The 12 Sectors / Education

Lack of Transparency in Funding of Education

Danger: Profit-Driven Interests Influence Research and Create Biased Results

Industry funding of education has surged in recent years, which influences the outcome of research. In 2003, Yale researchers did a systematic review of 1,140 clinical trial studies and found that when research is industry-sponsored, it is “significantly more likely to reach conclusions that are favorable to the sponsor” than when it’s not funded by industry.[1] This happens all the time without our knowledge and can have serious consequences. For example, Harvard University tried to discount the risks of secondhand smoke for years while receiving money from the tobacco industry, including Philip Morris.[2]

This lack of transparency regarding research funding misleads the public and prevents us from making fully informed decisions. If funding sources were always revealed, we could more accurately assess information. For example, if Harvard University published studies about the “safety” of second-hand smoke, and it said “this article sponsored by the tobacco industry”, it would make readers think twice.  This kind of transparency can be achieved. Check out the opportunity below.

 

Opportunity: We Can Require Transparency of Research Funding

In 2009, Harvard Medical students put pressure on their faculty to reveal ties to the pharmaceutical industry and it worked! Now all their professors and lecturers are required to disclose industry ties at the beginning of each course.

We can do the same at other schools throughout the country. If you are a student, or know other students, put pressure on faculty to reveal financial conflicts of interest. If you subscribe to journals, write the editor and ask them to publish info about the financial sponsors of the studies.

 


[1] J.E. Bekelman et al., “Scope and Impact of Financial Conflicts of Interest in BioMedical Research,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 289(4), January 22, 2003: 454-465. http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/289/4/454

[2] Jennifer Washburn. Studied Interest: How Industry is Undermining Academia (adapted from the book University Inc.). The American Prospect. January 7, 2005. Link: http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=studied_interest

Critical Issues

Why do we accept that the most naturally curious time in our lives, when everything is new and our brains are poised to learn, we instead require kids to sit still for 18 years in a row learning rote, standardized information?
Industry funding of education has surged in recent years, which influences the outcome of research.