The disinformation playbook: how industry manipulates the science-policy process—and how to restore scientific integrity

Genna Reed*, Yogi Hendlin, Anita Desikan, Taryn MacKinney, Emily Berman, Gretchen T. Goldman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
292 Downloads (Pure)


For decades, corporate undermining of scientific consensus has eroded the scientific process worldwide. Guardrails for protecting science-informed processes, from peer review to regulatory decision making, have suffered sustained attacks, damaging public trust in the scientific enterprise and its aim to serve the public good. Government efforts to address corporate attacks have been inadequate. Researchers have cataloged corporate malfeasance that harms people’s health across diverse industries. Well-known cases, like the tobacco industry’s efforts to downplay the dangers of smoking, are representative of transnational industries, rather than unique. This contribution schematizes industry tactics to distort, delay, or distract the public from instituting measures that improve health—tactics that comprise the “disinformation playbook.” Using a United States policy lens, we outline steps the scientific community should take to shield science from corporate interference, through individual actions (by scientists, peer reviewers, and editors) and collective initiatives (by research institutions, grant organizations, professional associations, and regulatory agencies).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)622-634
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Public Health Policy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
To curb funding abuses that potentially endanger research integrity, institutions can establish firewalls between industry funders and researchers. Third-party intermediaries, like independent government agencies, can receive industry money and reallocate it to vetted researchers or organizations for conducting product testing. Some academic institutions have created systems to prevent commercial interests from unduly influencing research, including committees to manage COIs and enforcement mechanisms for ethics agreements [23]. Outside the US, some governments have launched initiatives to separate industry funding from product safety testing. For example, the Italian Medicines Agency taxes the pharmaceutical industry’s drug promotion to fund research on drug efficacy and safety [19].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


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