‘Worrying’ rise in alcohol industry-funded research into alcohol impacts

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The alcohol industry is increasingly funding academic research into the impacts of alcohol consumption – with some studies making claims about alcohol’s health benefits – research from the University of York in the United Kingdom suggests. This threatens the plausibility of alcohol-related research.

The study published last week in the European Journal of Public Health found that since 2009, there has been a 56% increase in research funded by alcohol companies or affiliated organisations, reports the University of York.

The scale of alcohol industry sponsorship of scientific research raises concerns over the potential for bias, conflicts of interest and selective reporting of outcomes.

The research team from the University of York found just under 13,500 studies are directly or indirectly funded by the alcohol industry.

Co-author of the study, Dr Su Golder from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York, said: “Our study identified a worrying trend. While there has been a steep decline in the alcohol industry conducting its own research on health, at the same time there has been an increase in the alcohol industry funding such research, by providing financial support to researchers or via alcohol related organisations.

“This allows alcohol companies to exploit a ‘transparency loophole’ as many people assume these organisations are charities and don’t realise the connection to the industry.

“While there are many legitimate fields for research funded by the alcohol industry – such as studies into ingredients and environmental impacts – their involvement in health research is particular cause for concern.

“Many of these studies make claims about the protective cardiovascular effects of alcohol and suggest that substance abuse problems are down to individual choices rather than industry behaviours.”

The researchers believe that the level of alcohol industry involvement in research they uncovered is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Co-author of the study, Professor Jim McCambridge from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York, added: “While researchers are meant to declare funders in peer reviewed research publications this often doesn’t happen and we don’t get the level of transparency we should have.

“It is well known that by sponsoring research pharmaceutical and tobacco companies successfully conspired to subvert the scientific evidence-base in order to influence policy for decades and so, while more research is needed, the scale, nature and breadth of the alcohol industry’s influence on scientific research provides cause for concern.

“While alcohol companies may claim they are carrying out a civic duty through their funding of research, these are studies that independent academics would be much better placed to conduct.”

 

Declared funding and authorship by alcohol industry actors in the scientific literature: A bibliometric study 

The European Journal of Public Health. Published on 17 September 2020

Authors

Su Golder,  Jack Garry,  Jim McCambridge

The authors are in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York, UK.

Abstract

Alcohol industry actors are known to be involved in scientific research. Despite concerns regarding bias, the extent of involvement and coverage of this research are unknown.

Methods

We aimed to investigate the extent and type of scientific research 1918–2019 which was supported by the alcohol industry, including alcohol companies themselves and other organisations, such as trade associations.

We identified bibliographic records from the Web of Science suite of databases which have named alcohol companies or organisations in the fields relating to author affiliations and support declarations. We then ascertained trends in publications over time, type of support, funding, outlets (such as journal titles), subject areas covered (such as health) and named companies (such as Carlsberg) and organisations (such as Drinkaware).

Results

The analysis included 13,481 unique records, 11,014 (82%) were authored or funded by alcohol companies and 2,488 (18%) were authored or funded by other organisations. The majority of the records (90%, 12 157/13 481) were journal publications. The most common subject areas covered by the publications were biology (5415/13 481, 40%), chemistry (3937/13 481, 29%) and health (3707/13 481, 27%).

In line with general publishing trends, there has been an overall increase in research funded or supported by alcohol companies and organisations since records began. The main exception is the steady decline in company author affiliations, particularly in health-related topics since the mid-1990s.

Conclusions

Alcohol companies and related organisations are extensively involved in or supporting scientific research according to data in Web of Science. This does not, however, necessarily reflect the totality of scientific research produced by alcohol companies and related organisations.

 

Increase in alcohol-industry funded research is a cause for concern, study suggests

 

Declared funding and authorship by alcohol industry actors in the scientific literature: A bibliometric study

 


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