Green or Forester

Dr. Forester, a professor in the College of the Environment and Natural Resources has just received a three-year grant from the NSF to study the impact of bark beetle infestation on old-growth forests in Oregon and Washington. For the past ten years, Dr. Forester has been paid $11,000 a year to serve as a consultant to one of the largest lumber companies in the Pacific Northwest. The consulting work involves advising the company on sustainable timber management practices in general, but does not include research on natural threats to the forest ecosystem, such as the one addressed by the NSF grant.

Which of the following is likely the most appropriate course of action?

A. The professor should have disclosed his consulting work and income he receives from that consulting to the University before the NSF proposal was submitted.
B. The professor should suspend his consulting activities.
C. The professor does not need to disclose his consulting income because the proposed research does not directly relate to the NSF study topic.
D. Another faculty member in the college should be named principal investigator on the study.


The correct answer is A.


Investigators are required to disclose Significant Financial Interests that would reasonably appear to be affected by the research and/or are in an entity whose financial interests would reasonably appear to be affected by the research before proposals are submitted. Dr. Forester’s income from the lumber company ($11,000) exceeds the NSF threshold of $10,000.

Although the facts presented in the scenario do not appear to constitute a conflict of interest as defined by NSF regulations, Dr. Forester’s paid consulting activities still might raise concerns about the research being carried out for the NSF. Consulting for the timber industry is itself often considered controversial and the lumber company’s financial interests could reasonably be affected by the professor’s research. The best approach is to disclose his consulting work for the company to the University, to the members of his research group, and in any publications or presentations he makes based on this research.

Situations such as these require a close examination of the facts, and the COI Review Committee or campus designated official(s) may make a range of different recommendations depending on the facts of the specific case.