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Harvard Researchers for Sale: Take 2

Apparently after you’ve made it as a tenured professor at Harvard University, your first job is to secure some more funding for your research (despite Harvard being the richest school in the world). And what better way to do this than to ask for a little industry support?

Critics have typically focused on the potential for a conflict of interest when researchers are funded by the pharmaceutical companies whose drugs they study. But there are many deep pockets in the world, and gambling companies have some of the deepest.

Just ask Howard Shaffer, a world-renown researcher on compulsive gambling and a Harvard professor. Bloomberg pointed out yesterday how he has received over $9 million in industry money since 1996, in support of his research initiatives into gambling and gambling problems.

Shaffer’s research, however, is extensive in this field and his reputation is impeccable. The primary difference seems to be that the media (in this case, Bloomberg specifically) is on a bit of a witch hunt now, looking for anyone who gets industry money and does research on that same industry (regardless of whether there has been any failure to disclose the support).

To be clear, Shaffer is not under any type of investigation for failure to disclose financial support from the industry, a point not clearly made until you’re nine paragraphs into the article:

Shaffer’s research complies with Harvard’s guidelines for receiving funding from industry, David Cameron, a spokesman for Harvard Medical School, said in an emailed statement June 25.

Shaffer, 59, said his funding sources are fully disclosed, his findings are published in peer-reviewed journals and casino companies haven’t interfered with his research.

Far before this point is made, the Bloomberg author trots out guilt by association, bringing up the other three Harvard-associated researchers who actually did something wrong — they failed to disclose industry-received money.

That’s the point. It is perfectly legal and acceptable to receive such money and has been for decades, as long as it is fully disclosed to all — the university, the journals, and the public.

Now, whether it’s right or not is entirely another question (one the article skirts around and never really frames properly). Whether one’s research actually does become biased, despite one’s best efforts to keep it fair and balanced, is a good question for a study or two.

Common wisdom suggests that funding sources will eventually exert an influence — even a subtle influence — especially when one’s livelihood is dependent upon it. Alternatively, a researcher’s reputation is virtually priceless and few researchers would put theirs at stake even to receive virtually unlimited research funding.

That’s why good studies need to be replicated by other researchers. If a bias existed, it should come out in other studies that don’t find the same results or come to the same conclusions. So eventually, time will tell.

Read the full article: Harvard Proves Gaming’s Best Friend With Casino-Funded Research

Harvard Researchers for Sale: Take 2


John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.


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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Harvard Researchers for Sale: Take 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 19, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/havard-researchers-for-sale-take-2/
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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