4
$\begingroup$

What is the best way to disclose conflicts of interest on the web site?

For instance, if I am a developer of a software package, should I disclose that in every post I make mentioning the software package, or would it be better just to mention that in my profile?

I ask even though there's an FAQ section about it because there's a lot of potential for people to plug software packages as part of answering questions to this site, and I notice that people have handled listing affiliations in different ways: listing an affiliation with each post on their software, listing an affiliation on their profile, or listing no affiliation whatsoever.

Furthermore, if one of us notices that there is a conflict of interest that is NOT disclosed, what should we do about it? Should we flag it and comment?

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I wouldn't call this a conflict of interest, but rather a coincidence of interest. Furthermore I think the voting system is capable of handling any problems in this regard. If the answer is a bad one, down-vote it. I don't think having developers of software packages (for instance) giving answers based on use of their software is a bad thing. It's a good thing! Hopefully more people will get connected with useful software through this site. $\endgroup$ – David Ketcheson Dec 14 '11 at 11:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DavidKetcheson: I think it's a good thing to raise awareness about software, but I do think that there is a distinct difference between a user advocating for software and a developer advocating for their software. The user has no direct funding stake in that software, and no direct reputation stake in that software. The developer does. I want to make it clear that I think that having developers of software packages giving answers based on use of their software is a good thing, provided they identify themselves. Raising awareness is a good thing; just make it clear how you are involved. $\endgroup$ – Geoff Oxberry Dec 14 '11 at 20:34
3
$\begingroup$

Mentioning your affiliation in your profile never hurts. To me, it would seem rather repetitive to keep saying "Disclaimer: I'm one of the lead devs for...", so I'd say keeping that info in your profile is fine. (I can't speak for other people, but I do read profile pages.)

Furthermore, if one of us notices that there is a conflict of interest that is NOT disclosed, what should we do about it? Should we flag it and comment?

I'd say just comment (and hope that the answerer has professional courtesy to acknowledge); no need to drag mods into this unless things get nasty.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1 for only needing to mention affiliation in your profile. $\endgroup$ – David Ketcheson Dec 15 '11 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ I normally don't read profile pages, at least not regularly, and I'm sure I'm not alone, so that might be an argument in favor of more than just profile disclosure. But in my experience it's usually possible to work a disclosure into your answer more organically than just appending "Disclaimer: I'm ..." $\endgroup$ – David Z Dec 15 '11 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ Good point about not everybody reading profiles, but I was thinking that it's quite tiring to have to constantly mention your affiliation just to be aboveboard... $\endgroup$ – J. M. Dec 15 '11 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ Is there any way we could add it as something like a badge in the user tag box thing? $\endgroup$ – Aesin Dec 15 '11 at 20:06
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Aesin when you get the "established user" privilege (750 rep), your user box becomes expandable and shows the beginning of your profile. See scicomp.stackexchange.com/users?tab=reputation&filter=all for those that have that level of reputation. Affiliation disclaimers there seem a good compromise (and already existing practice). $\endgroup$ – Brian Diggs Dec 15 '11 at 21:04
3
$\begingroup$

The community should frown on overt self-promotion. But if you are posting good, relevant answers, and some (but not all) happen to be about your product or website, so be it.

However, you must disclose your affiliation in your answers. If a huge percentage of your posts include a mention of your product or website, you're probably here for the wrong reasons.

If you can stay within the above guidelines, and offer questions and answers of genuine benefit to the community which happen to mention your affiliation or product in context — and with full disclosure — then your contributions are welcome.

This is all outlined in the FAQ.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

I don't think there are simple binary answers to this question. Does it matter whether the product being discussed is being commercially developed or is freely shared/open-source? What constitutes a developer versus, say a contributor or a user?

Here's my personal take regarding answers that suggest a particular package: As long as the answer-in-question is attempting to give objective information, we should give the benefit of the doubt. For example, there was one answer by a PETSc developer which gave a nuanced survey of available software in the field instead of simply replying "use PETSc for everything!" I don't think this type of answer requires a disclosure (it should be evaluated based on its objectiveness/information, not on its author).

The answers that are far more problematic are ones where the question or answer implicitly assume usage of a particular package or paradigm. This was already addressed in an earlier question, but, I will reiterate that the decision is these are okay if the question is arising naturally.

Here are the two types of abuse we should flag and downvote:

  1. Subjective advice (X is better than Y) where no disclosure is given.
  2. Astroturfing: any question or answer that is deliberately seeded into the site by a package developer.
$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Considering #2, I'm not sure about this, given SE's position. $\endgroup$ – J. M. Dec 17 '11 at 5:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Regarding #2, I created a couple such questions during beta. They were essentially PETSc FAQs that I turned into scicomp questions. This was partly because they are of general algorithmic interest, and partly because we are considering suggesting that new users ask their algorithmic questions here as an alternative to our mailing lists. For that to work, it helps a lot if FAQs are already questions here because they will see them in the Ask Question dialog. $\endgroup$ – Jed Brown Dec 20 '11 at 21:26

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .