Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This study was brought to you by the following sponsers

The commercialization of scientific research is getting out of hand. Take for instance this recent bit of research highlighted in Science Daily -

Anxious Parents Misdiagnose Milk Formula Intolerance

This article is about a recent study that shows that "many parents misinterpret common baby behaviors as milk intolerance and needlessly switch formulas without consulting a health professional". The study compared two different types of formula, one with intact cow milk protein and another with partially hydrolyzed cow milk protein and found that there was no difference in infant intolerance between the two and hence there is no need to switch.

Doesn't sound to bad, right? Well, something seemed a little strange to me so I found the actual study here and looked at who the authors are. Three of the authors in of the study list their associated organization as Mead Johnson Nutrition. That name was also mentioned in the Science Daily article but I was not familiar with it, so I googled it and found -
Mead Johnson Nutrition helps moms make sure those babies grow up healthy. The company specializes in making nutritional products for infants and children. The company distributes its offerings in the Americas, the Asia/Pacific region, and Europe. Mead Johnson's most visible consumer brand is the Enfamil line of infant formulas.
So this company makes an infant formula, this is starting to make sense. I wonder what formulas they compared? Looking at page 6 of the study and I see that the full protein formula was Enfamil LIPIL and the other one was Good Start Supreme made by Nestlé. So what we really have here is a "study" showing that a competitor's specialty product is not any better than one made by the company performing the research.

While this fact does not necessarily invalidate the results of the study is it a huge source of potential bias and as such should be disclosed as a conflict of interest. If you look at the article on Science Daily the only hint of the bias is the company name and if you look at the abstract for the study there is no hint of the bias. If you read the study itself the bias is hinted at in the competing interests section but is never spelled out directly.

Welcome to the future of research, where the results of the study will be a message from the sponsor.

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