December 19, 2016

Food Companies Like to Put Bias into Research

If you think there is bias inscientific research by Big Pharma and Big Food, you would be correct. I know as a reader, I normally start at or near the end of any article to find out who the funded the study and who the authors of the study are to discover who may have conflicts. If it is only an abstract, then it is at the start that I look for potential bias in the study.

Other keys that I look for is the organization of the study, if this is even specified. It can be interesting when the study is done at a university and I can obtain an email address for corresponding and requesting a copy of the study. This allows for an easier analysis and chance to discover conflicts.

Consumer choice is often guided by recommendations about what we should eat, and these recommendations also play a role in the food that’s available for us. Recommendations take the form of dietary guidelines, food companies’ health claims, and clinical advice. But there’s a problem. Recommendations are often conflicting and the source of advice not always transparent.

Governments issue national dietary guidelines to inform people’s food choices and the nation’s food policies. To be credible and scientifically sound, they should obviously be built on rigorous evidence. But often they are driven by other needs. In the United States, agriculture is a large driver and many studies show the bias of Big Agriculture. High fructose corn syrup is strongly promoted by the corn industry and other products are also promoted.

Public health dietary guidelines and policies are influenced by political, economic, and social factors. Bias in research is the systematic error or deviation from true results or inferences of a study. Pharmaceutical, tobacco or chemical industry funding of research biases human studies towards outcomes favorable to the sponsor.

Even when studies use similar rigorous methods – such as keeping study information away from participants (blinding) or removing selection bias between groups of patients (randomization) – studies sponsored by a drug’s manufacturer are more likely to find the drug is more effective or less harmful than a placebo or other drugs.

This bias in pharmaceutical industry sponsored studies is just like the sugar industry sponsored studies that downplayed sugar’s link to heart disease while putting the blame on fat.

Financial conflicts of interest between researchers and industry have also been associated with research outcomes that favor companies researchers are affiliated with.

So how does this happen? How can industry-funded studies use methods similar to non-industry funded studies but have different results? Because bias can be introduced in several ways, such as in the research agenda itself, the way research questions are asked, how the studies are conducted behind the scenes, and the publication of the studies.

Industry influences on these other sources of bias in research often remain hidden for decades.

It took over 40 years to show how the tobacco industry undermined the research agenda on the health effects of secondhand smoke.

It did this by funding “distracting” research through The Center for Indoor Air Research, which three tobacco companies created and funded. Throughout the 1990s, this center funded dozens of research projects that suggested components of indoor air, such as carpet off-gases or dirty air filters, were more harmful than tobacco. The center did not fund research on secondhand smoke.

There is a high risk of bias when the methodology of the study (how the study is designed) leads to an error when assessing the magnitude or direction of results. Clinical trials with a high risk of methodological bias (such as those lacking randomization or blinding) are more likely to exaggerate the efficacy of drugs and underestimate their harms.

Publication bias occurs when entire research studies are not published, or only selected results from the studies are published. It is a common myth publication bias comes about because scientific journal editors reject studies that don’t support the hypothesis or question the studies were asking. These are called negative or statistically non-significant studies. But negative research is as likely to be published as positive research. So, it’s not that.

Analysis of internal pharmaceutical industry documents from 1994 to 1998 shows the pharmaceutical industry had a deliberate strategy to suppress publication of sponsored research unfavorable to its products. Industry-funded investigators were not allowed to publish negative research that did not support the efficacy or safety of the drugs being tested.

This has contributed to a clinical literature dominated by studies demonstrating the efficacy or safety of drugs. The tobacco industry also has a history of stopping the publication of research it funded if the findings didn’t lean in favor of tobacco products.

Please read the full article here to further understand the different bias that is so unfavorable to many studies.

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