Extreme COI: The Named Beer University Studying the Health Effects of Beer?

The Petrie-Flom Center recently co-hosted a conference with the Safra Center on Institutional Financial Conflicts of Interest in Research Universities (fCOI), exploring situations where universities get cozy with industry.  My friend, Jonathan Marks, is doing some really interesting work (see e.g., this) on conflicts of interest in the field of food-health research in particular.  And, Michael Sandel also has a new book out called, What Money Can’t Buy, wherein he covers everything from organ sales to stadium naming rights, lamenting the commodification and loss of truly public spaces. (For example, a certain university near me has given their stadium name to Wells Fargo, along with dozens of other universities that have done likewise.)

In that light, this HuffPo story caught my eye:  “Beer May Have Anti-Virus Properties, According To Study Funded By Sapporo Breweries.”  Not only is the study on Sapporo beer funded by Sapporo Breweries, but it was conducted at “Sapporo Medical University.”  That looks like extreme COI, almost as bad as this, one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons, where the physician is actually wearing ads like a race-car driver.

Seriously, “Sapporo Medical University?”  Is this an instance of a company department simply calling itself a university, like McDonald’s Hamburger U?  Or, did the brewery actually buy the naming rights to the entire university?  Alas, the answer is no:  “Sapporo” is the name of a large city in Japan, where the public “Sapporo Medical University” is located.

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About crobertson

Christopher Robertson is a professor at the James E. Rogers College of Law, University of Arizona, and affiliated faculty with the Petrie Flom Center for Health Care Policy, Bioethics and Biotechnology at Harvard. Robertson also leads the Regulatory Science program, a partnership with the Arizona Health Sciences Center and the Critical Path Institute. Professor Robertson's research focuses on how the law can improve decisions by individuals and institutions -- attending to informational limits, conflicting interests, and cognitive biases, especially in the domain of healthcare. Blending legal, philosophical, and empirical methods, Robertson's work has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, New York University Law Review, Cornell Law Review, Emory Law Journal, and the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. He has received research support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and runs the Law and Behavior Research Lab at the University of Arizona. Robertson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he also served as a Petrie Flom fellow and lecturer. He earned a doctorate in Philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis, where he also taught bioethics. For 2013-2014, he was a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, and will visit at NYU School of Law in 2016-2017. Robertson's legal practice has focused on complex litigation involving medical and scientific disputes.