With thanks to the Union of Concerned Scientists‘s Report Heads They Win,Tails We Lose: How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public’s Expense February 2012
The following quoted text is from the introduction of the paper Heads They Win,Tails We Lose: How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public’s Expense:
This serious problem has sparked much debate, but few have analyzed the key driver of political interference in federal science: the inappropriate influence of companies with a financial stake in the outcome.
This influence affects not only the science used in decision making, but also public opinion and the decision-making process itself.
By better understanding how corporations influence the use of science in federal decision making, we can both hold companies and policy makers accountable for their actions and ensure that the nation develops science based policies that serve the public interest.
The first chapter of this report explores the numerous methods corporate interests employ to inappropriately influence how the federal government uses science to make decisions.
The second chapter provides an overview of the steps the Obama administration has taken to restore scientific integrity to federal policy making.
The third chapter focuses on the federal reforms still essential to ensure that authoritative and independent scientific information informs policies designed to protect public health and the environment.
Recognizing that solving this problem extends far beyond what the government can accomplish alone, we also suggest broader reforms that corporations, the scientific community, academic institutions, news media, and the courts can pursue to ensure transparency and accountability in the use of science.
The twenty-first century presents the United States and the world with urgent science-based challenges. We must have the ability to use independent science to address problems such as the need for high-quality yet affordable health care, terrorism, climate change, rising demand for energy and natural resources, population growth, and the loss of biodiversity, and to anticipate and tackle challenges unknown today….
Methods of Abuse
Corporations attempt to exert influence at every step of the scientific and policy-making processes, often to shape decisions in their favor or avoid regulation and monitoring of their products and by-products at the public’s expense. In so doing, they often attempt to fundamentally alter the decision-making process and exploit executive branch agencies, Congress, and the courts.
Corrupting the Science
Corporations that stand to lose from the results of independent scientific inquiry have gone to great lengths to manipulate and control science and scientists by:
Terminating and suppressing research. Companies have controlled the dissemination of scientific information by ending or withholding results of research that they sponsor that would threaten their bottom line.
Intimidating or coercing scientists. Corporations bury scientific information by harassing scientists and their institutions into silence. Scientists have been threatened with litigation and the loss of their jobs, have had their research defunded, have been refused promotion or tenure, and have been transferred to non-research positions, leading to self-censorship and changes in research direction.
Manipulating study designs and research protocols. Corporations have employed flawed methodologies in testing and research—such as by changing the questions scientists are asking—that are biased toward predetermined results.
Ghostwriting scientific articles. Corporations corrupt the integrity of scientific journals by planting ghostwritten articles about their products. Rather than submitting articles directly, companies recruit scientists or contract with research organizations to publish articles that obscure the sponsors’ involvement.
Publication bias. Corporations selectively publish positive results while underreporting negative results. While not directly corrupting science itself, these publishing and reporting biases skew the body of evidence.
Shaping Public Perception
Armed with public relations teams, private interests have launched campaigns that influence public opinion and undermine understanding of scientific consensus.
Among their methods:
Downplaying evidence and playing up false uncertainty. As scientific understanding of the health effects of products and substances such as tobacco and particulate emissions emerges, companies fight regulation by attacking the science, downplaying scientific consensus, exaggerating scientific uncertainty and spreading doubt.
Vilifying scientists. Scientists analyzing the health and environmental effects of products such as asbestos and lead, and phenomena such as climate change, are publicly criticized and attacked. These attacks and allegations of misconduct discredit the scientists and deter them from continuing their research.
Promoting experts who undermine the scientific consensus. Corporations promote individuals who over emphasize research that appears to cast doubt on the scientific consensus. Often their expertise is not in a relevant field, limiting their ability to effectively evaluate the scientific findings they are criticizing.
Hiding behind front groups or “capturing” organizations. Companies use front groups, public relations firms, and other paid consultants to covertly advance corporate interests while these entities maintain the illusion of independence.
Influencing the media. Corporations inaccurately portray science by feeding the media slanted reports and news stories, or biased spokespeople.
Restricting Agency Effectiveness
Companies engage in activities that undermine the ability of federal agencies to use independent science to regulate products. Companies also advocate for more layers of bureaucracy, and take advantage of inappropriate relationships with agency personnel, to hinder the development of policies that protect the public and the environment.
Attacking the science. Corporations have attacked the science used to inform federal policy making in an attempt to delay regulation.
Hindering the regulatory process. Corporations advocate for policies that limit the ability of agencies to use the best available science when making decisions. So-called “regulatory reforms” limit agencies’ resources, curb the role of science in decision making, or put an extraordinary burden of proof on agencies before they can act.
Corrupting scientific advisory panels. Government agencies rely on independent scientific advisory panels to provide objective advice. But panel members often have undisclosed financial conflicts of interest: ties to companies that stand to win or lose based on the findings of these advisory committees.
Spinning the revolving door. Officials shuttle between high-level government positions and regulated industries or corporations. This revolving door can lead to regulatory capture: federal agencies charged with protecting the public can end up as shields or advocates for the regulated industries.
Censoring scientists and their research. Federal officials with industry ties have deleted selected evidence from scientific documents, knowingly adopted flawed methodologies, put direct pressure on scientists and their supervisors to alter findings, and censored scientists to prevent them from speaking publicly or with the media.
