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The Newsletter of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation June 2017  
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  Potential Alcohol Industry Funding at PIRE
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Editor in Chief:
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Contributors to this Issue
  • Raul Caetano
  • Karen Friend
  • Paul LaVoie
  • Juliet Lee
  • Bernie Murphy

 

AB InBev Foundation Award – Working with the Industry

Potential Alcohol Industry Funding at PIRE

Raul Caetano
Senior Research Scientist Prevention Research Center

On January 18, 2017, scientists at PRC met with PIRE’s CEO to discuss potential alcohol industry funding of research done by scientists at PIRE.   The text below provides a brief review of the existing controversy associated with such funding in the alcohol and other fields, and then summarizes the discussion that took place during the meeting.

First, the alcohol field does not have a uniform view on the acceptability of industry funding in the form of grants, gifts and donations, honorarium, scholarships, contracts to perform specific tasks, or support for conferences.  In general, the field appears to be of two opinions, split along disciplinary lines:  Basic scientists do not have as much concern about collaborations with industry as psychosocial scientists do.  As an example, UCSF has had for many years a clinic and research center named for the Gallo family, well-known wine growers in California.  The Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) has received for many years support from industry related organizations (e.g., DISCUS, The Wine Institute) for its annual conference.  The Alcoholic Beverage Research Foundation (ABMRF), a non-profit supported by the industry that offers research grants for alcohol research, has operated for many years with support from many scientists that not only apply for its grants, but also serve on its Board of Directors and as reviewers of applications.

Psychosocial scientists, a catch-all rubric that includes, prevention scientists such as those at PRC, behavioral scientists, epidemiologists, some physicians, public health professionals and others, however, have expressed considerable concern regarding funding of research and research-related activities by the industry (for press coverage see Hakim (2017), O’Connor (2015) and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-muddled-link-between-booze-and-cancer_us_5800ef47e4b0985f6d156f4f).  A long list of papers, commentaries, and editorials in the peer-reviewed literature, as well press coverage of industry and academia report scientists’ misgivings as well as experiences with funding by the industry.  Some examples of these were distributed at the meeting at PRC, and are attached to this description.  At least one alcohol-related association, INEBRIA, which represents about 500 scientists around the world, has recently published a set of guidelines that expresses clear concern about partnerships with the industry, and strongly advises its members to refrain from engaging in such activities (Andreasson and McCamrbidge, 2016).

Concern about alcohol industry funding has been associated with a series of challenges borne out of industry’s statement and behavior when such relationships have been established.  Before providing specific examples of damaging associations associated with industry funding, it is worth to focus briefly on the general challenges associated with such funding.  First, examples show that no matter how well defined a priori, once the association is put into practice it is impossible to predict and control its development and consequences.  Sometimes issues arise during the work, sometimes after the work is done and results are made available to the press, the public and the research community.  Frequently, the industry manipulates the association and the findings from the work to fit its aims.  Presently, the considerable discredit of the industry by the public health community makes the mere existence of an association a threat to the credibility of the work.  Perhaps the best example of the challenge that researchers face when conducting work supported by the industry is that associated with “null findings”, that is, the situation that develops when research results do not show risk effects of actions by the industry.  Frequently then, other researchers and the media immediately point to the fact that the findings were null because the work was funded with industry money.  Frequently, not only the work under focus but other work by the same group of researchers comes under criticism.

A second common occurrence in these relationship is the industry’s attempt to focus work on intervention strategies that are known to be ineffective in decreasing alcohol consumption and controlling alcohol problems.  A frequent choice are education efforts in the community, which are frequently directed at the school age population, and are known to be ineffective if not used in tandem with other alcohol control policies.  The industry also frequently opts for intervention efforts that have not been properly evaluated or not evaluated at all.  In one particular book funded by the industry the authors state: “It is important to remember that lack of evaluation is by no means proof that certain approaches do not work’ ([1], chapter 8, p. 176).  To which the commentator on the book replied: “True, but if there are proven approaches, why would one select unproven ones?”  (Caetano, 2008).

