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For the first example below, a conflict of interest (CoI) isn't literally declared, but seems to be implied in the funding section. Additionally, the majority of the studies included have a similar CoI. For the second example, again with funding there seems to be partial CoI. Is there any credence to studies funded from food industry sources not be tolerated?

Example 1

2009 Effects of soy protein and isoflavones on circulating hormone concentrations in pre- and post-menopausal women: a systematic review and meta-analysis

forty-seven studies (11 of pre-, 35 of post- and 1 of perimenopausal women)

isoflavones – soy phytoestrogen (which mimics estrogen in the body, beneficial in combating symptoms and conditions caused by estrogen deficiency)

To our knowledge, this is the first systematic review and meta-analysis to compare the endocrine effects of different soy products on hormonal status in women at different lifecycle stages. It provides weak evidence that soy and isoflavones decrease FSH and LH in premenopausal women, and a suggestion that they may increase estradiol [estrogen steroid hormone and the major female sex hormone] in post-menopausal women.

Results

Twenty studies declared a funding source with a commercial interest in the study results; 25 did not report industry funding; and 2 were unclear.

Funding

This work was partially funded by the Soy Nutrition Institute, Inc., St Louis, MO, USA. M.J.M. consults for companies that manufacture and/or sell soyfoods, soy protein and isoflavone supplements and is a Scientific Advisory Board Member of the Soy Nutrition Institute.

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2691652

Extra for 1

Letters to the Editor

These estrone levels are important because in the meta-analysis of Hooper et al. (2009) […] evidence indicates that isoflavones will not increase breast cancer risk in healthy women or worsen the survival of breast cancer patients.

academic.oup.com/humupd/article/16/1/110/709455


Example 2

2010 Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men: results of a meta-analysis

36 studies

The results of this meta-analysis indicate that neither soy protein nor isoflavones affect reproductive hormone concentrations in men regardless of age or cancer status. Although the duration of most trials was <6 months, soy protein and isoflavone intake greatly exceeded typical dietary Japanese intake 2. These results suggest that consumption of soy foods or isoflavone supplements would not result in the adverse effects associated with lower T levels [31][32][33].

J.H.-R while a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota received some minor funding from the Soy Nutrition Institute for work on this manuscript. G.V. has nothing to disclose. S.J.D. has nothing to disclose. W.R.P. has nothing to disclose. M.S.K. occasionally consults for the Solae Company. M.J.M. regularly consults for companies in the soy food industry.

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19524224/doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2009.04.038

Supplement for 2

2011 Re: Clinical Studies Show No Effects of Soy Protein or Isoflavones on Reproductive Hormones in Men: Results of a Meta-Analysis

Editorial comment

The authors performed a meta-analysis of the available literature, and conclude that soy protein or isoflavone intake had no detectable effect on free or total testosterone, sex hormone binding globulin or free androgen index. While the study does not include measurements of semen or paternity, and androgenic status does not tell the whole story of male fertility, this meta-analysis is a step in the direction that soy products are unlikely to be harmful to male reproduction.

sci-hub.se/10.1016/S0022-5347(11)60138-9

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    I don't understand. Do you think that the statements are less than full disclosure? Why would you make assumptions about anything? Your real concern may be hiding in the detail here.
    – Buffy
    Commented Apr 8, 2021 at 13:14
  • For research without industry funding, I've always seen some literal statement along the lines of "no conflict of interest."
    – adamaero
    Commented Apr 8, 2021 at 13:31
  • 4
    Seems to me the literal statements there describe that they got some level of funding from an industry group with interest in the outcome of the study. What more do you want them to say? Not publish because they got funding from an industry group? If fully funded by, say, the NIH they could state 'no conflict of interest', but that is not the case here and they reveal the potential conflict of interest.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 8, 2021 at 14:21
  • 1
    Please ask only one question per post. Evaluation of a particular study is off-topic. Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 2:46
  • Two studies were given as literal examples.
    – adamaero
    Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 13:34

1 Answer 1

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Conflicts of interest on their own do not imply poor results is the blanket answer to this question. It is true that in several high-profile (and most likely lower profile) research projects funded by industry that muzzling or cherry picking has happened (here is an interesting analysis of one particular industry and its issues). Industry obviously has an interest in funding research that will give them favorable results. However, just because industry has funded the research does not mean that it is automatically untrustworthy.

Unless there is good reason not to, we have to trust in the peer review process and acknowledge that it is our job as readers of research to interpret and contextualize studies regardless of conflicts of interest. For instance, we should always be sure to thoroughly read and understand the methods used in the research and to determine if they are up to acceptable scientific standards.

It is similarly important to understand that a single study or suite of studies does not imply scientific truth. For instance, if a paper shows that they were able to observe a particular thing in a particular population, that implies only that the observation is possible under certain conditions, not that it is universal.

Conflicts of interest are also sometimes unavoidable. A drug company trying to do trials of a specific, proprietary drug must fund those trials. That's a conflict and they obviously have an interest in favorable results, but just because that interest exists does not automatically imply that the results will be untrustworthy.

Finally, just because something is not declared does not mean that you should automatically reject it. Of course be critical, but don't assume that just because something is unclear the authors are being evasive. At the end of the day you can always try to send an email to the corresponding author and ask. Worst thing that happens is you are ignored.

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    It's perhaps also worth noting that 'industry funding' covers a wide range of possibilities. At one extreme, researchers may be contracted by the company to carry out specific studies that the company hopes will benefit its business somehow. At the other end of the spectrum, a company may sponsor scholarships or prizes awarded by a university or professional body, with the company playing no further role in determining what the money is spent on.
    – avid
    Commented Apr 8, 2021 at 15:11

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