How a flood of corporate funding can distort NIH research

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“This month, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins seemed to shut down a noxious ethical problem,” writes Paul Thacker, a former Senate staff member,  in The Washington Post. “The agency released a 165-page internal investigation of an alcohol consumption study that had been funded mostly by beer and liquor companies. The study’s lead investigator and NIH officials were in frequent contact with the alcohol industry while designing the study, which, according to the postmortem, seemed predetermined to find alcohol’s benefits but not potential harms, such as cancer. In several email exchanges published in the report, NIH scientists seemed to joke about taking a drink every time somebody said “cheers,” which was a proposed acronym for their study. Collins ended the trial and promised to create new ethical boundaries for how NIH officials deal with industry.  But the intellectual corruption at our government research agencies runs much deeper, and this was only the latest scandal involving hidden corporate influence. I spent 3 1 / 2 years as a Senate investigator studying conflict-of-interest problems at the NIH and the research universities it funds. During that time, I found that the agency often ignored obvious conflicts. Even worse, its industry ties go back decades and are never really addressed unless the agency faces media scrutiny and demands from the public and Congress for change.”