Industry-sponsored research has become the norm in the United States. In fact, most U.S. clinical trials within the fields of science and medicine, notably within the pharmaceutical sector, are now funded by industry.1 2 3 4 This has created a plethora of opportunities for funders to create data to fit their business agenda, thus creating a dilemma articulated in American author Upton Sinclair’s theorem, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary is dependent upon him not understanding it.”5
The implications of industry-sponsored research, particularly in the area vaccine safety, are of growing concern. The concern is reasonable, given the major ramifications of industry-sponsored research in other industries, such as tobacco.
Both the tobacco and vaccine industries appear to share commonalities in leveraging their products—using industry-sponsored funding to influence scientific discourse and to deny, distort and downplay growing evidence that their products are ineffective and dangerous. The parallels between the dynamics of these two industries are glaring.
The Tobacco Industry’s Manipulation of Authority
In the 1930s and 1940s, smoking cigarettes became “the thing” to do among men and women in the U.S. Interestingly, many physicians smoked during this period as well. Tobacco companies strategically featured doctors in their print and broadcast advertising campaigns to assure consumers that their products were safe.6
It was during this time of widespread tobacco advertising and use that research studies were published showing a statistical link between smoking and lung cancer.7 This raised public anxiety over the health risks associated with smoking. Nevertheless, the industry continued to use physicians as reassuring authority figures to sell their products.6
A review in the American Journal of Public Health perfectly describes the use of physicians as sales ploys.6
The authors state:
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