In the age of the curious and well-informed consumer, scientific studies pertaining to the relevance and safety of genetically modified organisms and organic foods are the 21st century equivalent to the bee’s knees.
The majority of consumers, however, put far too much significance into where the funding for such experiments comes from or the potential conflicts of interest in the publishing process. Fiscal support from Monsanto does not an evil scientist make.
Funding for research can come from a variety of different organizations and sources, both public and private. Groups that have a particular interest in a research topic are likely to contribute to public research or conduct private research.
A recent study comparing the nutritional qualities of organic and conventional milk was partially funded by Organic Valley, according to The New York Times. Organic Valley is a farm cooperative that specializes in the production of organic dairy products.
The current popular opinion is that private funding of research is dangerous for its potential to introduce bias into the scientific realm. Some even believe that private corporation funding is science’s worst enemy, according to Discover Magazine.
Keep in mind that companies like Organic Valley do not design or play a direct role in the research they fund. If they did, the conflict of interest would likely present itself in such a high number of cases of scientific misconduct and falsified experimental results that the public would begin to wonder if Congress had gotten involved.
Fortunately, most scientists uphold scientific integrity and understand that the path to good science involves following evidence and not unsupported ideas. Even if for no other reason than job safety, many researchers work to produce well-designed experiments. Thus, their studies will produce accurate results, be duplicated, and provide them with an all-access pass into the scientific hall of fame.
Studies that are poorly designed run the risk of being retracted, which is bad news for everyone involved. According to the Scientific American and Nature, the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology retracted a paper last year claiming that genetically modified maize causes serious disease in rats.
The authors of the paper and a good portion of consumers believe the retraction was due to the presence of former Monsanto employee Richard Goodman on the editorial board of the journal.
However, scientists worldwide questioned the article because of its small testing numbers and use of Sprague-Dawley rats in the experiment. Sprague-Dawley rats are known for their high incidence of tumors, which makes them a poor research model for determining if GMOs cause cancer after long-term exposure.
A poor use of the scientific method was the culprit in this case, not Monsanto. Most editorial boards are composed of more than one individual, which makes it unlikely that Goodman’s former involvement with Monsanto was the sole reason for the retraction of the study.
Government funding is rapidly shrinking, according to both Discover Magazine and the Guardian. As a result, many private companies are stepping up to fill voids because funding public or university research is substantially cheaper than running an independent private research lab.
Privatized funding for research is a reality for today’s world. The expansion of funding for science into a new sector will hopefully allow it to grow and pave the way for more big and bad scientific breakthroughs. Good science is good science, regardless of who funded it.
It’s easy to spot the bad science out there. Researchers can take bad science and stick a bow on it and call it pretty, but science of a lesser quality will rapidly expose itself as scientists attempt to duplicate results from bad science.