, please see http://www.tera.org/peer/PeerProcess.html

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.