When is It a Conflict of Interest and When is It
Everyone knows what the term "conflict of interest" means as well as the
definition of "hypocrisy". Keeping these definitions in mind, much of the
following description is presented somewhat tongue-in-cheek. For many years, I was
accused by people at Penn State, Oregon, Iowa, any other locations as having a
"conflicts of interest". I was associated with the University of
Massachusetts and also worked with private industry to develop exercise equipment, shoes,
and sporting goods. I was attacked as having a "conflict of interest"
doing commercial research instead of "pure" research. Those
critics do the same thing. So are we all guilty of conflict of interest or are they
just hypocrites? I started my own private research laboratory. These people
noted above accused me of having a "conflict of interest" since they claimed
that you cannot work independently in private business and produce honest, unbiased
research results. Most of those critics have their own private business and/or
consulting firms which provide research findings to companies for a fee. Are we all
guilty of "conflicts of interest" or are they just hypocrites? For many
years, I performed research studies for Olympic athletes before, during, and after my
tenure as the first Chairman of the Biomechanics Committee for the US Olympic Committee. I
started the United States Olympic Center in Colorado Spring! I even arranged for the
royalty payments from one of my own shoe contracts to be paid directly to the USOC to fund
the Biomechanics laboratory in Colorado Springs. (This was over $13,000,000 In 1977
and over $11,000,000 in 1978. Do you remember the Olympic Rings over the J.C. Penny Shoes?
This was my contract for the U.S Olympic Committee). Yet I never used my USOC
connection to advertise a product whose sale would benefit me personally. Would
that be a "conflict of interest" with the Olympic Committee? If the
Olympic Committee endorses a particular product and receive payments for the use of the
Olympic rings and the endorsement, perhaps that case would not be a conflict of
interest. What if the use of the Olympic name and/or symbols are unauthorized?
Check with the Olympic Committee if you wish to know the status.
The pot cannot call the kettle black
and remain white while burning over the same fire.The main concept to keep in mind as you read the text is whether the described
situations are, in fact, "conflicts of interest" or are they not. If
they are, then all should be held to the same standard of guilt. If they are not,
then those people who have attacked me for years and are doing exactly the same thing must
be hypocrites or worse.
I will try to outline the situations with some background material as well.
Should there be anyone who may not know the personalities involved, check around and all
will become clear.
Imagine a coach and an athlete using every available, legitimate tool to enhance
the performance skills of the sport without drugs, financial support, or a national
system of regulated, supervised programs like those of the former Eastern block
countries. What tools are available to these sports participants? Years
ago, the choices were somewhat more limited than those available today, but, at that time,
there were observation, opinion, and "history" -- if it worked before, it
must be right. Eventually, coaches and athletes began to film performances and watch
these spins, turns, or jumps repetitively in an effort to "see" what
occurred. Finally, a technique to quantify these movements was introduced which was
called "Biomechanics". In its early days, Biomechanics was laboriously
slow since it took days to develop film, identify joint centers, and process the
data. In addition, the results were available only in two dimensions. In other
words, Biomechanics was an inaccurate, slow to process, two dimensional analysis of a
rapid, three dimensional activity. In the 1968 Mexico City Olympic I used one camera to
analyze Bob Beamon World Record. This study was published and was criticized by a famous
so called "biomechanist" which was not there and did not analyze any of the
Olympic athletes until very recently. Some of the "famous" biomechanists from
Penn States claims that the first Olympic Analysis was performed by then in the 1984
Olympic Games in Los Angeles. It is a joke. I published many papers starting in 1969
related to Biomechanical analysis of athletic performance. In 1972 in Munich Germany I was
the only one and the official person to collect data on the field.
The wonderful news was that, at last, coaches and athletes could measure movement
parameters such as the speed of the arms, the path of the center of gravity, or the
acceleration/deceleration pattern of the legs. With the increasing attention to this
form of Biomechanical analysis, the development of more sophisticated mathematical
equations contributed to improved quantification procedures including three dimensional
movement analysis, better smoothing algorithms, and more rapid processing techniques.
