Industry funding scientific research

Here is an interesting article on the links between scientific researchers and private industry. It seems that the European Union is considering regulating endocrine disrupting chemicals. Recently, 18 scientists signed an editorial criticizing these plans as being based on poor science. However, as this article reveals, 17 of the 18 scientists have ties to the chemical, pharmaceutical or similar industries.

The 18 scientists’ critique sounds convincing… to those who are unfamiliar with the entire issue of endocrine disruption. (This term refers to disruption of the endocrine system – the system of the body which sends out different hormones which largely control both the development of a fetus as well as regulating the body’s normal functions including the immune system.) For instance, the editorial refers to thresholds, in other words a level of a chemical below which it has no harmful effect. However, what toxicologist Theo Colborn has shown is that this is not a valid concept when it comes to endocrine disruption. In fact, in some cases a lower dosage is much more dangerous than a higher one.

The editorial also opposes the view that in the absence of evidence to the contrary, a chemical that has harmful effects on other animals can be assumed to have harmful effects on humans. It points out that it is nearly impossible to prove the negative. However, in the field of toxicology it is not possible to do what these scientists wish. Scientists can use animals as lab subjects, but they cannot do that with people.

Daniel Dietrich, one of the industry-connected scientists, was asked about these links and whether they influenced the views. He replied “that is a stupid question.” In one sense, he is right: It is impossible for most scientists to do research without funding from the related industries. Not only that, but especially in such fields as toxicology as it relates to the environment, the classic “scientific method” is so limited that it is extremely difficult if not impossible to prove, for instance, endocrine disruption.

Capitalism made some great contributions when it overthrew feudalism. One of them was the overturning of the mysticism that dominated under feudalism. However, just as capitalism is now an absolute fetter on economic and social development, so it is on scientific development. It is time to further develop a different approach to science, especially when it comes to studying environmental issues. This would be an approach that uses the methods developed by capitalism, but also goes further. It would study general tendencies as well as the links that we know exist to at least tentatively draw conclusions. Among other things, this means the following:

Presently, when there seems to be a link between some health effect and some new chemical, scientists first must rule out other possible causes. For instance, in many areas, methane appears in the water wells of people in areas where hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is occurring. The industry and their politicians dodge the issue by saying that first it must be proven that the fracking is causing this to happen, that it can’t be due to some other cause. The prudent course would be to get the input from the local residents, to see if this is something new. If it is, then to stop hydraulic fracturing until this can be proven to not be the cause.

1 reply »

  1. This is an excellent piece! This is a difficult issue to make comprehensible to most people. The fundamental problem that should be made about so-called industry funded science research is that it is profit driven. Industry has only one goal in mind when it funds research. That is to obtain legitimacy for products so that they can be brought to the marketplace rapidly and thus, turn a big profit. This incentive means that the solution you propose is impossible to implement in the current capitalist system. But short of nationalizing the pharmaceutical industry and implementing the policy you suggest, there may be a partial intermediate answer. That would be to set up and/or expand research capabilities within federal agencies such as the National Institute of Health and require the industry to go to the government alone to have their research performed before any new product could enter the market. The research conducted by the designated agency(s) would be required by law to be structured in the way you describe. By requiring the scientific research to be conducted by a government agency independent of the industry, you would help insulate the research from the profit motive which greatly compromises its validity. The industry would of course, fight any such plan from ever being implemented. They would scream that is far too much government regulation and that it would make them unprofitable.But if a working class movement were established to push for it, I think establishing it is quite possible.

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