And those are just a few of the people who are calling out iffy science with Arnold funding. Laura and John Arnold didn’t start the movement to reform science, but they have done more than anyone else to amplify its capabilities—typically by approaching researchers out of the blue and asking whether they might be able to do more with more money. “The Arnold Foundation has been the Medici of meta-research,” Ioannidis says. All told, the foundation’s Research Integrity initiative has given more than $80 million to science critics and reformers in the past five years alone.
Not surprisingly, researchers who don’t see a crisis in science have started to fight back. In a 2014 tweet, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert referred to researchers who had tried and failed to replicate the findings of a senior lecturer at the University of Cambridge as “shameless little bullies.” After Nosek published the results of his reproducibility initiative, four social scientists, including Gilbert, published a critique of the project, claiming, among other things, that it had failed to accurately replicate many of the original studies. The BMJ investigation, in turn, met with angry denunciations from nutrition experts who had worked on the US Dietary Guidelines; a petition asking the journal to retract Teicholz’s work was signed by more than 180 credentialed professionals. (After an external and internal review, The BMJ published a correction but chose not to retract the investigation.)
The backlash against Teicholz also furnished one of the few occasions when anyone has raised an eyebrow at the Arnolds’ funding of science critics. On the morning of October 7, 2015, the US House Agriculture Committee convened a hearing on the controversy surrounding the dietary guidelines, fueled by the BMJ article. For two and a half hours, a roomful of testy representatives asked why certain nutrition studies had been privileged over others. But about an hour in, Massachusetts representative Jim McGovern leaned into his microphone. Aiming to defend the science behind the guidelines, McGovern suggested that the doubts that had been cast over America’s nutrition science were being driven by a “former Enron executive.” “I don’t know what Enron knows about dietary guidelines,” McGovern said. But “powerful special interests” are “trying to question science.”