The Flaw in Scientific Research.

Scientists are usually smart people.  Successful ones are especially smart at getting funding.  At universities there are two ends of the spectrum when it comes to professors.  There are the ones that teach and the ones that do research.  Most are somewhere in-between, but the goal of many professors is to only do research.  Teaching is for those that don’t get research money.

This is the last article in a series that deals with fraud, bias and the final big problem in research.  This last problem goes by the name of “sponsorship bias” or “funding bias.”  Both terms are often used and searches will find many discussions about this topic.  Research is expensive.  To get the people and the equipment to a glacier thousands of miles in the middle of nowhere is expensive.  That money comes has to come from somewhere.

Where that money comes from is critically important.  Medical research is heavily funded by pharmaceutical companies.  It is little surprise that research by a company is favorable to that companies products.  Overall only 36% of research dollars come from government sources, the rest comes from the private sector.  Some of that comes from groups like the American Cancer Society that is helping fund research into cures and is not concerned with which company receives the profit.

The research I am involved in is similar to that, but in the semiconductor field.  It is only results that work that matter as the final product has to function in order to sell it.  We will work with universities to look ahead at tricky aspects to see how certain materials will behave.  Most engineering research is very results driven.  Our job is to make new products work and if the product doesn’t work, then the research failed.  There is no benefit to bias the results.  Many clever ideas simply don’t work in the overall product and are discarded.

Then there is the research that is less concrete in the results of the research.  Examples of this are the medical, nutrition and health research fields.  The question “Is milk good for you?” is a vague question and the answer can be equally vague.  These area’s get a blend of research funding.  Fortunately there have been studies about the research and the bias that enters in as a result of the funding.  One study I found reviewed the results nutrition and different types of beverages.  Dr. Lesser found that “Sponsorship Bias” was significant.  A study that was only funded by a private entity that had a financial stake in the outcome was 4 to 8 times as likely to not give an “unfavorable” result.  Often times there is a clause that prevents a researcher from publishing such “unfavorable” results.  That makes it even more unlikely that such results will ever see the light of day.

Gulf War syndrome, studies of plastic bottles containing BPA and many other examples exist.  This is a serious problem.  It isn’t just private research that is a problem either, government research just has a different set of biases that are built in.  Studies that are politically incorrect are taboo for government funding.  Consider the effects of asking for money to research human intelligence by race.  James Watson got himself into hot water by commenting on results along those lines.  Here is one of the scientists that discovered DNA getting in trouble for discussing a politically incorrect aspect involving DNA.


Currently it is politically incorrect to disagree with the theory of Global Warming.  There are two funding sources for studies into global warming.  The government and private industry.  In this case the two groups are at each end of the spectrum.  Since the government funds politically correct research, it funds research that primarily focuses on the future effects of global warming and what the impacts are to plants and animals.  Since funding from the other side is private, it is strongly attacked as coming from big oil companies.  These obviously have a stake in the results if the usage of oil decreases.  Two funding sources with opposing objectives.  Each side will state the virtues of one side over the other.  Is there any doubt as to why there is so much confusion over the results?

Posted in Bad Science by inconvenientskeptic on January 25th, 2011 at 12:34 am.

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