There’s a war on science. Between funding cuts and big businesses looking to protect their interest, independent unbiased science is being killed. There have been civilian casualties. There will be more.
How do we decide what food is classed as unhealthy, or what’s the best way to dispose of our waste, or what chemicals are safe to put in our bodies?
Scientific advice has been shaping our decisions for as long as science has existed. We trust that the advice given is based on independent research, without any ulterior motives, but that isn’t always the case. Scientific research doesn’t come cheap, and funding for projects doesn’t come easy. Cuts to funding have made it even harder, leaving the door wide open for big businesses to come and hire scientists to find evidence to back up their agendas.
Coca-Cola is the latest company to be found taking advantage of cash-strapped scientists. The fizzy drinks company donated $550,000 to the leader of an influential anti-obesity organisation, and almost $4 million to projects run by the organisation’s founding members.
In return, Coca-Cola had a hand in choosing the organisation’s leader and mission statement, and suggested articles for the organisation to put on its website. Entirely coincidentally, the organisation Global Energy Balance Network found that bad diets aren’t to blame for the obesity crisis, shifting the blame onto lack of exercise.
How convenient for Coca-Cola, who had been singled out as “the number one villain in the obesity world”, according to an old email by the GEBN’s president.
If Coca-Cola’s endorsement of the GEBN’s findings isn’t suspicious enough, the rest of the scientific community contradict their findings. Good news for those of us relying on the advice of scientists to live as healthily as possible…
Coca-Cola aren’t the only big business hiring scientists to research ways to dispute evidence that would put the company in a bad light. PepsiCo and the American Beverage Association have both funded research into sugar, and tobacco companies have, in the past, hired experts to argue against the science proving the health hazards of smoking.
Thankfully, these bought voices are the minority and, whilst this kind of madness does occur, it’s currently easy to tell what the science really says. But it might not be that easy for much longer.
The Global Energy Balance Network no longer operates, disbanding after its financial relationship with Coca-Cola became public. At the moment, being paid to find evidence that big businesses have nothing to answer for is still something to be ashamed of, it seems.
But how much longer will it last? If funding from unbiased sources continue to be cut, taking money from companies like Coca-Cola may become the only answer. And the more groups that are supporting the biased findings, the harder it is for the public to tell what the science really is.
Coca-Cola’s influence on GEBN could have damaged the fight against obesity, with the Global Energy Balance Network an influential voice in the anti-obesity discussions. Even one voice saying something different can be used as an excuse to ignore what the vast majority of people are saying, especially if that voice speaks through scientific journals and conferences as GEBN’s Coca-Cola-endorsed message did.
We’ve seen it before in the fight against climate change. The more voices and the more convincing their arguments, the more people that will believe the biased findings. Without unbiased research, we’d still see nothing wrong with smoking and be unaware of the dangers of climate change. Who knows what horrors will be left undiscovered or shouted down and ignored if unbiased funding continues to be cut?
Coca-Cola will not be the last big business to try to influence scientific findings and, next time, who knows how successful the business might be in spreading their ideas as ‘fact’.