I am an avid supporter of science. The scientific method of observing, testing, following the evidence, designing studies to carefully eliminate as many confounding factors as possible, requiring independent verification, and rewarding new and contradictory knowledge rather than defending traditional dogma is clearly our best way of arriving at the truth. Science has an incredible record of refuting superstitions, false beliefs, and our innate human fallacies of misperceptions and biases. However, science can be distorted and misused. To be reliable, science must be independent of influence by government, corporations, profit, and religion. The APPEARANCE of legitimate science is used by greedy and unscrupulous industries and individuals to mislead us.
This article by Dr. Michael Greger describes how undisclosed conflicts of interest in medical research skew research findings in favor of profit. We know research has been distorted by the tobacco industry, drug manufacturers, medical device corporations, and food industries (meat, dairy, poultry, sugar, beverages, etc.).
When studies are published, the authors of the studies are responsible for disclosing their sources of funding. However, half to more than three-quarters fail to do so. And even when sources of funding are disclosed, the true funding sources can be hidden behind a reassuring sounding front group.
Why is research funding important? Because studies funded by an industry are much more likely to report results favoring that industry. Conflict of interest of the researchers may be the main factor in determining the results of research. Products can be sold be hyping either certainty or doubt. The tobacco industry is famous for simply claiming that the harmful effects of smoking were controversial or unproven. Contrived controversy is still used to argue against evolution and climate change.
Companies who manufacture hip and knee replacement devices were fined millions of dollars for paying illegal kickbacks in 2007 to orthopedic surgeons who chose their devices. Drug companies have also been fined millions of dollars for bribes, suppressing unfavorable research data, and other reprehensible practices. When medical professionals who we should be able to trust for unbiased, scientifically valid information are bought off, it destroys the confidence that is essential for our healthcare decisions.
Science is essential in our search for accurate information. We cannot simply reject science outright. We must protect the integrity of scientific research by requiring disclosure of funding sources, vested interests and other conflicts of interest. In the mean time, we must be keen investigators as we encounter scientific claims. We must be especially skeptical whenever we are being sold something. In spite of most people’s assertion that they are not influenced by marketing or advertising, the evidence is that we are all more gullible than we want to believe. But remember, good science ALWAYS wins in the end.