A Grimm Fairy Tale
Most of us delude ourselves that we are either too ethical to indulge self-interest, or too wealthy and important to allow ‘minor’ perks to sway us.
University of Minnesota medical researcher Dr. Richard Grimm believes he was uninfluenced by the $800,000 that drug companies paid him while he served on government-sponsored panels to create guidelines for prescribing blood pressure pills. “There’s this automatic assumption that if you make money from a drug company, you must be corrupt,” Grimm recently told the New York Times, presumably asserting he was not.
Lewis Morris does not believe in moral fairy tales, even when told by a Grimm. “Somehow physicians think they’re different from the rest of us,” the chief counsel to the inspector general of Health and Human Services told the Times. “But money works on them just like everybody else.”
How do people with conflicts of interest sleep at night? Pretty well, thinks psychology professor Paul Thagard. “People naturally have personal goals that may conflict with their professional responsibilities,” he writes, but they “usually remain unaware that they are acting immorally.”
Because motivations are murky—even to ourselves—the best strategy is not only legally barring conflicts of interest, but also the appearance of them.