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Soc Sci Med. 2000 Dec;51(12):1755-69.

"Impact? What impact?" Epidemiological research findings in the public domain: a case study from north-east England.

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  • 1Depatment of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK.


This paper reflects on the dissemination of potentially controversial research evidence about industrial air pollution and health in north-east England. It draws on a participant observation study of the local impact of a four-year epidemiological research programme in Teesside. The difficulties in and obstacles to disseminating research findings are explored. It may thus be described as a study of the impact of a study. We look at institutional resistance (including from the funders of the research) to any evidence indicating adverse health effects from industrial pollution. We also look at the failure of researchers to surmount such resistance and to communicate effectively with those who lived in the vicinity of the major industrial operations. This leads us to consider how conflicting notions of accountability coloured dissemination strategies as well as researchers' judgements. We offer a critique of fashionable and unduly consensual notions of a 'user community', in a context where different 'user communities' had incompatible expectations about the purpose of a piece of research and the significance of the data to emerge from it. The study also highlights the difficulties of disseminating research findings when the topic has the potential to affect economic interests.

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