Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology

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Columbia University Press, Jul 7, 2008 - Medical - 272 pages
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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.
 

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Contents

Toward a Sociology of Health Hazards in Daily Life
1
Its Uses Strengths and Limitations
19
3 DOES THE ENVIRONMENT CAUSE BREAST CANCER?
47
The Rise and Fall of a Pervasive Threat
77
5 THE SCIENCE AND POLITICS OF RESIDENTIAL RADON
111
A Casualty of the Tobacco Wars
147
7 CONCLUSION
183
List of Interviews
189
How Findings Can Be Reported in a Way That Puts Them in Perspective
191
NOTES
193
GLOSSARY
215
BIBLIOGRAPHY
221
CREDITS
239
INDEX
241
Copyright

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About the author (2008)

Geoffrey C. Kabat is a cancer epidemiologist whose research has focused on the effects of smoking, alcohol, diet, hormones, electromagnetic fields, and other factors. He has been on the faculty of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the school of medicine of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and has published over 80 scientific papers. Currently he is senior epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

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