For health advocates, research bias compromises funding, jeopardises scientific integrity, decreases public trust in research, as well as contributes to the endangerment of public health. Industry funding of scientific articles may bias conclusions in favour of sponsors’ products. Research results influence policy formulation and professional recommendations on consumption, labelling, the use of self-regulation versus regulation, marketing and advertising criteria, and the implementation of existing regulations. Biased research could confuse public discussion of health issues and policy options. In comparison with commercial biases for medicinal and pharmaceutical research, there is less academic literature on the impact of funding by the industry on nutrition and alcohol research [2].

Conflicts of interest can be viewed as disqualifying factors in scientific papers and research and some academics have reached the conclusion that industry-funded science and projects/programmes are inherently biased. The recognition of potential conflicts of interest are important, as this bias exists outside the formal research process. Tools and controls already exist for errors and biases, such as sample-selection bias, sample-size bias, data-collection bias, data-quality bias, statistical-analysis bias, confounding-variable bias.

In the briefing, EPHA highlights potential conflicts of interest that arise and tactics recognized by academics from research sponsored by economic operators. The briefing uses the example of the tobacco industry funding research to manipulate the scientific process and enhance their credibility, which is important to image, brand and product sales.[ Schick, FS. Glantz SA. Old ways, new means: Tobacco industry funding of academic and private sector scientists since the Master Settlement Agreement. Tob Control 2006;16: 157-164]

These include:

  • Industrial sponsors or investigators may choose to delay or not publish findings that have negative implications on the sponsor’s product.
  • Authors of scientific reviews may search and interpret the literature selectively, in ways consistent with the sponsor’s interests.
  • Scientific reviews arising from industry-supported scientific symposia, often published as journal supplements, may over- or under-represent certain viewpoints, if presenters whose opinions conflict with the sponsor’s financial interests are not invited to participate.”

EPHA calls for greater recognition of the potential bias from corporate sponsored research for policy and decision makers to be able to evaluate research provided to them and potential policy implications.

In cases where research funding, consulting, writing assignments and other activities are initiated, institutions, individuals and sponsors are urged to follow appropriate guidelines and tools that have been developed in order to increase the transparency and ethicality of such relationships.

For EPHA, disclosing the funding sources and opening studies to peer-review is important for end-users such as academics, policy makers, civil servants, and policy advocates to be aware of possible biases a study has. This is essential for a transparent decision making process and evidence-based policy making.

- EPHA briefing on financial conflict of interest and research in health science.


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Footnotes

[1] Blumenthal D (2003) Academic-industrial relationships in the life sciences. N Engl J Med 349: 2452–2459.

[2] Relationship between Funding Source and Conclusion among Nutrition-Related Scientific Articles. By Lenard I. Lesser, Cara B. Ebbeling, Merrill Goozner, David Wypij, and David S. Ludwig. http://www.gustrength.com/news:indu...

Last modified on June 4 2013.