Corporate Strategies: Design, Conduct, Publication of Research

Investigator: Lisa Bero, PhD
Sponsor: University of California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (TRDRP)

Location(s): United States


There is growing interest in the question of whether universities should ban tobacco industry funding for research. However, such bans remain controversial among scientists, public health advocates, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and tobacco industry representatives. Universities are increasingly dependent on money from industry to support research. It is important to address the issue of whether the tobacco industry is "different" from other industries because universities worry that banning funding from one source could lead to restrictions on funding from other corporate sources. This project will provide information for the debate about tobacco industry funding for research.

There are many studies that show an association between industry funding and biased research. These studies support restrictions on corporate funding for research. However, there has been no systematic examination of whether the presence or strength of this association varies by type of corporate sponsor. Therefore, the first objective of our research project will be to examine the association of research funding source and biased outcomes for four corporate interests: tobacco industry, pharmaceutical industry, food industry, and chemical industry. We have completed data collection and are analyzing the data for 2 of our proposed comparisons. We are examining studies of statin drugs and antihypoglycemic drugs for type-2 diabetes.

The next part of our project addresses the question of whether corporate strategies to influence research vary by type of industry. We will compare internal documents from the tobacco industry and internal documents on 1) silicosis, 2) adverse effects of lead, and 3) vinyl chloride to determine whether different corporate interests use the same or different strategies to influence the design, conduct, and publication of research.

One argument in favor of banning tobacco industry funding for research has been that it is simply immoral. Therefore, the last part of our project will address the question of whether industries differ by comparing the strategies that corporate interests use to justify unethical behavior related to research. We will apply a framework for "moral disengagement strategies" to internal tobacco industry documents and internal documents on 1) silicosis, 2) adverse effects of lead, and 3) vinyl chloride to examine how industry lawyers, executives, scientists and other industry employees justified their actions regarding the design, conduct and publication of research. 

During the first year of our project, we have developed and refined our coding categories for industry strategies and moral disengagement. We have begun coding tobacco industry documents and documents from the vinyl chloride industry.

The results of our research will provide data on whether and how the characteristics of research funded by different corporate interests vary and whether corporate interests vary in their behavior toward funding research. We will examine research characteristics and corporate behavior by industry, as well as over time and by different people within the corporate settings.