Researchers pressured to tailor results for sponsors

March 25, 2005

At least one in ten scientists has been asked by a commercial backer to tailor their research conclusion or advice to meet the sponsor's requirements, according to a survey of university and government laboratories.

The survey, conducted by the Association of University Teachers in conjunction with the public service union Prospect, found that female scientists were under even greater pressure.

Jonathan Whitehead, AUT head of parliamentary and public affairs, told a press conference: "To have more than 10 per cent of researchers feeling under pressure to alter their results is worrying and is a much higher figure than the union had expected."

The survey shows that 7.9 per cent of all respondents have been asked to tailor their results to suit a funder's preferred outcome. The figure rose to more than 15 per cent for female scientists.

A further 1.2 per cent of all scientists had been asked to tailor results to obtain further contracts and 1.7 per cent had been discouraged from publishing.

David Healy, a psychopharmacologist at the University of Wales, was not surprised by the findings. In 2001, Toronto University withdrew a job offered to Professor Healy after he suggested that Prozac could lead to suicide.

The university denied that Prozac's manufacturer, Eli Lilly, one of the companies backing its psychiatric institution, had any input into the decision.

Professor Healy said: "Commercial backers are good at liaising with academics who play ball and who wouldn't necessarily register the ways they were being leant upon, so this 10 per cent might be correct."

The report also reveals that almost 80 per cent of AUT members intend to vote at the forthcoming general election and more than two thirds confirm their voting intentions are likely to be influenced by work-related issues.

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