THE APOCALYPTICS: Politics, Science, and the Big Cancer Lie by Edith Efron

THE APOCALYPTICS: Politics, Science, and the Big Cancer Lie

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A curious, inflammatory book--based on this unblinkable set of facts: for several years, Americans were led to believe, erroneously, that a cancer epidemic was shaping up; that, because most cancers are environmentally linked, the chief culprit was industrial pollution; that, in one of the author's milder restatements, ""cancer prevention is the regulation of industry."" The truth, as most people are now aware, is that, lung cancer apart, the American cancer rate has been quite level; and the environmental causes include lifestyle factors like diet and exposure to sunlight (and natural as well as synthetic carcinogens). Strictly occupational hazards, moreover, appear to account for only 5-6 percent of all cancers. How did the misapprehension arise? According to Efron (The News Twisters) ""apocalyptic theorists"" Rachel Carson and Barry Commoner (most prominently) minimized nature's role in cancer causation. Then: ""The 'environmentalists' and ecologists, whose base was the EPA, demanded control of industry in the name of nature's innocence, while experts in chemical carcinogenesis and occupational toxicologists, whose base was OSHA, demanded control of industry on the grounds of 'man's' guilt; and 'public interest' groups emerged to do battle for both factions."" The press was taken in; the public was ignorant; epidemiologists, who knew better, hesitated to publicly attack other scientists. Efron's argument is elaborate and tortuous--500 pages not only tracing how the ""apocalyptic paradigm"" took hold, but also challenging the validity of animal testing, the ""no-threshold theory"" of exposure to carcinogens, and the very idea of ""cancer prevention."" The net effect--indeed, the stated intent--is to discredit the ""'regulatory' scientists."" (Even now, ""genetic activists"" are ""stamping in the wings with utopian plans for protecting the nation from they-do-not-know-what."") Efron's exhumation has the merit of showing how a danger became a scare--though she makes no allowance, in her elitist-conspiracy allegations, for simple misunderstanding of the term ""environmental."" Otherwise, her counterblast is no less political, or ideological, than what she is striving against.

Pub Date: April 24th, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster