Randomised controlled trials – a new resource for EH professionals

BBC Radio 4 has always been a rich resource for environmental health researchers.  Programmes like Thinking Allowed (social science), More or Less (debunking statistics), In Our Time (history) and the Infinite Monkey Cage (celebrating science) inform, challenge and entertain. The websites accompanying these programmes also provide an invaluable archive and we’ve listed some of our past favourite programmes in the bulletins archive on our publications page.

This invaluable public service continued on the Today programme this morning when Ben Goldacre, to whom all researchers are indebted, introduced Test, Learn, Adapt: developing public policy with randomised controlled trials which he co-authored and has just been published on the British Government’s Cabinet Office website. It can be accessed for free via Ben’s blog:

http://www.badscience.net/2012/06/heres-a-cabinet-office-paper-i-co-authored-about-randomised-trials-of-government-policies/#more-2524

On the myCIEH blog a while back EH professional Patrick Mackie started a post about the need for RCTs in environmental health which developed some interest. I’ve never been involved in a RCT before, but having just skimmed the document during my tea break (I will read it more carefully this evening) I think it will be of considerable interest to EH professionals and students. The language is very clear and jargon free, the nine step guide straightforward and the examples include environmental health interventions (e.g. pages 24-25 – waste recycling & deworming/school absenteeism).

A word of warning, however, that we emphasise in our forthcoming eBook. We’ve observed that some EH professionals (and our public health colleagues) seem wedded to quantitative research tools like the RCT as the ‘gold standard’. We suspect one reason might be that research methods in Universities are frequently not taught by EH academics because they are not research active/experienced; instead students are taught by researchers from disciplines (e.g. natural sciences, epidemiology) more wedded to ‘crunching the numbers’ to put it crudely. We don’t reject these quantitative approaches, quite the contrary, but we think EH professionals should be utilising all the diverse tools available to develop our understanding of environmental health and select the most appropriate tool(s) for the problem we are investigating. We therefore welcome this publication with open arms and hope it will start building the confidence of EH professionals to invest in RCTs.

With best wishes, Rob

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