Politically active groups have always sought out, and even paid scientists, to support their agendas. Scientists grapple with the ethical ramifications of research funding. Only truth and fact are useful but no one pays or supports research they don’t have an interest in.
It’s a fine line, and a tough one. The cry of “mercenary scientist” is a heady insult among the scientific community. An article in Mother Jones decries the American Council on Science and Health for mercenary science based on leaked documents regarding their funding.
It makes sense that a company looking to develop a pesticide would commission a study on said pesticide’s efficacy and safety, so the fact that companies fund the ACSH for research is not, in itself, worthy of suspicion. Where the ACSH is suspiciously butting the ethical boundary is in the consistency with which its research supports the business interests of the funding parties and ACSH’s active courting of funding sources tied to specific research. Particularly damning, one of the short-term goals listed in the leaked documents.
Look for and cultivate new funding possibilities (Prop 37, CSC and corporate caving, etc.).
Mother Jones explains:
Proposition 37 was a 2012 California ballot initiative mandating the labeling of genetically modified foods. (It failed.) “CSC” is shorthand for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a consumer watchdog group that seeks to eliminate dangerous chemicals from cosmetic products. The documents suggest ACSH planned to mention CSC in its fundraising pitches to L’Oreal, Avon, and Procter and Gamble.
ACSH states that it does not allow funding to be earmarked, despite the evidence of courted and targeted funding. The ACSH claims to counter bogus claims made by activists groups with vested interests, which would make them targets for accusations of mercenary science.
As citizens become increasingly scientifically literate and research savvy, the push to have the backing of science in any industry is overwhelming. While nothing new, industries are finding it more and more difficult to simply buy a single study or two in support of their interests since internet search engines will pull up hundreds instantly. What a search engine can’t do is validate a source, or tell the difference between an op-ed piece and a legitimate peer-reviewed journal submission.
ACSH president recently published just such an op-ed piece in favor of fracking, another ACSH researcher published one in favor of e-cigarettes , just ahead of an FDA push to regulate the new technology.
Whether the ACSH is a lone voice of reason against such giants as the World Health Organization or simply science bought and paid for to serve an agenda, it serves as a solid reminder of the two most important, if trite, proverbs about research: consider the source, and follow the money.