Discover more from Overcoming Bias
Only Trust Us
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, … for the Jews, …
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.
While we continue to be interested in analyses of ways of reducing tobacco use, we will no longer be considering papers where support, in whole or in part, for the study or the researchers comes from a tobacco company.
As good a [bias] case can be made … against tobacco industry funding. How many anti-tobacco public health researchers would be able to continue getting grants from Ministries of Health if their research found that smoking isn’t as bad as the Ministry might have thought?
Many scientists, journal editors and journalists see themselves as a sort of priestly class untainted by commerce. … This snobbery was codified by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005, when it … refused to publish such work unless there was at least one author with no ties to the industry who would formally vouch for the data. That policy … looked especially dubious after a team of academic researchers (not financed by industry) analyzed dozens of large-scale clinical trials in previous decades and reported that industry-sponsored ones met significantly higher standards than the nonindustry ones.
As Gary Taubes nicely illustrates in his book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” scientists who disagreed with the accepted wisdom on the evils of fat in the diet were accused of being corrupted by industry grants even if they had received most of their money from government agencies that were looking — unsuccessfully — for evidence to back the fat-is-bad theory. Meanwhile, scientists who went along with the conventional wisdom on fat weren’t criticized for the corporate money they’d received from food companies.
Mr. Taubes has also found some wonderful examples of selective journalism in the dispute over sugar’s health effect: An article stressing the harms of sugar would make dissenting scientists look bad by stressing their connections to the sugar industry, whereas an article exonerating sugar would make the other side’s scientists look bad by stressing the money they received from companies making sugar substitutes. …
“Scientists were believed to be free of conflicts if their only source of funding was a federal agency, but all nutritionists knew that if their research failed to support the government position on a particular subject, the funding would go instead to someone whose research did.” … Not-for-profit advocacy groups … “are rarely if ever accused of conflicts of interest, even though their entire reason for existence is to argue one side of a controversy as though it were indisputable.”
If the new principle is that we mustn’t publish research not funded by groups committed to proving our official beliefs, how long before “our” beliefs exclude yours? How long before interdisciplinary journals like Science or Nature refuse to publish papers by economists, known for their suspiciously right-wing leanings, unless non-economist co-authors vouch for them? Do you really think that can’t happen?