Sense about Science ? equipping people to make sense of science and evidence
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- Students 4 Best Evidence should Ask for Evidence
- Recycling schemes and value for money
- How many bins? The decisions we rely on others to make
- Ask for Evidence on recycling claims
- Ask for Evidence - read before you ask
- Is it all in the genes?
- Science advice and the role of evidence in policy
- Quick thoughts on Science magazine 'sting' on peer review.
- It's not worth risking your health or home on "miracle cures"
- The Cancer Act: who to report to
Posted by Volunteer on 06 December 2013
Guest blog by Lucy Homer, University of Liverpool medical student and a member of the Student 4 Best Evidence network
Evidence-based medicine requires a considered use of the best available clinically relevant, ideally patient-centred research. Tracking the evidence down from a wide range of published and unpublished sources, to retrieve potentially relevant trial and other types of data is challenging; once found these data are synthesised and evaluated to aid informed decision-making so that we can offer the best possible treatment or diagnostic pathways for our patients. As future and current healthcare professionals we have a duty of care to our patients, primum non nocere, first do no harm. Over the past decade at least, the media has taken a particular interest in scientific developments in health care from cancer treatments to autism and much more, but, what is most concerning is a lack of evidence and robust scientific testing surrounding some research, tests and treatments, which can result in serious harm and even death in our patients. We strongly believe we should all be asking, “what is your evidence for this?” Especially, when it comes to healthcare choices.
A UK-based charitable trust, Sense about Science, seeks to equip people to make sense of science and encourages an evidence-based approach to scientific and technological developments. Its latest campaign ‘Ask for Evidence’ is encouraging us all to contribute. Like Sense about Science, we believe that evidence for claims about healthcare interventions should be more widely available and the ‘Ask for Evidence’ campaign is just the beginning. We are interested in how to tackle the evidence once identified. What are the next steps in appraising this work? How do we know the work is valid? How do we act on the evidence? This is where we at Students 4 Best Evidence (S4BE) can help.
S4BE are a growing global network of students from school-age to University who are interested in learning more about evidence-based health care. We assimilate resources from across the Internet into one interactive space for discussion and learning. We evaluate resources to enable the best literature to be identified, provide tutorials on crucial principles of evidence-based medicine and we blog about articles and recommendations and the rationale behind them. From our work, we aim to empower readers to continue to learn about formulating research questions, searching the literature and critical appraisal so that they can make the best choices for the future care that they may provide or receive.
While our work mainly focuses on developing students’ knowledge, we believe that through collaboration with Sense about Science, we combine areas of expertise and seek to enable students and early career researchers to find the evidence relevant to their work and patients and identify areas of uncertainty in science and health care that need further investigation. By doing this, we can be more confident that the future choices we make in our care of others, in their choice of preferences and ultimately in our own health care, will be based on the best available evidence.
You can learn more about S4BE by liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter (@Students4BE). If you want to get involved with blogging and reviewing resources for other students then contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org. Students 4 Best Evidence supports the ‘Ask for Evidence’ Campaign, do you?
Posted by Volunteer on 27 November 2013
Nigel Tyrell, Head of Environment for the London Borough of Lewisham, gives his views on recycling priorities.
Few would argue against the importance of increasing the amount of waste we recycle. In Lewisham, we are keenly aware of the appetite of some of our residents for more recycling to take place. Additional recycling services are hugely expensive, and it’s only right that Lewisham evaluates the environmental impact and value for money of proposed service changes. At the same time, council budgets are under huge pressure so it makes sense to make sure our limited resources have the most positive impact on our environment.
The EU Waste Hierarchy (shown in this diagram) dictates how councils should structure their services and focus their attention on the activities closest to the top of the pyramid. The importance of individuals producing less waste is obvious. Nationally, of course, recycling is given prominence as most authorities put a high proportion of their waste into landfill, and as these sites start to run out, recycling is a good way of diverting waste. Lewisham landfills less than most other authorities because we divert much of our waste from landfill to our local energy recovery facility, SELCHP (South East London Combined Heat & Power). This incinerator produces energy from burning waste.
