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CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2001

Linking Science with Corporations

A new web site launched earlier this year by the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest is disclosing the links between hundreds of scientists and their corporate partners.

The site also provides information about some of the corporate support received by dozens of professional, health, and nonprofit organizations, including such organizations as the International Life Sciences Institute, American Council on Science and Health, and American Dietetic Association.

CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said: "Corporations increasingly are funding academic scientists to conduct research, speak at press conferences, and provide advice. Too frequently, neither the scientists nor the corporations disclose that funding."

The database provides partial information about more than 1,100 scientists' and nonprofit organizations' direct or indirect current or past relations with industries and there are plans to expand the list in the coming months. Project coordinator Ronald Collins says inclusion in the database does not imply the listed parties have had improper motives or acted unethically. And, similarly, absence from the database should not be interpreted as absence of business relationships.

Concern about scientific conflicts of interest has soared in recent years, thanks in part to controversies such as the New England Journal of Medicine's failure to enforce its disclosure guidelines.

"Important health and environmental policies can be distorted by scientists who assert objectivity, but who receive funding from affected industries," Jacobson said. "The result could be more pollution, unsafe food additives, and dangerous consumer products."

Collins said he hopes the site will encourage journalists to report on scientists' funding from industry. "All too often reporters quote scientists without providing the public with needed information about their ties to industry, thus giving the impression that they have no such affiliations."

Making the Link

The integrity in science project is concerned about the link between industry and science and how the demands of the former can undermine the public-interest mission of the latter. Conflicts of interest, biased studies, and secrecy all war with science's truth-seeking objective. In matters related to food, health, and the environment, this project seeks to diminish that problem by, among other things:

  • Conducting research to identify conflicts of interest or competing interests, especially by scientists who are on important government and non-government advisoru committees.
  • Publicizing facts about scientists with conflict of interest.
  • Encouraging policy-makers, legislative bodies, universities, and scientific journals to seek greater balance on committees and to require full public disclosure of all conflicts of interests or competing interests.
  • Encouraging journalists to question scientists and others about possible conflict of interests and inform the public about them.
  • Working with organizations, scientists, and journalists to make science more open; and by organizing and participating in symposia concerning all of the above