Academic research into public health problems has an uncanny way of confirming the concerns of its funder. That much can be concluded from a fierce exchange over the studies into the role of alcohol in violence.

British anthropologist Anne Fox's research group recently produced a report on the drinking culture and violence in Australia and New Zealand that suggested drinking does not, of itself, cause violence but rather a violent culture is the cause.

Its research was criticised in an international journal this week by Niki Jackson of Auckland University and Kypros Kypri of the Newcastle and Otago Universities.

Expecting they would highlight her study's funding by a brewer, Lion, Dr Fox made a pre-emptive strike accusing Professor Kypri of a conflict of interest. He is associated with the Australian Rechabite Foundation that provides funding for research, advocacy and projects to reduce alcohol-related harm.

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This is not a conflict, he explains. "Public health research is an applied discipline. I don't make any bones about the fact I advocate for strategies to reduce alcohol-related harm."

Ordinary observation suggests the Lion-sponsored report has a point, alcohol has different effects on different people. It makes some more placid and others more violent. It would be interesting to find out some figures for both reactions but it might be hard to find a disinterested funder.

It's academic whether research funded for a worthy social cause or public health campaign is comparable to a commercial conflict of interest.

Debate on this article is now closed.