The Ethics and Epistemology of Industry Bias in Science

Private companies are funding the vast majority of scientific research on earth. For example, about 70% of all R&D funding in the UK comes from private donors (National Office of Statistics 2019), a number still small compared to about 76% in China and 78% in South Korea (Eurostats 2020). As Bennett Holman and Kevin Elliot note in an influential meta-review, philosophers of science are just beginning to catch up with these developments, crafting new concepts to elaborate if and why the dominance of industry funding might be worrisome. My own research has focussed on "industry bias" (often employed synonymously with "preference bias" or "sponsorship bias"), a concept used to identify instances in which privative incentives negatively impact the quality of scientific knowledge. In my work on the topic, I analyze publishing conventions in pharmaceutical drug testing and defend a two-tier theory of industry bias. On my account, we need two categories of bias to properly account for the epistemic dangers of industry funding: (i) standard industry bias occurs if researchers infringe on methodological conventions to satisfy industry preferences, and (ii) structural industry bias occurs if researchers perpetuate empirically ineffective conventions that serve industry preferences. Owing to many decades of science privatization, structurally flawed but incentivized methodologies are very prevalent. As a consequence, structural industry bias has to be reckoned with to effectively regulate scientific research through democratic institutions.

Published research from this project: