Corporate influence on scholarly research—Danger ahead

One of the tasks we work on in the library (and faculty members work on in their courses) is to get students to use scholarly resources when doing research. Instead of going to Wikipedia, we want our students to use our databases and get journal articles that have been through the peer review process. We have become accustomed to believe and assume that research being generated by university professors and graduate scholars is objective and as unbiased as possible. Yes, some work is biased in nature but it is generally not published as a scientific study, but rather the opinion work based on the scholar’s research. We believe and need to believe that scientific studies produced by experts in our research universities is unbiased, scholarly research that seeks to unearth the truth—to answer some question to the best of our ability.

But what about research positions at universities and the research itself that is funded by outside intrest groups? When a pharmaceutical company gives researchers at a university to conduct research into possible side effects of their drug, how can we be sure that the research is unbiased? What if the research comes back saying that the drug does more harm than good? Will the research be allowed to be published?

When large corporations can spend tons of money buying research chairs and paying for research at universities, it is time to have the sponsors mentioned in the research produced. Instead of just mentioning the names of the researchers and the university at which it was conducted, the sponsoring or paying entity must be disclosed as well. This will keep the integrity of peer reviewed scholarly research intact.

This issue is not a new one. A Chronical of Higher Education article in 2007 discussed warnings to psychological journals. Monaghan (2007) reported that the American Psychological Association had a task force which warned APA members and psychology professionals to repel the influence that corporations are having on publications. In particular, pharmaceutical companies were deemed a big risk for conflicts of interest. One of the big problems is that data from research is being suppressed by companies that have an interest in the results.  According to Antonuccio, University of Nevada School of Medicine professor of psychiatry, corporations are influencing science by claiming ownership of data from research that they sponsor and use other methods to suppress data they find objectionable.

If we want to maintain high standards of research and science, we must remain ethical and not allow results to be suppressed. We may have to disclose sponsorship of all research now, especially in this era of “transparency” in government doings. Let all research be clearly labeled with the identity of the sponsors so the reader can make their own judgments with that knowledge.

Citation:

Monaghan, P. (2007). Panel Warns Psychological Journals About Corporate Influence. Chronicle of Higher Education, 54(17), A12. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.

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