There’s also a lot of resident interest in the borough for offering doorstep garden waste collections. How would this rate in terms of value for money and environmental benefits? It would cost in the region of £1.5 million to provide extra bins and trucks to collect garden waste on a weekly or fortnightly basis. This waste would need to be separately collected and transferred to an anaerobic digestion facility, for example, and turned into fertiliser and bio-fuel, which in turn, could run a generator to produce electricity.
So the end result of all this expenditure would be production of the same amount of energy that the green waste would produce if it were taken to our incinerator, only with fewer trucks, bins and traffic.
There are still some net environmental benefits of sending green waste to an anaerobic digestion facility, but it’s arguably better to keep this stuff out of the waste stream altogether and compost it in your own garden.
Collecting garden waste would really bump-up our recorded recycling performance statistics. It would be very popular with some residents (particularly those with big gardens!). The question is, does it represent the best way of using your money to deliver the most positive results.
Posted by on 26 November 2013
Guest blog by Lydia Le Page
Decisions have been made in our own interests about a host of things around us. How long our street lights are turned on, how many passengers this bus should carry, what food is served in our schools. We hope these decisions are based on sound science and evidence. One way to find out and ensure those making these decisions know they will be held to account is to Ask for Evidence.
I was interested in the decisions our local councils make about their recycling polices. It seemed to me that conversations about domestic recycling usually consist of comments about how it varies from place to place, how many bins, how many times a week, do I have to take the tops off my plastic bottles or can I throw the whole thing in…
It’s all pretty confusing, so I decided to ask for evidence from ten local councils. I wanted to know how they decided on the recycling polices they used and if they based this decision on any scientific evidence.
It turns out all the councils are trying to reach UK recycling targets set by the EU but there is flexibility to take into account resources available in different boroughs. This essentially means local authorities decide for themselves how they’re going to go about reaching these targets. Some of the councils I spoke to had been in discussion with Waste & Resources Action Programme for guidance on the best way to meet EU targets – and then tweaked these to best meet their unique circumstances, because local authorities are all different. Some are more urban and quite small, and affected by things like glass recycling causing noise (tenement housing in Edinburgh), others are more rural and spread over a much larger area. What might be the best solution environmentally speaking for one area, probably isn’t going to be for another.
Councils did seem both open to testing schemes, and looking into expanding their current programmes. St. Albans trialled a separate collection of cardboard, which turned out to not be cost-effective for the amount of cardboard that ended up being collected given the size and light weight of the material. York is investigating if the collection costs of recycling food waste – currently very politically favourable - will be less than current costs of sending it to landfill. And Westminster have looked into recycling disposable cups, but don’t have the facilities to remove the wax coating on the inside – a necessary process for recycling. Cardiff are even doing ‘scenario modelling to forecast assumptions’ to help with the new EU legislation coming in next year. Oxford noted their kerbside separate collections before 2009 were limited in efficiency (spillage of materials) and labour intensive for the collectors. They rationalised their service to introduce co-mingled collection, and not only reduced the cost of recycling (saving £1.2 million) and improved working conditions for the collectors but saw a drop in the number of complaints from residents about glass on the roads, slow refuse vehicles and noise.
So what it comes down to is a balance between (in no particular order) what is cost-effective, practical, politically favourable, and aligned with residents’ wishes. I imagine different councils put varying weight behind each of these pressures to reach the final decisions on their recycling scheme. There were also very specific pressures for some councils, for example Edinburgh is prevented from supplying boxes to the World Heritage protected city centre housing (using bags instead) and has to apply for planning permission to put recycling banks on the streets.
I got the impression that it was taken as read that recycling was good for the environment. Dacorum Borough council even sent me an article from Popular Science Monthly published in 1919 which promoted recycling and good ways to re-use old items (such as bullets!).
So it seems scientific evidence does have its place in these policy decisions, but we have to understand that there are many other pressures. As long as they are transparent about the process and are prepared to listen to what the public want - and the few councils I’ve spoken with have all been happy to help me understand - then I’m happy.