Withholding information from the public. Besides censoring scientists, federal officials acting on behalf of corporate interests have buried scientific findings, delayed the release of information, or otherwise suppressed or withheld scientific information.
The injection of billions of dollars into congressional lobbying and election campaigns compromises the will of members of Congress to respond to the needs of the people they represent. Money and secrecy in lobbying, excessive campaign funding, and a revolving door on Capitol Hill give corporate interests unprecedented and undue access to members of Congress. This influence encourages members to challenge scientific consensus, delay action on critical science-based problems, and shape the use of science in policy making. A recent marked increase in lobbying expenditures, along with greatly relaxed rules on corporate spending on elections, has exacerbated these pressures.
Exploiting Judicial Pathways
Judges play a growing role in deciding whether to admit scientific information as evidence, and in ruling on science-based laws and regulations. Corporate interests have expanded their influence on the judicial system, used the courts to undermine science, and exploited judicial processes to bully and silence scientists. State judicial elections have become multimillion-dollar campaigns backed by political parties and special-interest groups.
Corporations, nonprofits, academic institutions, scientific societies, and the media also have critical roles to play in reducing abuses of science in federal decision making. As a logical extension of federal scientific integrity policies, private-sector stakeholders who contribute to or influence science used in federal policy making should develop or revisit their own policies regarding scientific integrity, ethics, and misconduct. These institutions should promote honest scientific investigation and open discussion of the results of such research. These institutions should also refrain from actual or perceived acts of scientific misconduct, such as by suppressing or terminating research, censoring scientists, altering the scope of research, or otherwise manipulating scientific information. These institutions should embrace transparency by disclosing sources of funding, and avoid conflicts of interest.
Inappropriate corporate interference in science extends its tentacles into every aspect of federal science-based policy making. Given the unprecedented science-based challenges facing our nation and the world, federal decision makers must have access to the best available science. Addressing this interference will require overcoming high hurdles, but they are not insurmountable. With strong leadership and a sustained commitment, both the federal government and the private sector can rise to the challenge.
See Why Most Published Research Findings Are False Ioannidis JPA (2005) Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. PLoS Med 2(8): e124. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124 ‘… There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false. The probability that a research claim is true may depend on study power and bias, the number of other studies on the same question, and, importantly, the ratio of true to no relationships among the relationships probed in each scientific field. In this framework, a research finding is less likely to be true when the studies conducted in a field are smaller; when effect sizes are smaller; when there is a greater number and lesser preselection of tested relationships; where there is greater flexibility in designs, definitions, outcomes, and analytical modes; when there is greater financial and other interest and prejudice; and when more teams are involved in a scientific field in chase of statistical significance. Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias. In this essay, I discuss the implications of these problems for the conduct and interpretation of research…’
See A key player in stoking this Swine Flu hysteria was Dr Iain Stephenson, a Consultant at University Hospital of Leicester NHS Trust who has been found guilty of vaccine research fraud on a grand scale by the General Medical Council (GMC).
See Thirteen per cent of scientists or doctors have said they know of colleagues who have fabricated data in order to get research published. More than one in ten (13%) scientists or doctors have witnessed colleagues intentionally altering or fabricating data to get published or during their research, a poll suggests. The survey of almost 2,800 experts in the UK also found 6% knew of possible research misconduct at their institution that has not been properly investigated. The poll, for the British Medical Journal (BMJ), is being presented at a meeting aimed at tackling research misconduct in the UK. 13 January 2012
See Mental scores decline precipitously at 30 months after anthrax vaccine, but CDC spins study to say vaccine safe Thursday, January 12, 2012
See http://www.theoneclickgroup.co.uk/news.php?id=6732#newspost Patient No. 28665 was helping a Chesterfield company test a drug dubbed the “female Viagra” but stopped showing up for exams in December 2007. That didn’t stop a staffer of the company, PPS Clinical Research STL, from claiming that six months later the patient came in for an exam, was diagnosed with medical conditions, had undergone tests and even had given a urine sample. That admission was made in the company’s guilty plea to a federal felony charge of obstructing a proceeding of a federal agency. The drug the company helped test, aimed at women who suffered from an unexplained lack of sexual desire, never made it to market. As part of the plea, PPS admitted that it “corruptly influenced, obstructed, and impeded” an inspection by the Food and Drug Administration by providing false patient records in May 2010. During the trials, the drug’s manufacturer faulted PPS for failing to have a trained investigator conduct some exams, for back dating records and for failing to properly oversee one patient’s selection for the study, according to prosecutors. Boehringer did not respond to emails seeking comment.
See http://www.theoneclickgroup.co.uk/news.php?id=6610#newspost A well-known psychologist in the Netherlands whose work has been published widely in professional journals falsified data and made up entire experiments, an investigating committee has found. Experts say the case exposes deep flaws in the way science is done in a field, psychology, that has only recently earned a fragile respectability.
See Reporting of Conflicts of Interest in Meta-analyses of Trials of Pharmacological Treatments. Michelle Roseman, BA; Katherine Milette, BSc; Lisa A. Bero, PhD; James C. Coyne, PhD; Joel Lexchin, MD; Erick H. Turner, MD; Brett D. Thombs, PhD. JAMA. 2011;305(10):1008-1017. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.257