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The Science Of Conflicts Of Interest

President Trump is no longer running his businesses’ day-to-day operations, but he has still been criticized for maintaining his business interests by those who argue that they present conflicts with his duties as president. A group of Democratic lawmakers is suing, alleging that some of those relationships constitute gifts that violate the Constitution. But what are the implications of conflicts of interest? Is it possible to know exactly how financial relationships affect the decisions we make? FiveThirtyEight’s science team looked to conflicts in medicine and science for answers in this month’s Sparks podcast.

In the podcast, which runs in FiveThirtyEight’s What’s The Point feed, lead science writer Christie Aschwanden, lead health writer Anna Maria Barry-Jester, senior science writer Maggie Koerth-Baker and senior editor Blythe Terrell discuss challenges and potential solutions raised in an issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association in May that was devoted entirely to the problem. The team also talked about some great work from ProPublica, which has catalogued the money that doctors receive from the pharmaceutical industry and medical device companies in its Dollars for Docs project. And the group discussed potential solutions to issues of conflict of interest. Is transparency enough?

In the second part of this podcast, Christie interviews ProPublica senior reporter Charles Ornstein, one of the authors of the Dollars for Docs project. You can listen to that below.


Blythe Terrell is FiveThirtyEight’s senior editor for science.

Maggie Koerth-Baker is a senior science writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Christie Aschwanden is FiveThirtyEight’s lead writer for science.

Anna Maria Barry-Jester reports on public health, food and culture for FiveThirtyEight.