Systematic review (SR) is a rigorous, protocol-driven approach designed to minimise error and bias when summarising the body of research evidence relevant to a specific scientific question. Taking as a comparator the use of SR in synthesising research in healthcare, we argue that SR methods could also pave the way for a “step change” in the transparency, objectivity and communication of chemical risk assessments (CRA) in Europe and elsewhere. We suggest that current controversies around the safety of certain chemicals are partly due to limitations in current CRA procedures which have contributed to ambiguity about the health risks posed by these substances. We present an overview of how SR methods can be applied to the assessment of risks from chemicals, and indicate how challenges in adapting SR methods from healthcare research to the CRA context might be overcome. Regarding the latter, we report the outcomes from a workshop exploring how to increase uptake of SR methods, attended by experts representing a wide range of fields related to chemical toxicology, risk analysis and SR. Priorities which were identified include: the conduct of CRA-focused prototype SRs; the development of a recognised standard of reporting and conduct for SRs in toxicology and CRA; and establishing a network to facilitate research, communication and training in SR methods. We see this paper as a milestone in the creation of a research climate that fosters communication between experts in CRA and SR and facilitates wider uptake of SR methods into CRA.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Funding for the workshop was provided through the Economic & Social Science Research Council grant “Radical Futures in Social Sciences” (Lancaster University) and Lancaster Environment Centre. CH, PW, AR are grateful to Lancaster University's Faculty of Science & Technology “Distinguished Visitors” funding programme. The Royal Society of Chemistry is acknowledged for generously providing a meeting room, refreshments and facilitating the workshop proceedings. The PhD studentship of PW is partly funded through Lancaster Environment Centre. The contribution of non-author workshop participants to the development of the manuscript is also greatly appreciated.
© 2015 The Authors
- Research synthesis
- Risk assessment
- Systematic review