The Problem with Science Funded by Industry

Posted: December 1, 2014 in Research
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It seems like every week we read about new and groundbreaking research that proves food X is rich in nutrient Y, so we should consume it more often to reduce our risk of Z. While we have no doubt that many studies, especially those published in peer reviewed articles, have been carefully constructed, executed, and evaluated, it somehow seems that the results are more often than not in favor of the financial interest of the party who financed the study.

In an interesting article in PLOSRelationship between Funding Source and Conclusion among Nutrition-Related Scientific Articles – the authors concluded very clearly that:

Industry funding of nutrition-related scientific articles may bias conclusions in favor of sponsors’ products, with potentially significant implications for public health.

In order to reach this conclusion, the authors scoured hundreds of published papers on the nutrition of soft drinks, juice, and milk.  Only papers that included information about funding were considered. In one type of study (nutrition interventions), there were no unfavorable conclusions when the study was funded by industry. But when independently funded, over one third of the studies had unfavorable conclusions. When funded by industry, a study was 7.6 times more likely to provide a favorable conclusion than when independently funded.

Why is this troublesome? Because today more thane ever, scientists are starved for funding. Universities and governments are far too small a source of funding for all the amazing research projects going on in labs across the globe. So food companies, as well as some commodity boards are glad to “help out.” That doesn’t necessarily mean their products are unhealthy. They might be super-duper. But it would mean so much more to us consumers to hear it from scientists who were not dependent on money from stakeholders in the results.

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