Does the Source of Research Funding Influence Research Findings?
Information about sponsorship of academic research by tobacco companies over the last several decades has served to inform the scientific community about the issues to be considered in accepting funding from an interested party. The release of internal industry documents through a series of court cases has documented the deliberate effort to release experimental findings favorable to the companies.
Central to the story was the determination by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1993 that “environmental tobacco smoke” should be classified as a Class A carcinogen. Internal industry memoranda concluded that the possible banning of smoking in public places would reduce cigarette consumption and profits. In response to this shift in the regulatory environment, the tobacco industry created a nonprofit organization, the Center for Indoor Air Research, to fund well over 200 published studies to counter the EPA finding.a Additional steps included (1) formation of a consultant program funded by U.S., Japanese, and European tobacco companies to present favorable findings at scientific meetings and to publish findings; (2) introduction of bias into studies by misclassification of study subjects to reduce the apparent impact of secondhand smoke; and (3) placement of industry in-house scientists on journal editorial boards.b
This history of tobacco company funding does not mean that all industry-funded research is tainted. Companies, however, tend to fund external product studies that are likely to be favorable to them. This predisposition points toward the need for strong conflict of interest policies to minimize bias.