Measurement of Industrial Health Risks Compromised by Financial Ties
Scientists looking for environmental and occupational health risks are less likely to find them if they have a financial tie to firms that make, use, or dispose of industrial and commercial products, according to a study prepared by Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, Lee Friedman, (PhD ’06, MS ’05).
In the first comprehensive study relating findings to conflicts of interest among researchers in environmental and occupational health, Dr. Friedman found a clear association between findings of no adverse health outcomes and financial conflicts of interest among the researchers conducting those studies. His results were published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
“Studies funded by organizations that are involved in exposing the environment to pollutants or their workers to hazardous materials are substantially less likely to observe an association that these exposures have or increase the risk for negative health consequences,” Dr. Friedman says. The link between financial conflict of interest and negative findings for risk was strongest in studies in which the primary author is employed by the military, he notes.
Other studies have shown that funding from corporations tends to result in findings favorable to the firm when looking at food and drug safety and climate issues. But the new study is the first to look for a link between financial conflict and favorable findings in studies of risks from exposure to potential chemical and physical health hazards in the workplace or home.
Dr. Friedman says that part of the problem with transparency about conflicts of interest is that the responsibility to disclose them rests solely with the author. “There are few repercussions for failing to disclose a conflict, and there are few protections for whistleblowers,” he says. “Whatever solutions are developed, they must be adopted broadly and internationally, so authors don’t publish through countries where getting around reporting conflict of interest is easier.”