Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Policy Point Wednesday: Science - Who's Guarding the Henhouse?

Nutrition and Environmental science depends on research, and research in turn depends on impartial scientists.  Unfortunately, science needs funding, and funding sources that aren't financially tied to research outcomes are few - should we expect scientists to bite the hand that feeds them?

Scientific method is supposed to protect against bias in research studies.  An independent study on nutrition research by Dr. David Ludwig of Harvard Medical School (yes, thank goodness, universities pay for bee-watcher-watchers) found bias in studies funded by the food industry. The study reviewed research on beverages and concluded that industry funding was clearly linked to bias, citing two interesting instances out of many:  One study funded only by foundations showed a link between the number of soft drinks consumed and obesity (a negative outcome for beverage companies.)  Another, funded by the American Beverage Association, found that overweight boys didn't drink any more regular soft drinks than boys of normal weight, though they did consume more diet soft drinks (a positive outcome.)

Speaking of bees, it is with considerable dismay that I read that the biotech company Monsanto, whose insecticides were recently implicated in a study on colony collapse disorder, responded by purchasing the study author, Beeologics.  Monsanto is claiming that it will use Beeologics' resources to produce what amount to bee medicines, instead of further exploring the link between neonicotinoid pesticides and colony collapse.  

Is it unreasonable to ask the fox not to guard the henhouse?


srdas said...

"Is it unreasonable to ask the fox not to guard the henhouse?"

No. Although the fox pays to control the ones asking/deciding who gets to be the guard.

Michele Hays said...

So, what's your opinion on bias, Das? I know it's virtually impossible to eliminate it entirely, but I do think that, as a culture, we need to invest in some kind of public funding system for research.

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