By: John C. Besley, Michigan State University; Aaron M. McCright, Michigan State University; Joseph D. Martin, University of Leeds; Kevin Elliott, Michigan State University, and Nagwan Zahry, Michigan State University
A soda company sponsoring nutrition research. An oil conglomerate helping fund a climate-related research meeting. Does the public care who’s paying for science?
In a word, yes. When industry funds science, credibility suffers. And this does not bode well for the types of public-private research partnerships that appear to be becoming more prevalent as government funding for research and development lags.
The recurring topic of conflict of interest has made headlines in recent weeks. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine has revised its conflict of interest guidelines following questions about whether members of a recent expert panel on GMOs had industry ties or other financial conflicts that were not disclosed in the panel’s final report.
Our own recent research speaks to how hard it may be for the public to see research as useful when produced with an industry partner, even when that company is just one of several collaborators.
What people think of funding sources
We asked our study volunteers what they thought about a proposed research partnership to study the potential risks related to either genetically modified foods or trans fats.
We randomly assigned participants to each evaluate one of 15 different research partnership arrangements – various combinations of scientists from a university, a government agency, a nongovernmental organization and a large food company.