Survey: 1 in 5 medical researchers reports pressure from funders to change study results
Aug. 18 (UPI) — Nearly one in five public health researchers feels pressured by study funders to delay publication of, or change, findings, a survey published Wednesday by PLOS One found.
In the small survey of 104 researchers in fields such as nutrition, sexual health, physical activity and substance use, 18% of respondents said that they had, on at least one occasion, felt pressured by funders, the data showed.
The affected studies were published between 2007 and 2017, the researchers said.
Because of what the researchers describe as a history of interference from industry funders, such as drug companies in public health research, they expected those leading industry-funded studies to report the most attempted influence, they said.
“But we didn’t find any instances of that,” study co-author Sam McCrabb said in a press release.
Instead, more respondents reported receiving pressure from government funders seeking to influence research findings than from industry, non-profit funders or public funders, said McCrabb, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Newcastle in Australia.
Given the costs associated with medical research, efforts by funders to influence study findings have long been a concern.
In a 2007 survey, for example, 21% of respondents said that funders attempted to suppress their research findings, while 66% indicated that financial supporters attempted to change results or delay publication.
Meanwhile, a study published last year found that journals that allowed companies to pay to reprint articles that describe research on their products for marketing purposes were more likely to be biased.
For this study, McCrabb and her colleagues surveyed 104 researchers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Responding researchers were asked if they had ever received requests to change research methods, alter study conclusions, delay publication or not release results at all, the researchers said.
Nine respondents said funders expressed reluctance over the findings of their studies because the results were unfavorable, according to the researchers.
In addition, six said they had funders request that findings be changed, and five had funders ask for publication to be delayed, the researchers said.
Four respondents said funders attempted to discredit members of their research teams when they were not pleased with study results, the data showed.
Such interference was more common in studies on sexual health and substance abuse than those involving nutrition and physical activity, although the study does not provide reasons for this, McCrabb said.