Research funding gives me the chills

I mainly use facebook as a start page and because of the news outlets I’m following I’m getting interesting headlines in my feed. Some of the newspapers were unable to hide their triumphant attitude a few days ago when they believed they could prove the critics of “the ice bucket challenge” wrong.

The news was that the people who had participated in the challenge had contributed to research that had resulted in a major breakthrough. Some even went so far as to claim that the people who accepted the challenge made this research possible. Let us ignore for a moment the accidental deaths, the people that spent more money on the challenge than they donated, and those who simply forgot that they were expected to donate. What is interesting is how much money the ALS Association received and what they spent them on.

I am not implying that the money was wasted because this money did a lot of good, but it is not as simple as media says it is. They gave the impression that the ALS Association was directly responsible for this research, or that it would not have been carried out without their support. The organization’s own website gives a different impression, one that says that this research was not entirely dependent on the $ one million donation. They are not lying, and the “every drop counts-heading ” shows that they haven’t overestimated their own role, but they give the impression that this research had been going on for a while and would have continued with or without this million. It has probably sped up the process, though.

The ice bucket challenge raised, according to CNN, $ 115 million and 77 of them have been spent on research. That is a significant contribution, but still small in the grand scheme. The pharmaceutical industry spends more money on marketing, and according to Last Week  Tonight  on HBO “big pharma” spent 3 billions on marketing to consumers in 2012 and $ 24 billions towards healthcare professionals. Nine of the ten biggest companies spent more on marketing than on research. These figures describe the situation in the USA.

This is John Oliver from the aforementioned program. He presents facts, although this is entertainment, and he is making some valid points:

There is a lot of money in circulation that can do more than discovering a gene; they can find a cure. This priority makes it shiver down my spine, and I don’t even need ice water. Incidentally, the Norwegian Oil Fund owns a large amount of shares in the Swiss pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Roche Holding. In other words, we may profit from false marketing and people dying as a result of publication bias.


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