“Is there research?” “Is it peer-reviewed?”
These are two common questions we science-based health professionals ask when we hear a new health claim or are exposed to new information about a food or eating pattern.
With that said, the last installment in VICE News’ and the Center for Public Integrity’s ‘Science for Sale’ four-part series takes some of the faith out of the peer-review and publication process. This piece continues the focus on the chemical industry but the main lessons still apply to sponsorship and industry involvement with nutrition research: obfuscation and false objectivity.
In our opinion, this is the most fascinating of the four articles. The level of influence these companies have surprises even us.
- “Editorial boards at both journals [Critical Reviews and Regulatory Toxicology] are laden with scientists and lawyers employed by industry, making them easy targets for public-health advocates. Current board members include private consultants who have also received compensation as expert witnesses in court. “The harm is that it actually muddies the independent scientific literature,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. “They’re stacking their weight on their side of the scale.”
One way journals and conferences have dealt with industry sponsored researchers is a disclosure form. This is a step, albet is a very small one.
- “Disclosure policies don’t exist to eliminate bias, said Sheldon Krimsky, a professor at Tufts University who studies science and public policy, but to allow the public to assess potential conflicts that can undermine findings. “Science is not a matter of this fact and that fact; there’s all sorts of nuance in science,” he said. “You can draw conclusions in science beyond what your data tells you.”
This issue is bigger than individual health. It is about democracy, fairness and trust. As dietitians, the public trusts us to give them the best science-based research we can find. How can we do our job optimally if information presented in journals can already be biased?
- “Krimsky’s own research has found that industry-backed studies typically yield findings that bolster a company’s bottom line. “Companies want you to produce a specific result,” he said. “They won’t publish it if you don’t.”