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Issue #06 (April 2015)

From the Editor

Does an industry-funded study mean that the results aren’t true? Simply put, no.

If you’re a primary investigator researching ways to help sick people get better, getting industry funding bumps your chances of getting a grant up considerably—from ludicrously tiny to just plain small. If, on the other hand, you’re researching ways to help relatively healthy bros and she-bros gain muscle and lose fat, then things get a lot harder. Is there a proper non-male-centered term for women with bro mentalities? If you are an expert on this topic, please write to me at erdeditor at examine.com.

The NIH is interested in helping sick people more than gym rats, and that probably won’t change anytime soon. You know who cares if you have striations in your quads and visible ab veins? You. Maybe your partner. That’s probably about it.

Another entity with skin in this game is supplement manufacturers. They are not categorically evil just because they sell products. And similarly, they are not evil because they fund studies.

Typically, the research team puts strict limits on the funder’s involvement. Sure, give us money. But help writing the manuscript? Designing the study? Analyzing the results? Absolutely not, this is strictly a situation where an interested party provides the means to do research.

… or is it? While industry-funded research isn’t by any means of lesser quality, there are pitfalls to watch for. Pharmaceutical research has been heavily interrogated in recent years, after research oversights in reporting and methodology resulted in massive controversies dealing with recalled drugs.

There are more ways to influence research[1] than just writing the paper. The very research question itself can be influenced by the chances of getting funding, whether from government or private sources. The government isn’t going to fund many studies discrediting its dietary guidelines, and similarly, industry participants aren’t likely to fund research comparing a supplement against its food-based alternative.

Perhaps more importantly, not all studies get published. Some trials stop early due to low enrollment or obvious results that warrant cessation in order to help people in the control group. But others simply don’t get published, often due to a lack of significant findings. How are you to know how many studies were started on a food/diet/supplement/drug that weren’t published? Nobody has the free time to scour clinicaltrials.gov for such trials, and hence you can’t know whether that enticing study showing awesome results is the only such study that’s been done. And that’s without the methodological issues present in many studies, that can mitigate their impacts.

On a final note, let me mention our April Fools joke email. Some people got very angry that we were seemingly going against all we stand for and selling supplements (including crispy chicken and spray cheese flavors … I guess they didn’t read all the way through). But on the positive side, at least there’s a contingent of people who are hypersensitive to industry influence, even if they don’t correlate emails very well with joke-related holiday dates. For those people, I have one final tip: a study doesn’t have to be funded by industry to overstate its results. We run across them every day. Many, many valid studies are funded by industry and conducted by brilliant investigators. Research quality is really a crapshoot, and that’s part of the reason we’re around, to help separate the wheat from the chaff.

Kamal Patel,
Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Examination Research Digest

See other articles in Issue #06 (April 2015) of Study Deep Dives.


  1. ^ Joel Lexchin. Sponsorship bias in clinical research. Int J Risk Saf Med. (2012)