It is biased reports, not “the taint of scandal”, that are the real danger in scientific research (Nature 488, 5; 2012). Without full disclosure of conflicts of interest (COI), universities and journals cannot begin to deal with the problem — but a disclosed conflict is still a conflict.
Declarations of conflicting interests shift to the reader the responsibility that should be borne by the editors to detect whether reported findings could have been warped by bias. The reader, even when forewarned, is not always in a position to judge the extent to which the financial interest of an author or investigator has consciously or unconsciously influenced their assessment of the evidence.
Our courts deal with this problem more effectively. For example, a judge or juror with a financial interest in a case must not only disclose it, but also withdraw from the proceedings.
As conflicts of interest become more common, there is a risk that the proliferation of footnotes disclosing them will desensitize our apprehension of bias.