Corporate Influence Clouds Science

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The Union of Concerned Scientists supports university researchers struggling to remain impartial while their labs receive funding--and pressure--from vested interests.

Science is one of the main tools modern society can use to protect public safety against the excesses of profit-driven big business. Once upon a time, we had a fine system of universities where scientists could conduct impartial, independent research. Today, our universities have become heavily dependent on funding from vested interests, most especially Big Ag and Big Pharma. With so much money from vested interests flowing into universities, it makes it very difficult for researchers to conduct valid, impartial science. The public is understandably skeptical. Without trustworthy science, it becomes impossible for the public to know what is true and what is corporate spin disguised as science. In some cases, corporate attempts to block or distort the truth have been outrageous and even criminal.

Recently this problem surfaced as critics responded to a new report from Stanford University that claimed there is little evidence that organic food is more healthful than industrial food. Turns out, Stanford has received millions of dollars from Cargill, which controls a huge sector of industrial agriculture. So, should we trust the results in the new study, or not?

We outlined our concerns about the tainting of scientific research in an online editorial, Protecting the Integrity of Science. Earlier this year, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued an executive summary of its report, Heads They Win, Tails We Lose: How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public’s Expense. We encourage you to review both documents for a better understanding of this serious issue.

To read a rebuttal of the Stanford study by an expert in organic agriculture, see Initial Reflections on the Annals of Internal Medicine Paper “Are Organic Foods Safer and Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives? A Systematic Review” by Charles Benbrook of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University.

Cheryl Long is the editor in chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and a leading advocate for more sustainable lifestyles. She leads a team of editors which produces high quality content that has resulted in MOTHER EARTH NEWS being rated as one North America’s favorite magazines. Long lives on an 8-acre homestead near Topeka, Kan., powered in part by solar panels, where she manages a large organic garden and a small flock of heritage chickens. Prior to taking the helm at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, she was an editor at Organic Gardening magazine for 10 years.Connect with her on.