People seldom recognize their own conflicts of interest. That's why it's important others point them out - and then act on them.
Michael Corradini, who resigned last week from the Technical Review Board which advises Congress on technical aspects of the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste storage project, maintained to the end that he had no conflict between his job, his personal opinions and the objective role he was supposed to play on the review board.
In his letter of resignation to President George Bush, Corradini said perceptions of a conflict were a "distraction" to the board's work.
But he refused to acknowledge what was obvious to so many. "It is my view that I do not have a conflict of interest," his letter said, "nor are my professional activities as a university professor and researcher in nuclear reactor safety a source of potential conflicts of interest."
That view was not shared by his fellow members of the board, who saw enough conflicts to call - unanimously - for his resignation last April.
Corradini, chairman of the physics engineering department at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, should never have been appointed by Bush in June 2002 after making pro-Yucca storage comments to Congress. He already had made up his mind it was the best place for the nation's nuclear waste.
Cynics might say that was the very reason he was appointed - in which case he was prophetic if not entirely accurate when he told Congress the main obstacle to the Yucca Mountain project was politics, not science.
Bush should have asked publicly for Corradini's resignation in October, when he published an opinion piece in a Wisconsin newspaper again promoting the Yucca project as the answer to waste storage.
The article not only confirmed his personal beliefs but reinforced his professional conflict of interest. The University of Wisconsin's government-backed nuclear science project has a vital interest in promoting the nuclear energy industry, which has yet to come up with a tenable solution to waste storage.
Corradini no doubt has much expertise to offer the Technical Review Board. His blindness to conflicts of interest, however, was as long and wide as the tunnel through Yucca Mountain. Congress and the American public need skeptical experts when it comes to a project as expensive and extensive as this one, not cheerleaders.