The bias of industry-funded research is pervasive and well-documented. When industry funds a study, it is more likely to produce pro-industry conclusions than is a non-industry funded study. Companies regularly use this pro-industry science to cast doubt on research that hurts their bottom line. Classic cases come from the tobacco and fossil-fuel industries, challenging evidence about the harms of smoking and the human causes of climate change. Businesses have marshaled pro-industry science to defend everything from asbestos, lead, and plastics, to pharmaceutical drugs and even sugary drinks. But how exactly does industry use science to defend their products? What’s the methodology behind their political strategy?
Let’s look at a recent case involving organophosphates like chlorpyrifos, formerly used in the household pesticide Raid, and now one of the most common pesticides for agricultural use. The EPA proposed to ban chlorpyrifos in 2015, based on a series of observational studies published in 2011 documenting the neurotoxic effects of low dose exposure in children from independent teams at the University of California Berkeley, Columbia University, and Mt. Sinai Medical School. These original studies documenting neurotoxic effects were conducted by epidemiologists (scientists who study disease outbreaks among populations) who linked exposure with deficits in IQ, working memory, and perceptual reasoning. All three studies used a prospective birth-cohort design, meaning that they recruited pregnant women and their children before birth. They measured in-utero exposure and cognitive development across early childhood up to age 7. (more…)