The industry has also funded “independent Centers” that are staffed with “researchers” and that, depending on the circumstances, are tasked with maintaining a presence in the field by attending conferences, writing occasional reviews of the literature, supporting papers and books covering topics such as, for example, adolescent drinking, and alcohol policy.  These industry funded centers also organize meetings to cover “important” and “new” areas of the field.  Scientists invited to these meetings, which often occur in emerging economies in Asia, Africa and Latin America, are usually well known American spokespersons for the “good effects of drinking”, or are naïve foreign scientists that are unaware of the controversies associated with such meetings.  An example of an industry funded center in the U.S. is the Center for Alcohol Policy, Alexandria, VA, funded by the National Beer Wholesalers Association.   A second well-known example is the International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP), Washington DC, funded by the beer and spirits industries.  ICAP was one of the main developers of what became known as the “Dublin Principles”, a set of guidelines for cooperation among the industry, academia, governments and public health professionals (Hannum, 1997).  The Principles have been heavily criticized by public health advocates because it represents a veiled attempt by the industry to insert itself in the process of developing alcohol control policies.  The text of the Principles supports “industry self-regulation”, recognizes “beneficial” effects from alcohol consumption, and proposes that “educational programs should play an important role” in informing the public about the dangers of alcohol.  In reality, the evidence shows that industry self-regulation is ineffective (Babor and Robaina, 2013; Noel et al., 2017), that the beneficial effects of alcohol are still disputed and are outweighed by the many adverse effects associated with drinking (Naimi et al., 2017), and that educational programs are almost always ineffective if implemented without support of other alcohol control policies which the industry is not interested in adopting (e.g., increased taxation, control of neighborhood alcohol outlet density, limitations in advertising) (Babor and Robaina, 2013).

The comments made by PRC scientists during the meeting with the CEO were consistent with the concerns previously expressed in the field:  There was apprehension with the proposed funding and its potential damage to PIRE’s credibility as an independent research organization.  It was agreed that while federal, state and other independent funding sources have not adopted policies that exclude applicants from organizations that have opted to receive support from the industry, reviewers of applications are not bound by the lack of such policies.  The alcohol field is small, and information about matters such as receipt of industry funding is rapidly exchanged among scientists.  Any controversy connected with industry funded work done at PIRE could lead to damages to future funding opportunities for PIRE scientists.  Further, the independent characteristic of the research centers at PIRE could potentially lead to a situation where alcohol industry funding at one center would affect the credibility of all other centers.  It was felt that to avoid such a situation there should perhaps be a process by which a policy statement would be developed as a product of consultation with Center Directors and other Senior Scientists.  This statement would then be taken to the Board for discussion and approval as a policy on alcohol industry funding for work done at PIRE.

References

Andreasson, A. and McCamrbidge, J. (2016). Alcohol Researchers Should Not Accept Funding From the Alcohol Industry:  Perspectives From Brief Interventions Research. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 77: 537-540.

Babor, T. and Robaina, K. (2013). Public Health, Academic Medicine, and the Alcohol Industry’s Corporate Social Responsibility Activities. American Journal of Public Health 103: 206-213.

Caetano, R. (2008). About smoke and mirrors: The alcohol industry and the promotion of science. Addiction 103(2): 175-178.

Hannum, H. (1997). THE DUBLIN PRINCIPLES OF COOPERATION AMONG THE BEVERAGE ALCOHOL INDUSTRY, GOVERNMENTS, SCIENTIFIC RESEARCHERS, AND THE PUBLIC HEALTH COMMUNITY. Alcohol and Alcoholism 32: 639-640.

Naimi, T. S., Stockwell, T., Zhao, J., Xuan, Z., Dangardt, F., Saitz, R., Liang, W. and Chikritzhs, T. (2017). Selection biases in observational studies affect associations between ‘moderate’ alcohol consumption and mortality. . Addiction 112(2): 207-214.

Noel, J. K., Babor, T. F. and Robaina, K. (2017). Industry self‐regulation of alcohol marketing: a systematic review of content and exposure research. . Addiction 112(S1): 28-50.