Is industry using research to affect environmental regulation?
Industries worldwide are greatly expanding their sponsorship of research in an era when thousands of newly engineered products are being developed. Studies have shown that industry sponsorship of research is associated with outcomes that are favourable for the sponsor. What does this do to environmental regulation and the understanding of long-term risks? A new FRAM project aims to find out.
FRAM researchers Jessica Coria and Erik Kristiansson have recently received funding for a new project called Smudging and its Effects on Environmental Regulations. The word “smudging” refers to an action where industry groups shape the evidence about the risks generated by their products. This action is likely to slow or prevent regulation of the products.
Previous studies show that industry-funded research is associated with results that are favourable to the industry. For example, research sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry is more likely to yield results that benefit the company's product than studies funded by other sources. Another example is the tobacco industry, which has invested considerable resources in seeking to attack and disprove scientific studies on the effects of passive smoking with the aim of preventing tobacco regulations.
This new project will examine whether, and to what extent, industries have influenced the introduction or design of environmental policy instruments by funding or conducting research with results that are beneficial for the industry. Jessica Coria explains why this is important.
- We need such information to understand how information bias and the shaping of information by interest groups can affect environmental regulations.
The researchers will use text analysis and artificial intelligence to analyse a large part of the scientific literature and create an objective picture of current evidence. The project team will also conduct surveys and economic experiments to understand and quantify how scientific evidence is incorporated into environmental policy decisions.
The results from these analyses are then used in economic modelling to analyse when, how and to what extent, the information can influence the design of environmental regulations.
- Our goal is to contribute to improving the design of environmental policy instruments, says Jessica.
The project Smudging and its Effects on Environmental Regulations is funded for three years at the total amount of SEK 5 million. This is one of four new research projects funded by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. The projects will strengthen the application of socio-economic analyses in environmental work.
The project will be led by Associate Professor Jessica Coria from the FRAM Centre at the University of Gothenburg. Professor Erik Kristiansson at Chalmers University of Technology, and Doctor Magnus Hennlock IVL, the Swedish Environmental Research Institute, are partners in the project.
FRAM is a Centre for Future Chemical Risk Analysis and Management at the University of Gothenburg that works for a safe use of chemicals for both humans and the environment.