Policy Point Wednesday: Research on Obesity Researchers Finds a Flaw

Policy Point Wednesday: Research on Obesity Researchers Finds a Flaw

No news to anyone who reads this blog, but financial conflicts of interest can bias science, which may contribute to the conflicting information out there. For instance, a review published just last month specifically targeted bias in studies on sugary drinks and obesity rates. Researchers showed that the studies with possible financial conflicts of interest were more likely - five times more likely - to come to a conclusion their funders found favorable.

While the review used a relatively small dataset, and the authors only studied disclosed conflicts of interest, the study does point out one major flaw in our scientific system: scientists often know who is paying them. Occam's razor alone could predict scientists' dilemma if they produce results unfavorable to future funding and their own job security. While some advocates hold that government-funded research is the key, I wonder: scientists use blinding systems to prevent other kinds of bias; why can't we use a similar system to blind scientists from their funding sources?

What if a respected national agency - say, the National Academy of Sciences - offered researchers a voluntary blinding service? They could review research requests for verbal bias and then send them to on to researchers via a blinded third party who also forwards the funding. Studies using this system would receive certification as blinded to financial conflicts of interest. Further, this system could offer other certifications for other types of bias - for instance, requiring publication of all blinded studies to reduce publication bias. While a certification system won't stop corporations from buying biased research, it will at least offer a benchmark for study review - and, hopefully, reporters and end-users will be skeptical of studies without it.

 

Filed under: Food and Science, Food News

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