So why this history of the growth of Biomechanics? Because I was an athlete,
competing in two Olympic Games, who then became a coach. During this career, I
constantly searched for ways to objectively measure my sports, discus and shot put, so
that math and science could assist in performance improvements rather than relying on the
subjective opinion or visual guesswork of the coach. I was introduced to
Biomechanics at the University of Massachusetts under the guidance of a great professor,
Dr. Stanley Plagenhoeff. His pioneering work was not inventing Biomechanics, but in
working with a computerized program to process the data. This may seem foolish to
those who have literally grown up with computers, but in the late 1960s and early 1970s,
computers were large, mysterious monsters to most people including those on university
campuses. Dr. Plagenhoeff was ridiculed by many in the academic community who
considered his work unworthy of consideration because he was examining athletic
performances. His greatest critics were in the field of Physical Education, since
anyone who deviated from the old fashioned patterns was usually branded as a lunatic, a
fool, or both.
When I was introduced to Biomechanics by Dr. Plagenhoeff, the
procedures were agonizingly slow and laborious. Because I was both excited by the
potential of this technique and impatient for the results, I searched for ways to improve
the quantification technique. At my own expense and effort, I found an electronic
tool for digitizing the body's joint centers which accelerated one of the slowest stages
of the process. With a touch of the pen, the x and y coordinates of each point could
be calculated, recorded, and saved into a computer file. This may seem a trivial
point to the young people reading this document, but for those of us to had to suffer
through these older, tedious, and laborious methods, it was nearly miraculous! The
point is, that with my own interest, initiative, and financial support, I developed
hardware tools, software control algorithms, as well as incorporating the continuing
mathematical improvements as they were introduced in the Biomechanics literature.
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So what did I do with this Biomechanical analysis technique? I
analyzed athletes, of course! I was invited to the Olympic Throwing Camp at
Dartmouth College in 1971 to work with the elite shot putters, discus, hammer, and javelin
throwers, and the high jumpers who attended the same training camp. Following this
camp, I published several articles describing the Biomechanical procedures and the
results. Mr. George Dales, head of the International Track and Field Coaches
Association, asked me to work with his organization before and during the 1972 Olympics
using Biomechanics to measure athletic performances and to publish the results.
This was an exciting opportunity for me, but I was not
independently wealthy and unable to support these athletic studies without financial
assistance. However, I was surprised to learn that these Biomechanical articles were
read by people in totally unrelated fields who contacted me for consultation.
Suddenly, I was measuring the flight paths of basketballs to determine whether they
followed parabolas or wobbled in the air, designed shoes to enhance running performance,
and even examined the bowing style of a concert violinist! Each of these studies
was performed in my own private laboratory, outside and unrelated to the University, so
that the consulting monies generated could fund the continuous hardware and software
In addition, I actively solicited many organizations to fund and
furnish the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Through mine and Dr. Irving
Dardik's efforts, a scientific training center for America's elite athletes became a
reality. I establish the Biomechanics site there and had the honor to be the first
Chairman of the Biomechanics Committee of the US Olympic Committee from 1976 to 1984
! The computers, force plates, furniture, cameras, and other equipment were donated
because of our relentless efforts on behalf of the athletes.
The question I ask you, the Reader, is what's wrong with this?
Are these activities wrong? Was anyone hurt by these actions? Was there
a conflict of interest in these activities? Athletes were provided free information
to help their performance, articles were published so that everyone could benefit from the
findings, and through legitimate business procedures the system was self supporting and
Unfortunately for me, the guys in the "Ivory Towers" of
academia were unhappy. Perhaps I should clarify "academia"; it was only
in the field of Physical Education that the Old Guard were disgruntled. In other
fields of study, such as physics, chemistry, and medicine, the same type of
"funding" had been not only an accepted but an expected form of support for
years. For example, a professor in chemistry at the same university where I was,
obtained his position and kept his job only if he were able to secure outside
funding. Most departments in the "hard sciences" attracted and retained
world renown scientists because there were able to secure external sources of revenue,
regardless of whether it came from government or private business grants. When I
tried to do the same thing, there was such a hue and cry in the department, that I was
forced to set up my own private enterprise. It was an amazingly shocking difference
in attitudes between Physical Educators and professors of science. And don't fool
yourself. Many of these called themselves "biomechanists" ,
"Kinesiologists" and "Physiologists" are all frustrated simple
physical educators. This is a big secret in the field... Do you ever hear anymore a person
called himself physical educator? At worst they call themselves "Exercise
Scientists". What a joke !
