Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Disclosure, corporate sponsorship, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND)

Ethan Bergman, president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), responded in a press release on Jan. 23 to Michele Simon's critical report about corporate sponsorship at the national dietetics group (which U.S. Food Policy covered last week).

A key part of Bergman's response was his statement that AND has its own independent and "statistically sound" sample survey demonstrating "continued support" from dietitians for the Academy's current corporate sponsorship practices and policies:
Each year, the Academy utilizes Performance Research, an independent, third-party research company, to examine a random selection of members that is a statistically sound representation of the Academy membership as a whole. The results from these representative surveys have shown an increased awareness and continued support of the sponsorship program.
Since last week, I have been asking AND's media office to send the questions, results, and sampling methods.  I wanted to share this information with my statistics students, because it shows how discussions of sampling methods can matter for real-world high-profile policy debates, and I wanted to do a blog post noting the survey's key results.  Today, the media office confirmed that they will not disclose this information:
I apologize, but we do not share the survey or its results with outside professionals. I appreciate your interest in the issue, especially with regard to your students, and apologize for the inconvenience.
The response is polite and professional, but it still seems to me quite unsatisfactory.  If the Performance Research survey is so reassuring and statistically sound, it seems quite odd not to share it with the public.

Also this week, because this debate heightens people's awareness that funding sources are connected to the perceived credibility of public interest research and writing, I asked Michele Simon who funded her report.  She responded that, at the request of the funder, she could not disclose this information.

I feel considerable admiration for all people trying to make a living doing good work in the public interest.  Each in their own way, Michele Simon and AND make hard choices about research funding in order to make possible the work they do to promote a healthier and more nutritious food system.

Still, let me speak up in favor of more disclosure all around.  The public is not stupid.  We can handle this information without overreacting.

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