KB rejects allegations of favouritism

Publiceret Juli 2003

Kræftens Bekæmpelse, Denmark's leading Cancer research charity, has rejected completely recent charges that it favours insiders with research funding. Despite awarding almost 50 percent of its funds this year to researchers that sit on its own evaluation boards, KB told Research Nordic it effectively manages conflicts of interest and funding decisions remain impartial.

Arne Rolighed, the KB director, says the charity seeks out the best cancer researchers for its committees, so it is no surprise when they also get funded. But researchers leave the room when their own proposals are discussed.

The comments follow similar allegations against Norway's research council [RN6 p3] and are based on an analysis of decisions made in KB's first round of funding decisions this year by Steen Gammeltoft, a senior doctor at Glostrup Hospital. So far KB has allocated 56 million Danish kronor to 45 projects in cancer research. Out of the 45 projects funded, 13 came from eight scientists that also sit on KB's evaluation board for Medicine and Natural Sciences, the DLNU board, or colleagues in the same research group. As the biggest grants were allocated to these projects, they took 49 percent of the total funding.

Among the ten largest projects funded, seven came from members of the DLNU board or colleagues and the two largest grants were given to the same group.

"There is no question about the fact that the granted projects are all of very high scientific quality," says Gammeltoft. "The 45 researchers that have received funding from KB are some of the best cancer researchers in Denmark. But the question is, 'Are their projects better than the projects that were turned down?'," he says. "Is DLNU's funding decision for 2003 just another example of nepotism in the peer-review of research funding in public and private research organisations?"

At KB, Rolighed says there are not enough researchers within the cancer speciality to exclude them from the evaluation boards. "We need to ask ourselves if we want the best researchers within cancer on our boards or if we should use researchers from other fields," he says. "We have chosen to attach great importance to knowledge within the cancer field and that is probably the reason why 32 percent of the granted projects came from board members."

Gammeltoft says, "This is close to nepotism. One way of avoiding this is to have researchers within other fields on the board. You don't need experts in cancer research."

Over time, argues Gammeltoft, partiality cuts interest among young researchers. "This means we will fund established - and to some extent conservative - research instead of new research and researchers," he warns.

To prevent nepotism, Rolighed says boards include overseas members and all projects over 1m kroner per year are referred to international evaluation.

And besides, "It is our money and we can use it as we like," he says.

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