The criticism spread to other "Ivory Towers" of Physical
Education. Most of the critics employed dirty smear campaigns with innuendoes and
indirect accusations. Needless to say, there was an atmosphere of "holier that
Thou" which spread amount my enemies, most of whom I don't know and have never
met. In spite of the veiled complaints, criticism, and hostility among these Old
Guard and "establishment" type "academians" I continued to work and
publish. Fortunately, there were some teachers, coaches, scientists, and researchers
who applauded and embraced these new Biomechanical techniques
Now, leap into the future which is Now. Times are different
from the university's point of view. In the past, it was cheaper for business and
government to give money to universities to perform the necessary research. As
university overheads increased, as well as other changes not germane to the issue here,
grant money became increasingly scarce. Every department was being pinched for
funds including Physical Education. Suddenly, all those people who criticized me for
securing money from outside the university were hawking their wares in the same
marketplace. There were shoe contracts at Oregon, prosthetic studies at UCLA, shoe
evaluations at Penn State, running track developments at Harvard, forensic consultations
and court testimonies from numerous university professors, and the list goes on.
What had been so wrong for me to do was now perfectly acceptable for them!
I was criticized for my efforts in developing a system of
Biomechanics and accused of a conflict of interest, yet no one makes the same complaint
against those who do the same thing now. Whether I secured grant money from
private business to fund research at the university or created a separate company to
conduct research outside the university walls, I was accused of having conflicts of
interest. Shoe contracts abound at Oregon and Penn State, professors testify
for companies as trial experts, professors endorse products of private, non-university
companies.....where are the mudslingers with their "conflict of interest"
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My efforts with the Olympic athletes and for the Olympic Training
Center in Colorado Springs were constantly under attack. I established the
laboratory and arranged for companies to donate equipment, assisted in quantifications,
and helped secure donated funding. Why was this considered a conflict of interest?
What about the people who currently "work" with the Olympic
Committee? Are they generating external monies to support research for the athletes
or are they using money from the USOC to support their own studies? How do the
athletes and/or the International Committee benefit when the Olympic rings and an
affiliation with the organization are used in conjunction with endorsements of a product?
Most companies, such as Coke, Mars Candy bars, etc. have to pay huge fees for the
use of the rings. In this case, despite the complaints about "selling" the
Olympics, the athletes and the Games were able to function with the generated funds paid
by these large corporations. What about individuals who use these same symbols? Do
they pay for the use of the Olympic affiliation, are the proceeds shared, or is it
acceptable to just borrow such things?
Another question is where are the results of the Biomechanical film
efforts conducted at the Atlanta Olympic Games? Have they been published? Who
profited from this research effort? The athletes and coaches who have confided in me
say they are still waiting for some results, any results.
resulted from that effort. This effort was undertaken to assist the athletes
and coaches of the future as well as for the people of the world to share in the Olympic
experience with actual performances available via the Internet.published articlesubstance costs for feeding and housing was supplied by
the International Track and Field Coaches Association who also published the resultant
Biomechanical analyses for all of their members to share and learn. Our on-site
research efforts met tremendous resistance conducted by those
"officially" sanctioned people but we persevered. An example
of our findings can be found in one of the e At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, I and a group of
scientists under the auspices of the International Track and Field Coaches taped, edited,
and upload the results of the Games on to the Internet in nearly real time. We
expended enormous effort to provide this data to people throughout the world to use and
enjoy in any way they wished. There was no profit for any of us except the challenge
of being the first people to accomplish the task of performance to Internet in record
It came as no surprise that the reactions of some individuals was
negative and hostile! However, I ask again, is this a conflict of interest?
What exactly is a conflict of interest? Imagine you are a
professor at a university and on their time and salary, you write and publish a book.
Depending on your contract with the university, the royalties would presumably
belong to both you and the school. If you violate this fiscal relationship, this
would surely constitute a conflict of interest. Whether it is a book contract, grant
money for research, consulting contracts, or patentable inventions, most universities have
systems designed to share time, support, and rewards with the professors. Following
the procedures correctly should not be seen as a conflict of interest; violating these
arrangements should be perceived as conflicts.
Private industry conducts in-house research as well as funding
outside ventures. A prominent example of this type of work would be the use of
medical schools and universities to test products from pharmaceutical companies.
