Scientists and industry should be encouraged to collaborate in the interest of scientific discovery and public health, without fear of reprisal based solely on the collaboration. In itself, a transparent relationship between scientists and industry with full disclosure should not be used to insinuate compromised integrity of a researcher. Attempting to discredit scientific opinions or individuals solely on the basis of collaborative relationships and/or funding sources has no place in the scientific process.
BACKGROUND & STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Nutrition and obesity researchers have frequently endured ad hominem attacks based on relationships with various industries (e.g., food and pharmaceutical) in recent years. Interactions between scientists and industry are a natural and important process reflecting the need to critically evaluate the available evidence that exists on any particular question with scientific rigor. Innuendo and suggestions of wrongdoing in the absence of any objective indication of impropriety have led to public attacks on the credibility of scientists with long-standing records of scientific excellence and ethical conduct. In fact, the opinion of scientists funded by these industries either directly or through their institutions, has been frequently discredited solely on these fully transparent financial relationships without any reference to the evidence on the scientific question at hand. The Obesity Society considers this response inappropriate for several reasons.
We recognize that individual motivations may create a risk of bias, but such motivations come in many forms in addition to funding source.1 In addition, it is important to recognize that all funding agencies including foundations, advocacy organizations, government agencies, and others may have motivations or ‘agendas.’
For this reason, many policies are in place from both advisory panels and scientific publication outlets to ensure transparency and disclosure of all potential sources of bias. It is common practice for scientific entities to disclose their source of funding for a study, and to develop clear stipulations that outline the ethical use of funds and commitment to non-influence of the funding source over the design, analysis, interpretation, and publication of the scientific process. Such policies and practices allow any discrepancies to be addressed through scientific rigor and full disclosure. For example, The Obesity Society has a policy for this purpose in place, “Guidelines for Accepting Funds from External Sources,” as outlined on our website.2
The ability of scientists to do their work, engage in free and open dialogue, offer expert opinion, and conduct meaningful research is crucial to advancing public health. Funding source is not a sufficient basis upon which to discount otherwise sound scientific evidence.
Dismissing the contributions of individual scientists and attempting to discredit individuals based on funding source should not be practiced. Collaborations between scientists and industry and/or funding for such collaborations should be transparent with full disclosure.
1. Cope MB, Allison DB. White hat bias: examples of its presence in obesity research and a call for renewed commitment to faithfulness in research reporting. Int J Obesity 2010;34:84-8.
2. The Obesity Society (TOS) Guidelines for Accepting Funds from External Sources. The Obesity Society, 2013. (Accessed January 30, 2014, here )
Science-Industry Collaborations Can Support Obesity Science, Public Health, March 24, 2014