Research Funding

Bias is defined as "prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair." I have long held the belief that anything funded by a for-profit company is going to be biased. If a company is funding a study, and the study concludes in adverse findings, publication of those adverse findings would be like an employee publicly bashing his boss and then expecting to keep his job. It's just not going to happen.

The reality is, the people who decide on the funding for scientific studies have really no experience with science itself. Most corporations invest in product development science - that is, studies that determine which products are going to be the "next big thing" for their company, and independent and private investors reward such studies. The difficult part is, "the market fails when it comes to basic research investment, yet basic research plays a crucial role in the market's ability to produce innovative products and services" (Boege, 2006, 05). Profit and demand drive our markets, and using a "scientific study" to back up that company's findings is going to give that product clout in the eyes of the consumers. But how can a company push the ethical envelope without completely confusing, or even worse, angering the public?

A market study compiled in 2007 titled Relationship between funding source and conclusion among nutrition-related scientific articles found that "scientific articles about commonly consumed beverages funded entirely by industry were approximately four to eight times more likely to be favorable to the financial interests of the sponsors than articles without industry-related funding." The researchers found that sponsors may only fund studies that cast their products in a favorable light, that investigators might analyze data in a way that is consistent with their sponsor's goal, and, even more egregious, that "Industrial sponsors or investigators may choose to delay or not publish findings that have negative implications to the sponsor's product."

This last situation came to glaring light in late November of 2017, when the Sugar Research Foundation was exposed for "call[ing] off a study that linked sugar to negative health effects five decades ago, a recent review from the University of California at San Francisco has found." It's not shocking that the sugar industry buried this data - they have long held that sugar has no link to obesity, diabetes, or cardiovascular diseases. What is disturbing is that this suggests a decades-long ploy to withhold information from the public based on this organization's greed. Why tell the public that something may be bad for them, when they can bury the data and go on infusing sugar into just about every item on the local grocery store's shelves?

Overall, I believe that a thorough review from every angle is best. When presented with documentaries by women hoping to make some sense of the nutritional industry, my only response can be to offer alternative studies so that they can make an informed decision based on a full understanding of all of the information presented on that topic.

When someone wants to publish something, there is inherent bias that should be considered. Pepsi is not going to publish a study that says that Pepsi is bad for you. They are paying a lot of money to researchers to find a loophole - a place where they can hang their hats and make a dollar. It is up to us as educated consumers to do our own research and determine what is best for ourselves and our families, and to be acutely aware of the bias inherent in industry studies.

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References:

Boege, R. (2006, 05). Research funding policy needs scientific and statistical grounding. Laser Focus World, 42, 58-59. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/228078836?accountid=158302

Lesser, L. I., Ebbeling, C. B., Goozner, M., Wypij, D., & Ludwig, D. S. (2007). Relationship between funding source and conclusion among nutrition-related scientific articles. PLoS Medicine, 4(1), e5. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040005