Who Pays for Science?

People pay a lot of of attention to who pays for science and research,  being vigilant about the potential for commercial interests to introduce bias. And bias is pervasive in obesity and nutrition research, influencing what will be studied and how it will be interpreted. Foundations, nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and government agencies fund a great deal of research. Every one of those organizations brings an agenda to what it funds. So, it’s worth considering the bias in every bit of research we consume and then judging the research on its merits.

Rachel Kahn Best recently published an analysis of the interaction between disease politics and medical research funding in the American Sociological Review. She concludes that “Disease advocacy reshaped funding distributions, changed the perceived beneficiaries of policies, promoted metrics for commensuration, and made cultural categories of worth increasingly relevant to policymaking.”

The advocacy process and its influence on research funding is not necessarily a bad thing, any more than commercial funding for medical research. But both are potential sources of bias worth recognizing. And the impulse to prove a point by funding obesity and nutrition research can be particularly strong for foundations, nonprofits, and advocacy organizations.

Never trust someone who claims no conflict of interest. They’re either disinterested or dishonest.

Click here to read the best analysis in the American Sociological Review and click here to read an analysis of medical research funding by nonprofits in Academic Medicine.

Paying the Hostess, image by Pieter de Hooch / Wikimedia

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