2015-03-12

Research: Does a funding source invalidate results?

We as a society, strongly centered in classical thought, place a great deal of importance on scientific method.  Scientific method has proven time and again to provide benefits in knowledge and subsequent benefits when that knowledge is applied in new and innovative ways.  There is little reason to list examples because we are surounded by them, all the time.

Scientific methodology is, in it's simplist form as follows:
  • Ask a Question
  • Do Background Research
  • Construct a Hypothesis
  • Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
  • Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
  • Communicate Your Results
(http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_scientific_method.shtml)

Pretty straight forward, right?  Well...., maybe not.  Asking a question is not too difficult: ex... how much surface area is represented by a head of hair?  A goofy question that would only be interesing if you happen to wonder what the absorption rate of the average bath towel is when applied to the task of drying hair.

So, we have a question.  Background research on this these days would probably involve a quick Google or Duck-Duck-Go search.  No problem.  A quick search showed that someone else has in fact asked this question and got a response of 'dumb question' in one case.  Well, not if you are a towel manufacturer...  Anyway, for the sake of argument lets say I found no definitive answer.  (I didn't because I really didn't look beyond the 'dumb question' result)

My next step would be to construct a hypothesis.  So, I think that the surface area of a head of hair is equal to the sum of the surface area of one hair multiplied by the number hairs in a given unit of skin surface area multiplied by the length of the hair on the head in question multiplied by the number of units of skin.  Hmmm.... leads do more questions..., Ok.....

As part of my hypothesis, I might model this by plugging the equation described above into a spreadsheet or some other funky tool and do some modeling.  First I will establish some basics:  A human hair is on average 0.004" in diameter.  This is an assumption, which will have to be proven or dis-proven later(note to self).  We will also assume 120 sq inches of scalp with 130 folicles per sq inch(also a web search), that means about 100000 hairs.  100000(hairs)  x .002(radius) X 3.14(pi) x 2 x 3(l).  We can play around by adjusting the any of the variables in the equation(this is modeling).

Ok, so I have my question, hypothesis/model, have done my reseach(prior art), and now all I have to do is the experiment, right?  Anyone feel like sitting aroud while I count the hairs on their head?  Bet not so much.

So, time to experiment.  Need volunteers to sit and have hairs counted and counters too.  Hmmm, we can assume that this is going to take time...and money, cause hair counters don't come for free, and countees probably won't either.  Ok I need some funds... hmmm...

Write some grants, approach the Grecian Formula-like companies, the bath towel companies, Martha Stewart maybe?  Someone must be interested... .  Lets say Martha is looking for a tax break this year and gives some money for this study.  But while handing me the money, she mentions that KMart's bath towels work really well for drying her hair and she has lots of them to sell too!  Gosh!  Wouldn't it be nice if it worked out that for some reason her favorite bath towels actually dry hair better?  She would make money which could be invested in further research on ...well ... whatever!  Hmmm....

So away I go with money from Martha.  Hire my counters and countees, gather my data, analyze my data against my model, and publish the results.  My results are peer reviewed and all is hunky-dory.  Everyone is completely uninterested of course.

Now what do I do?  I gotta pay the bills after all.  I bet that if I go to Martha, she can come up with an answer which needs a question which fits that answer and I bet that there will be more money available to prove that the question I come up with fits the answer that is desired....

Just think, all the components of good scientific methodology will be there, just like the first time.  (Refer to list at top).  So the order is a bit different... and now we need a truth to match our convenience....  and an inconvenient truth is not what is being paid for is it?

Yeah, I guess funding sources make a difference.  Do funding sources invalidate results?  Not by default, but if the methodology is impacted... well... you tell me.

So when Monsanto says the GMO products have not been found to be different than non-GMO products from the perspective of health, and the FDA agrees with them, it might be a good idea to ask: Who did the science?  Who paid for it?

Because science is there to ask questions and discover truths.  It is not there to create truth by asking convenient questions.  
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