Friday, May 13, 2016

Risks less likely to be reported by public-health researchers paid by industry or military

Public Release: 9-Mar-2016
Risks less likely to be reported by public-health researchers paid by industry or military
University of Illinois at Chicago

Scientists looking for environmental and occupational health risks are less likely to find them if they have a financial tie to firms that make, use, or dispose of industrial and commercial products, a University of Illinois at Chicago researcher has found.

In the largest and first comprehensive study relating findings to conflicts of interest among researchers in environmental and occupational health, UIC researcher Lee Friedman found a clear association between findings of no adverse health outcomes and financial conflicts of interest among the researchers conducting those studies.


"Studies funded by organizations that are involved in exposing the environment to pollutants or their workers to hazardous materials are substantially less likely to observe an association that these exposures have or increase the risk for negative health consequences," said Friedman, associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences in the UIC School of Public Health.

Friedman said the link between financial conflict of interest and negative findings for risk was strongest in studies in which the primary author is employed by the military.


Other studies have shown that funding from corporations tends to result in findings favorable to the firm when looking at food and drug safety and climate issues. But the new study is the first to look for a link between financial conflict and favorable findings in studies of risks from exposure to potential chemical and physical health hazards in the workplace or home.


Friedman said that some critics have supposed that scientists would be more likely to find risk if their research was funded by regulatory agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency. However, he found that government-funded studies did not differ in their likelihood of finding risk from studies in which the authors had no apparent interest in the outcome.


Friedman says that part of the problem with transparency about conflicts of interest is that the responsibility to disclose them rests solely on the author.

"There are few repercussions for failing to disclose a conflict, and there are few protections for whistleblowers," he said. "Whatever solutions are developed, they must be adopted broadly and internationally -- so authors don't publish through countries where getting around reporting conflict of interest is easier."

When asked if he had any conflict of interest to report for this study, Friedman said, "I didn't receive or solicit any funding to do this research."

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