The winner of the 2024 Peter Troughton Research Staff Prize is Dr Tess Legg, Research Associate in the Department for Health.

Are there risks for public and planetary health when corporations interact with science? While industry-funded research has contributed to the development of many technological advancements, at other times it has been used to obscure the harms of industry products and practices, as Tess explains in a recent profile of her work. According to Tess’s research, corporations, including within the tobacco, pharmaceutical, and agrichemical industries, have long-since used science as a tool to create doubt about product harms, prioritising profit over the wellbeing of consumers and workers. Tess developed an evidence-based typology and model of corporate influence on science, the Science for Profit Model (SPM) (Legg et al., 2021), to map the ways in which corporate sectors have used science for their own ends.

Tess uncovered how corporations have sought to influence all aspects of science: what is researched; how research is conducted, disseminated and interpreted; and whether and how it is used in policy and practice. She found that diverse corporate sectors have done this in remarkably similar ways and for similar reasons, intending to weaken regulation, prevent litigation and maximise product sales.

The SPM has been used in teaching at the University of Bath, University of Yale and Johns Hopkins University, and within an online course on the commercial determinants of heath (CDoH). The model is currently being employed as an analytic framework in other researchers’ projects including those investigating tobacco industry involvement in science on heated tobacco products (University of Bath) and contemporary fossil fuels industry influence on science (Harvard University). Most recently, it has been used by the World Heart Federation as a framework to inform the organisation’s new conflict of interest policy toolkit.

When taken as a whole, Tess’s research demonstrates that mechanisms put in place to protect science from the influence of harmful industries are not yet working as they should. She is now working with colleagues here at Bath and beyond on ways to better ensure science integrity.

After receiving the award, Tess said “Thank you so much to Peter Troughton and the prize committee for this award! I really enjoyed having the opportunity to share my work with a diverse audience and to meet the other researchers who are doing such fantastic work.”

The Peter Troughton Research Staff Prize is awarded on behalf of Senate by the Peter Troughton Research Staff Prize Committee to a postdoctoral member of research staff for outstanding performance in their duties. Sponsor of the award, Peter Troughton, said, “Tess Legg was the winner out of five outstanding finalists, all of whom were conducting serious research across a wide field of enquiry, testament to the University of Bath's reputation.”