Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Skepticism--A Library Virtue

The Public Library of Science has just published a study on the objectivity of "sponsored" research: "Relationship Between Funding Source and Conclusion Among Nutrition-Related Scientific Articles."
  • Much of the money available for doing medical research comes from companies, as opposed to government agencies or charities. There is some evidence that when a research study is sponsored by an organization that has a financial interest in the outcome, the study is more likely to produce results that favor the funder (this is called “sponsorship bias”). This phenomenon is worrying, because if our knowledge about effectiveness and safety of medicines is based on biased findings, patients could suffer. However, it is not clear whether sponsorship bias extends beyond research into drugs, but also affects other types of research that is in the public interest. For example, research into the health benefits, or otherwise, of different types of food and drink may affect government guidelines, regulations, and the behavior patterns of members of the public. Were sponsorship bias also to exist in this area of research, the health of the wider public could be affected.
Resolve this year to evaluate all information, whether it is a simple webpage or supposedly objective scientific research. Evaluate our own opinions too, as we are always tempted to choose that which will benefit us, rather than that which is true.

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