When the research is conducted free of intervention by the manufacturer, there are no
hints of conflict of interest. Where there are instances of bias in the conduct or
findings of the research, obviously there are legitimate complaints that the research
findings are tainted. However, in most cases, the research is honestly
conducted following all the appropriate scientific guidelines with no accusations of
conflict of interest or bias.
My point is that for many years, some people have accused me of
having a conflict of interest. When I secured a grant from a private company to fund
a research study at the university, how was that a conflict of interest? Is that not
standard operating procedure? If not, are all of the people who fund their research
in this manner also guilty of conflicts of interest?
When I started a private company which would provide research
findings for business, was this a conflict of interest? Is this not the standard
method for consulting firms? If this is a conflict of interest, are the university
professors who have these outside companies also guilty of the same accusation?
When I worked with the US Olympic Committee, was the effort a
conflict of interest? If so, what about the people who are currently involved?
Are they also involved in some conflict of interest?
(To see the full page click
here)Recently, I was given the copy of a letter which is shown below in scanned form.
The quality of the copy was poor for scanning purposes, but I have taken the
liberty of retyping the entire text for you to read.
see the full page click here)
, Medical Commission
International Olympic committee)Member(
Jun-03-97 07:4op P.02
This is the text of the letter:
To Whom it May Concern
I am writing to support Peak Performance Technologies and their
outstanding products which are recognized throughout the world as the industry standard.
The Biomechanics Laboratory here at Penn State which is considered one of the premier
programs in the world has successfully utilized Peak products since 1987. We have been
extremely pleased with the quality and reliability of their products and the excellent
service provided. Many of the Ph.D. graduates from the programs have purchased Peak
equipment upon assuming positions in industry and academia and have been equally
I have had the good fortune of serving on the Medical Sub-Commission
for Biomechanics of the International Olympic Committee since 1985 and have participated
in Biomechanical studies during the past six Olympic Games. Researchers from around the
world have participated in these projects using Peak equipment while the company has been
a major provider of products and service to these groups. In addition, Peak engineering
personnel have been present during these Games to provide their technical expertise and
service in support of the research teams. The Peak Personnel are well aware of the
changing and expanding needs of researchers and technicians and have continually updated
and improved their products.
I have personally used Peak Equipment in variety of environments ranging from hostile
outdoor settings in cross country skiing to more traditional laboratory setting for
studying gait, jumping and other basic movements. In all instances the products have
performed with precision and reliability while providing the necessary flexibility, ease
of use and portability required. The versatility of the Peak system makes it possible to
conduct a wide variety of studies in diverse environments. As a result the Peak products
provide the maximum measurement capability at the lowest possible cost.
Recent development of the Peak Motus product which utilizes the well established Peak 5
system represents the company's latest technological advance. Peak Motus delivers a faster
and easier to use product with its Windows Interface, Pentium platform and straight
forward procedures. In fact, the so design and stricture of Peak Motus makes it the most
advanced, flexible and user friendly motion measurement system available.
On the basis of these facts I would strongly recommend you purchase your motion
measurement system from Peak Performance Technologies. They have the most real world
experience, Biomechanics expertise and the most ingenious product on the market. They also
provide competent direction and guidance in selecting the most appropriate configuration,
deliver a tested and dependable product and are well known and respected for providing
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I have no reservations in giving Peak Performance Technologies my highest
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measurement system. If you would like to discuss this matter please contact me directly by
phone, 814-865-3554 or FAX, 814-865-3554 if you have any questions.
Is this a conflict of interest?
If the Olympic symbols are used, is there a contractual relationship
with the Olympic Committee for use and payments? Is it a "conflict of
interest" for their unauthorized use? What about the university? Are
there contractual arrangements for laboratory, library, computer, or student uses?
If a person receives financial benefit for urging the purchase of the
product, including air fares, hotel accommodations, fees for services, funded research,
etc. can they be accused of "conflict of interest"? Certainly, the serious
research people are interested in knowing whether it is or not.
If it is not a "conflict of interest", then those who have
complained about me must be viewed, at least, as hypocrites.As I have mentioned throughout this presentation, if you are at a
university and work as a consultant for a company this may be a proper, normal
relationship and not a "conflict of interest". When I worked at the
university as well as performed research for companies, I was accused as having a
"conflict of interest". If it is true for me, it must be true for them as
well. It is either a "conflict of interest" for everyone or for no one.
How about this
conflict of interest?
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