Bringing systematic review to climate research

Every day, researchers around the world are making a difference toward advancing our understanding of climate change and its impact on the Earth and on important aspects of our lives, including our health.

One such research team, led by Professor Sir Andy Haines of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is studying how climate change impacts nutrition by altering the quantity and quality of crops that are growing around the world. As an example, by studying the effect of multiple environmental stressors on fruit yield, and studying water scarcity and air pollution, this team hopes to better understand and improve sustainability of the global food system.

To do this, Professor Haines and his team are conducting a systematic review of research from databases such as CAB Abstracts, Medline and Web of Science Core Collection–all of which are part of the larger Web of Science Discovery Platform. Systematic reviews, which are a key element of evidence-based healthcare, are a somewhat new concept to the climate science community.



“The important thing about systematic reviews is the attempt at reducing bias in the research,” Haines said. “We know that if you quickly look at the literature and then quote the studies, you may get a biased view of what the real effect of climate on health might be; or the effects of air pollution. So it’s important to look across a whole range of journals, a whole range of sources of evidence, and to critically appraise the quality of that evidence so we can come to an unbiased view about a particular association,” says Haines.

Professor Haines is co-chair of the Health Knowledge-Action Network of Future Earth, a 10-year initiative to advance Global Sustainability Science, build capacity in this rapidly expanding area of research and provide an international research agenda to guide natural and social scientists working around the world.