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Socialism in medical research

The media is generating a mountain of coverage alleging bias based on the funding source for scientific studies, most particularly, recently, when that funding source is "industry." Presumably disinterested funding partners like the federal government, universities and even, in one recent case, the "consumer" interest group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), get a free pass. That study, released earlier this week alleged that food industry funding biased conclusions of research studies on the healthfulness of fruit juice, milk and soft drinks. All the authors claimed they were free from bias -- including CSPI. CSPI is an advocacy group whose primary mantra is that the food industry is trying to poison its customers. Unbiased? Still, it's not an "industry" group (unless fear-mongering is an industry), so no one thinks to ask if having an author who is part and parcel of an advocacy group with a dog in this fight might somehow bias the study.

Worse, the matter of potential author bias entirely escaped media attention (or at least my monitoring of the coverage which focused on pointing with alarm to "industry money.")

Let's face it: every research project has a funding source and that funding source has a theory of what they hope science will confirm. Every funding agency has a “bias;” they want to confirm their hypothesis. That doesn’t invalidate the study. The key thing is the quality of the science itself.

The ludicrous extreme of the current uncritical condemnation of industry-funded research and equally uncritical endorsement of studies funded by universities, "public interest" groups and governments is that the "white hat" scientists are credible while the "black hat" researchers employed or funded by industry find their motives examined more than the science they produce.

There’s a name for the clear political agenda at play here: socialism. If socialism is government ownership of the means of production, then de-legitimizing privately-funded research is outright socialism. It is destroying the private production of science in favor of government-funded studies because only government can "protect" citizens from the rapacious, unconscionable private sector.

Medical research can be an expensive undertaking. None of the published studies at the heart of the salt and health debate have had salt industry funding support. Most are studies of government data. Most of the analysts are government-funded. Having the government gathering the data and then interpreting it weakens individual citizens. And when government goes that still-further step of denying independent scientists access to its own data, the problem moves from concern to alarm (a problem supposedly addressed by the Data Quality Act).

A good start to redress this disturbing imbalance and dangerous trend is to insist on more rigorous examination of the science itself -- study design and conformance with transparent, replicable analytic techniques. After all, if we play political games with the "evidence," it really doesn't change anything physiologically -- neither politicians nor bureaucrats can amend the laws of nature. If we head down the wrong road we don't just waste tax dollars, we "kill" people who would survive if we'd had an accurate read on the science.


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