Wednesday, July 31, 2013


A few days ago I watched a news contribution on a manipulated scientific medical study about a pill. It turns out that several employees of a pharmaceutical company where involved in the construction and completion of this study without disclosing this fact. The manipulation of the data led to positive outcomes of the study, helping to make this pill very popular and thus very lucrative. In this particular study some criminal intention was clearly at play. But many of these medical studies are financed by pharmaceutical companies, says the expert on the news report. This got me thinking about the influence of conflict of interest on the outcome of studies.

In a documentary on fracking I recently watched, I found a similar pattern. The people involved in making money or allowing this technique of oil production, conducted studies showing that this way of flowing oil is harmless to humans and nature. The NGOs concerned with the destruction of the environment found converse results. How can this be? Both parties have a big motivation to prove their arguments. Both parties have a specific mindset when constructing their study. This leads to a frame of thinking and a way of perceiving the world. I think every scientist should have a look at their basic motivation of research and their underlying assumptions of how the world works or ought to work in their eyes. It is very hard to fight one’s own frame of thinking, but by making these implicit assumptions explicit and communicating them, others can better understand your where you are coming from. If obvious conflict of interest is given as is the case in the example of the manipulated study and in my opinion also in the case of financing, I think it will prevent a scientist from performing rigorous research and should be excluded from the carrying out the study.

This is my mind frame and my motivation for this article: I am a psychologist and stakeholder theory enthusiast and think that explicating and communicating thoughts and assumptions helps to find common grounds. Further, I think the world is not black or white but should be looked at nuanced. Further we are working on a paper on mindsets and basic assumptions of different theories, which got me to pay more attention on this issue. So in this sense: Q.E.D.
Vanessa McSorley



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