logoFollow The Grant

Data and investigations about potential conflicts of interest within academic research


The project

Born several years ago at a Süddeutsche Zeitung “hackathon”, the idea for the data project grew after the journalists developed their own data model based on the “Follow the Money” concept of Aleph, open-source software used for structured data research in investigative newsrooms.

Over the past three years, the project has evaluated more than 4.9 million medical articles from 27,000 journals worldwide, including work by around 8.5 million authors. The project database is available for further research.

The project revealed that conflicts of interest are widely underreported in scientific literature. It identified examples of failure to disclose conflicts of interest and showed which companies are heavily involved in research that has conflicts of interest.

The conflicts

Conflicts of interest in research and medicine are an important issue and a worthwhile subject for investigation in science journalism. Conflicts of interest arise when researchers, medical doctors or other experts receive monetary benefits (for example for consulting companies), which in turn influence their decisions. This influence has been described in detail scientifically.

For example, in medicine, scientific studies show that payments from pharmaceutical companies are associated with a change in prescribing behavior, i.e. doctors can prescribe different drugs that they would otherwise. A comprehensive database for journalistic investigations of conflicts of interest is missing at the moment.

Follow the Grant aims to close the gap. We are using conflict of interest statements from scientific articles. Many scientific journals require their authors to disclose such conflicts of interest when publishing scientific articles. We aim to enable journalists to check what potential conflicts of interest a particular expert has. It can also be the foundation for investigative reporting looking at discrepancies in the disclosure of funding and conflicts of interest.

The team

Hristio Boytchev

Hristio Boytchev is the founder and project manager of Follow the Grant. He is responsible for the journalistic direction of the project. Hristio is a Berlin based investigative health and science journalist, focusing on research integrity and systemic problems in health. He is currently at the investigation unit of The BMJ (formerly known as The British Medical Journal). He was awarded the “European Science Journalist of the Year 2021” prize by the European Federation for Science Journalism. Hristio has worked for the German investigative non-profit Correctiv and the Science Media Center Germany.
hrist.io | twitter | LinkedIn

Simon Wörpel

Simon Wörpel is an independent investigative data journalist, researcher and leak librarian. He specializes in documents processing, data engineering and data analysis for journalistic investigations. Simon works for different non-profit organizations, newspapers and media outlets in germany. There he advises and implements software tools for research teams to enable data mining, documents processing and data analysis to enable data-driven investigative journalism.
wrpl.de | investigativedata.io | github

Edgar Zanella Alvarenga

Edgar Zanella Alvarenga is a freelance developer that worked in different projects from data science, bio informatics, open access educational content and tools to data visualization.
LinkedIn | github | gitlab

Previous team

In an earlier stage, Elena Erdmann and Karl Scholze contributed to the project as well.