The Influence of Industry Sponsorship on the Research Agenda: A Scoping Review

Corporate interests have the potential to influence public debate and policymaking by influencing the research agenda, namely the initial step in conducting research, in which the purpose of the study is defined and the questions are framed. In this scoping review, authors identified  and synthesized studies that explored the influence of industry sponsorship on research agendas across different fields.

The 36 articles reviewed included nineteen cross-sectional studies that quantitatively analyzed patterns in research topics by sponsorship and showed that industry tends to prioritize lines of inquiry that focus on products, processes, or activities that can be commercialized. Seven studies analyzed internal industry documents and provided insight on the strategies the industry used to reshape entire fields of research through the prioritization of topics that supported its policy and legal positions. Ten studies used surveys and interviews to explore the researchers’ experiences and perceptions of the influence of industry funding on research agendas, showing that they were generally aware of the risk that sponsorship could influence the choice of research priorities.

The authors concluded that corporate interests can drive research agendas away from questions that are the most relevant for public health. Strategies to counteract corporate influence on the research agenda are needed, including heightened disclosure of funding sources and conflicts of interest in published articles to allow an assessment of commercial biases. They also recommended policy actions beyond disclosure such as increasing funding for independent research and strict guidelines to regulate the interaction of research institutes with commercial entities. The results of the scoping review support the need to develop strategies to counteract corporate influence on the research agenda.

Citation: Fabbri A, Lai A, Grundy Q, Bero LA.The Influence of Industry Sponsorship on the Research Agenda: A Scoping Review. American journal of public health. 2018 Nov;108(11):e9-16.

Will the mHealth Business Shrink or Exacerbate Health Inequalities?

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An article in the November American Journal of Public Health analyzes the social networks of the  major stakeholders in mobile health app development and describes their financial relationships to each other and to global corporations in technology, pharmaceuticals and entertainment, prime investors in the rapidly expanding mHealth business.  The authors conclude that public health researchers need to “extend their scrutiny and advocacy beyond the health messages contained within apps to understanding commercial influences on health and, when necessary, challenging them.”  In an accompanying editorial, CHW’s Nicholas Freudenberg notes that in their effort to maintain profitability in a crowded marketplace, corporations selling the 259,000 mHealth apps now on the U.S.  market   may make misleading claims, cover up defects or market unscrupulously, thus harming rather than helping users. Those mHealth apps that are effective and safe risk widening inequalities in health by being more accessible to the users who can afford them.

What Public Health Practitioners Need to Know About Unhealthy Industry Tactics

If you are working to improve public health and the environment, writes Rob Moodie in the American Journal of Public Health,  you need to know what your opponents are up to. Here is a quick guide to their tactics:

  1. Attack legitimate science
  2. Attack and intimidate the scientists
  3. Create arms-length front organizations
  4. Manufacture false debate and insist on balance
  5. Frame key issues in highly creative ways
  6. Fund industry disinformation campaigns
  7. Influence the political agenda

Citation: Moodie, AR. “What Public Health Practitioners Need to Know About Unhealthy Industry Tactics”, American Journal of Public Health 2017; 107(7): 1047-1049.

“Fighting a Hurricane”: Tobacco Industry Efforts to Counter Perceived Threat of Islam

A new study in the American Journal of Public Health describes attempts by the tobacco industry to reinterpret Islamic teaching to make smoking acceptable to Muslims and to help develop markets in countries with large Muslim populations. Tobacco companies have perceived Islam as a threat to its attempts to sell more tobacco products in emerging markets in Asia.