Psychologists and also the general public a lot of the time rely on research findings to make decisions on varying things such as theories and even their own health. The worrying thing is that in some cases, these findings are either not entirely true or perhaps hiding the truth, which inevitably will mislead people and therefore cause decisions to be made which will be based on untrue ‘facts’. One of the main causes for results being hidden or altered is bias in the research; the companies which fund the research a lot of the time would benefit from positive findings. Therefore they might either purposefully pressure researchers or in some cases alter or hide results to make their product look better and therefore sell more.
One such example of bias in research is with a drug called paroxetine (or Paxil) which is an anti-anxiety medicine. Results from four of the trials on this drug were suppressed, results which not only failed to show effectiveness of the drug among children and teens, but also which demonstrated a possible increased risk of suicidal tendencies. The company which suppressed these results, GlaxoSmithKline, were forced to make a legal settlement which meant that they have now established an online registry which shows summaries of all the results of their sponsored studies which have happened after a certain date. But the fact is that they suppressed results of trials in the first place, just to make their product look better and in the process not telling the public the possible risks. This example shows possibly one of the worst dangers of bias in research, that people may die simply because results were suppressed.
So what can be done to combat this? There are steps being taken: for example in June 2009, the FDA’s (Food and Drug Administration) Transparency Task Force was launched, which last year proposed draft plans that would make information about drugs and medical devices much more publicly available.
Although there is this progress, bias in research is still a real issue. Without funding, there wouldn’t be nearly as much research actually completed, however if companies continue to fund research on their own products, bias will continue to occur. It’s a sticky business with a lot of issues, so what are your views?