When I’m teaching a class or speaking to a group about the “funding effect” – the close correlation between the results desired by a study’s funders and those reported by the researchers – people often ask how researchers do it. How is it that researchers paid by a sponsor usually get results favorable to the study’s sponsor?
I’ve try to help answer that question in an article that appears in today’s Washington Post, entitled It’s Not the Answers That Are Biased, It’s the Questions. (A longer discussion of the funding effect is in my book Doubt is Their Product).
Having a financial stake in the outcome changes the way even the most respected scientists approach their research. Scientists make many decisions about the doses, exposure methods and disease definitions they use in their experiments, and each decision affects the result.
As Richard Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal, has explained, it would be far too crude (and possibly detectable) to fiddle directly with the results; sophisticated scientists know that you can get the answers you want by setting up a study in certain ways. I’ve included examples of research questions designed to arrive at a desired result in my Washington Post piece, which you can read here.