Posted by Prateek Buch on 25 November 2013
How often are your bins collected? How many do you have, and what kind of waste goes into each one? What happens to the waste and recycling once it’s been collected? And on what evidence or rationale – if any – do local authorities across the UK base their approach to waste and recycling?
With hundreds of different waste and recycling schemes in place, it’s easy to get confused about where we should throw our paper, peelings and packaging. Looking just at dry recycling schemes on the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) Information Portal, there are 404 schemes in place across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Four hundred and four – by our reckoning there are 434 local authorities in the UK, so that’s some impressive wheel-reinventing.
We haven’t trawled through these schemes to check if that’s 404 different schemes, but a quick glance shows the vast differences between the various local authorities in what they expect households to do with their waste.
You have to wonder about such variation in policy – why does Aberdeenshire accept foil in their recycling but York appears not to? How come Aylesbury Vale District Council accepts cardboard alongside their garden waste, but not food, whereas Harrow will take residents’ food waste with their lawn cuttings but not cardboard?
It isn’t as if waste management is an evidence-free zone – WRAP hosts reports on dozens of trials looking at the feasibility and impact of different approaches, and there are academic studies into how people can be nudged to recycle more. There’s the peer-reviewed literature to draw upon too, with journals dedicated to the (waste) matter – so how much of that research evidence finds its way into the kerbside wheelie bin?
Why should we ask about evidence on rubbish and recycling? Councillors of all parties across the country play a role in how waste is managed, it’s a key function of local government, and it’s right we subject it to some scrutiny. With billions of pounds spent on waste collection and recycling, and councils under immense financial strain, we need transparency on how this money is spent. Further, the way our waste is handled and recycling carried out could have significant impact on our carbon footprint and environmental pollution, particularly with a greater focus on reducing waste and in waste as a source of energy – but unless we know the evidence on which different waste policies are based, we can’t tell whether local authorities are doing all they can to help reduce climate change and pollution.
Perhaps each local authority carefully weighs up the costs, benefits and risks of various schemes, and evaluates randomised controlled trials of the different waste management options available to them to check which ones increase recycling or reduce landfill. Perhaps. Or maybe, decisions about which plastics we can and can’t recycle on a whim. It’s hard to tell, which is why we should all Ask for Evidence.
Posted by Chris Peters on 14 November 2013
Claims about what is good for our health, bad for the environment, how to improve education or cut crime appear anywhere and everywhere. Some are based on reliable evidence and scientific rigour. Many are not. How can you tell the difference, and what can you do about it? You can Ask for Evidence.
Anyone can ask questions about evidence, whatever your experience. You just need an inquisitive mind and a desire to stand up for science in public life. The more people ask for evidence, the more companies, politicians and commentators will expect to be asked and feel accountable for the claims they make. If they want us to vote for them, believe them or buy their products, then we should ask them for evidence, as consumers, patients, voters and citizens. If they have good evidence to back up their claim, let's see it - if not, they should be held to account.
How do I ask?
You can email the company, politician, journalist or official body making the claim – these days it’s fairly easy to find contact addresses or forms on websites. You can also use the Ask for Evidence postcard – getting something through your letterbox can mean a lot more than getting something in your inbox.
What do I ask?
When you Ask for Evidence, ask them about the science behind the claim: What kind of testing has been done (controlled, blinded tests; a clinical trial; lab studies on an ingredient)? What is the mechanism behind the science? Ask about the status of evidence for the claim: Has the research been peer reviewed and published? Has it been replicated? The answers to these questions should give you a good indication about whether the claims stack up.
The scientific process is impartial. You might begin a science experiment with a prediction on what will happen, but you don’t let your preconceptions effect the outcome. Neither should you let any misgivings you might have about a claim colour your ‘ask’. You might find there is suitable evidence to back it up so it’s important to let whoever is making the claim have the chance to show you their evidence.
It’s just as important to applaud the good use of evidence as it is to hold those misusing evidence to account. The Ask for Evidence campaign is about improving the expectation of evidence in everyday life – it’s not going to achieve that if people misuse it and cause a nuisance of themselves.