Profile: Professor Ian Roberts
Professor Ian Roberts from the Nutrition and Public Health Intervention Research Unit talks about his career and research
"According to the dissident North American writer Noam Chomsky, the responsibility of academics is to speak the truth and to expose lies. Chomsky recognised that academics are a privileged minority "with the leisure, facilities and training to seek the truth hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interests through which the events of current history are presented to us." More than any other discipline, public health provides an opportunity to take up Chomsky's challenge.
I trained as a paediatrician in the UK and then in epidemiology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand and at McGill University, Canada. My research interests include the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of injury, with the aim of providing rigorous evidence on which to base intervention strategies. I am co-ordinating editor of the Cochrane Injuries Group, an international network of individuals who prepare and maintain systematic reviews of the effectiveness of interventions in the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of injury.
One of the research areas I work in is the prevention of road traffic crashes and the treatment and rehabilitation of road crash victims. Every day about 3,000 people die and about 30,000 people are seriously injured on the world's roads. Most of the casualties are in low and middle income countries and most are vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists and riders of motorised two wheelers. The World Bank believes that a partnership between big business, civil society and governments can deliver real improvements in road safety in low and middle-income countries. The partnership includes such corporate giants as the motor manufacturers Ford, Daimler-Chrysler and Volvo, and the drink manufacturers Bacardi-Martini and United Distillers of North America. The interventions proposed by the partnership include road safety awareness campaigns and pedestrian education for children. Is this a public health necessity or a political naivety?
I work within the Nutrition and Public Health Intervention Research Unit. The Unit was recently established to provide valid and reliable evidence on the effectiveness of public health interventions. By establishing what works in public health, the unit aims to provide information that will reduce the global burden of disease and injury. For example, finding out whether road safety education will make any impact whatsoever on the 300,000 childhood road deaths each year is about establishing effectiveness. In this case, one might start by conducting a systematic review of the existing controlled evaluation studies of pedestrian safety education. However, all too often the effectiveness of an intervention cannot be determined reliably on the basis of the currently available evidence, perhaps because the existing studies were too small or poorly designed. In these situations it is necessary to work with those planning the implementation of public health interventions and attempt to orchestrate their implementation in a way that facilitates rigorous evaluation. Research within the Unit involves quantitative and qualitative research methods and a range of study designs, but the thrust is on providing information to guide policy. To quote another dissident writer, a European this time, all social is essentially practical... the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.
I am confident I could not have chosen a better place than this School, it is truly unique in the encouraging attitude that exists towards undertaking research that spans many scientific disciplines."
Professor Astrid Fletcher also works in the Nutrition and Public Health Intervention Research Unit