The media constantly bombard us with news of health hazards lurking in our everyday lives, but many of these hazards turn out to have been greatly overblown. According to author and epidemiologist Geoffrey C. Kabat, this hyping of low-level environmental hazards leads to needless anxiety and confusion on the part of the public concerning which exposures have important effects on health and which are likely to have minimal or no effect. Kabat approaches health scares as "social facts" and shows that a variety of factors can contribute to the inflating of a hazard. These include skewed reporting by the media, but also, surprisingly, the actions of researchers who may emphasize certain findings while ignoring others; regulatory and health agencies eager to show their responsiveness to the health concerns of the public; and politicians and advocates with a stake in a particular outcome. By means of four case studies, Kabat demonstrates how a powerful confluence of interests can lead to overstating or distorting the scientific evidence.
He considers the health risks of pollutants such as DDT as a cause of breast cancer, electromagnetic fields from power lines, radon within residences, and secondhand tobacco smoke. Tracing the trajectory of each of these hazards from its initial emergence to the present, Kabat shows how publication of more rigorous studies and critical assessments ultimately help put hazards in perspective.
Geoffrey Kabat is Senior epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center. He is the author of Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology and Getting Risk Right, both with CUP. He also blogs regularly for Forbes magazine.
Preface Abbreviations 1. introduction: Toward a Sociology of Health Hazards in Daily Life 2. Epidemiology: Its Uses, Strengths, and Limitations 3. Does the Environment Cause Breast Cancer? 4. Electromagnetic Fields: The Rise and Fall of a "Pervasive Threat" 5. The Science and Politics of Residential Radon 6. The Controversy Over Passive Smoking: A Casualty of the "Tobacco Wars" 7. Conclusion Appendix A: List of Interviews Appendix B: How Findings Can Be Reported in a Way That Puts Them in Perspective Notes Glossary Bibliography Credits Index