If you happened to see the University of Maryland’s press releases touting the benefits of Fifth Quarter chocolate milk for athletes suffering from concussions, you might have wondered if it was an April fools joke.
According to those press releases , University researchers discovered that chocolate milk “helps improve the cognitive and motor functions of high school football players, even after suffering concussions.”
Not just any chocolate milk will do, though. The University’s press releases claimed that a specific brand, Fifth Quarters, stands head and shoulders above other brands of chocolate milk when it comes to boosting the brain power of athletes and concussion sufferers.
A press release posted in July of last year read more like a late-night infomercial hosted by Dr. Oz, rather than a University press release.
Titled “Super Natural Cows Make the Best Sports Recovery Drinks,” it touted, not just best the benefits of Fifth Quarters chocolate milk, but the benefits of capitalism too, proclaiming:
The magic formula for the ultimate sports recovery drink starts with cows, runs through the University of Maryland and ends with capitalism.
According to the press release, which has since been removed from the University’s website, but is still accessible throughGoogle cache :
Richard Doak and Kurt Williams stood behind a fence at a high school football game in the mountains of western Maryland and wondered why kids were getting injured more often. If it wasn’t their training, they thought, then it had to be their nutrition.
Next they did what any good parents would do—they conducted research, created a solution and started a company so athletes everywhere could benefit from their discovery.
If you think this sounds more like a cheesy advertisement than a summary of academic research, you wouldn’t be alone.
It gets worse.
According to the press release, Doak and Williams were surprised by what they discovered:
The freshest milk legally possible, from the best cows, provided more of what athletes’ bodies need than any artificial commercial drink: protein—20 grams, as much as most whey drinks, along with a special kind of protein that remains available for hours after drinking it; electrolytes—far more than products on the shelf; and calcium and vitamin D for strong bones. They added natural cane sugar and cocoa to make it tasty for kids and to restore glycogen to muscles.
But of course they needed proof of this.
That’s why they gave the University of Maryland $228,910 to conduct ‘research’ through UMD’s Industrial Partnership’s Program .
To understand what that program is, and what it means to the future of independent and ethical research, look no further than the school’s own description of it, which cites “academic-industrial, public-private partnerships.”
In other words, this is a program that conducts privately-funded research on behalf of businesses and corporations.
In this case, the ethical problems were entirely obvious.
Without releasing any details on the study, the press release proclaimed that:
Jae Kun Shim , a professor of kinesiology in the School of Public Health, conducted a year-long study to test how well Fifth Quarter Fresh aides the post-exercise recovery of muscular endurance compared to other popular sports drinks. It outperformed competing products by 13-17 percent.
It included the following remarks from Professor Shim:
“I knew they had a high-quality milk with less damaged protein [than whey protein drinks] and more electrolytes, but I didn’t expect it would make much difference for strength endurance recovery. There are many studies out there that show the cardiovascular recovery benefits from milk-based products, but this data is unique because we are showing that the muscular endurance recovery from this chocolate milk is significant. Our data suggests that athletes may be ready faster and better for the next game or practice if they drink Fifth Quarter Fresh chocolate milk.”
And that’s not all folk. According to Industry spokespersons, who had a heavy hand in both the research and the press release:
One secret to making higher quality milk, Doak and Williams discovered, is in the cows—Jerseys and Guernseys—whose milk innately has higher amounts of protein, electrolytes, calcium and carbohydrates than the milk we typically buy in stores. Store milk is produced primarily by Holsteins, which comprise 90 percent of the herds in the U.S. simply because they produce more milk per cow.
It went on to claim:
“Jerseys naturally produce the highest quality milk for human consumption,” said Erick Metzger, general manager of National All-Jersey Inc. , an industry group. “Compared to average milk, a glass of Jersey milk has greater nutritional value. Nutrient-dense Jersey milk tastes better because there are more non-fat solids, protein and calcium in Jersey milk when compared with other breeds.”
The University was forced to retract the study , refunding the $228,910 it received from Fifth Quarters and other milk producers, to conduct what Professor Shim described as a $100,000 research project.
On Friday, the University announced the results of the school’s internal investigation into the project.
As CBS News reports here , the University’s investigation found a “concerning lack of understanding of the basic principles of conflict of interest in research at all levels of the process.”
You don’t say?
The University of Maryland’s ‘chocolate-milk-cures-concussions’ research is likely to go down in history as some of the worst corporate-funded pseudo-science of our time.
The lack of ethics applied by researchers in this specific study are glaringly apparent, even to the most casual observer.
The real concern is that this type of corporate-funded research is taking place more and more often in the United States.Fossil fuel companies pay big money to any ‘researcher’ willing to deny climate change or demonstrate how safe fracking is.
The pharmaceutical industry funds the research that determines whether or not the products it markets to consumers are safe, while Biotech corporations fund research into the safety of GMO. The list of industries buying science goes on and on.
While we often hear that all this corporate money flowing into America’s colleges and universities doesn’t influence research, the Fifth Quarters study shows otherwise.
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