Research Bias

Scientific Validation of Herbs Part 4

Read Part 1.  Read Part 2. Read Part 3.

4) Research Bias
The results of research can be distorted based on conflicts of interest. The most common conflict of interest is when researchers have a financial investment in the research showing a positive result. The most obvious form of this is when the researcher is testing a product or service that they sell personally or they own stock or interest in a company that does. This conflict of interest would include a relative or friend selling the product they are testing. In that case they would have an interest in the success of their relative or friend.

Although, researchers are supposed to indicate any conflict of interest, they may want to present their interest as unbiased and will neglect to mention any conflict of interest that is not a direct financial gain. Indeed, sometimes the funding agency is a foundation that upon closer inspection appears to have been set up so that a researcher can launder the financial contribution to the study by having the funding come from the foundation rather than directly from the manufacturer of the test preparation.

Direct financial gain isn’t the only way researchers may make money on studies. Many researchers need to publish interesting research in order to maintain their careers and ensure future research funds. Researchers make a living by getting someone to fund their research. An interesting research proposal will gain funding, but a researcher needs to report satisfactory progress each year to maintain that funding. A researcher may feel pressure to make a study work. I once heard a statistician say, “If you think there is an effect, we can find a way to make the statistics show it.”

In addition, researcher may be motivated by fame or just wanting to be right. I talked to a former student once that worked for a researcher that had her run chemical analysis on samples over and over until, by a fluke, the data matched the researcher’s hypothesis. The researcher would review the data and circle the samples to rerun. The student reported that the repeated samples would give the same result, but researcher would have her rerun them over and over. Eventually, a run would give the value that fit with what the researcher wanted. The student could see the farce in this, but as long as the researcher had an actual result, they did not feel like they were falsifying data.

Pharmaceutical Research
to be continued tomorrow..