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BSA Future Debates: Does it Matter Who Funds Science?

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These panel debates hosted by the Administrative Data Research Centre for England are part of the UK-wide ‘Future Debates’ series by the British Science Association (BSA), supported by Genomics England.

The panel members examined the topic of science funding and who does it.

  • Does it matter if private companies fund science?
  • Does private funding create bias in the research?
  • How can we trust researchers?

In the UK, private companies do the vast majority of research and development work, funding over two thirds of total spending. The rest comes from universities, government and charities. This research creates new ideas and discoveries, advancements in technology and creates an opportunity to improve society for the better. The pace of change is exciting and full of promise but it leads to the question around the ethics of who funds these changes and the impact this has on our lives? Some campaigners argue that this research is biased, with companies perhaps hiding results that do not help them turn a profit. They argue that the scientists funded by industry begin to become biased themselves, through the pressure to produce positive or headline-catching papers. They might become less honest about the risks of their work, or about conflicts of interest. We need to trust the outcome of scientific research. But are these outcomes driven by a concern for the greater good, or by profit? Does it matter? Who do we trust to shape the future through scientific research?

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