Dr Ben Goldacre: on politics and evidence based policy

I write this quickly, at the end of my lunch break before re-entering the world of PhD Chapter 7, the relations between EHPs and politicians! My lunch was made more pleasant by the discovery of this video-clip made by Dr Ben Goldacre for the BBC’s  Newsnight programme:

I did a Newsnight thing about how politics needs better data

Here Ben argues that our democracy could be improved by more evidence based policy in politics both to improve practice and to better hold our politicians to account if they fail to deliver. All these arguments apply to our own environmental health worlds, but I would differ slightly in that we need to utilise all the research tools available (not just randomised trials) towards better understanding what works and what doesn’t!

In UK election year I thought the video was also a timely reminder of our eBook (page 7) advice on evidence:

  • Tune your ‘warning antennae’ to alert you every time you see terms like evidence or evidence based in a publication or hear someone describe their work in this way;
  • Turn to the references page or challenge the speaker about what they mean by evidence (e.g. what evidence have you used?)?
  • If there are no references, or the publication is poorly referenced, or the references are based on single studies or personal experiences or have been carried out by those with vested interests they might not have declared – treat the ‘evidence’ with extreme caution.

With this in mind, thanks to my colleague Alan for drawing attention to the work of EHP Howard Price of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health who recently uncovered the lack of evidence supporting the claim of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles that British councils were unnecessarily silencing church bells:

http://www.ehn-online.com/news/article.aspx?id=13896&dm_i=1RSV,38V58,B8770E,BMC6B,1

The work of Professor Paul Almond of Reading University (search for ‘The Dangers of Hanging Baskets’) suggests that countering environmental health ‘myths’ like this from government and the media is not straightforward for many reasons, not least because they reflect key concerns of our late-modern society – e.g. questioning the moral legitimacy of regulators and their right to impose legal controls on society… but my break is over and its time to get back to my own evidence.

With best wishes,

Rob

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