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A look at some of the pitfall-strewn tradeoffs that have become S.O.P. on the personal, corporate, national and global fronts--but, in execution, not up to its good intentions, Imperato and Mitchell are much less sanguine than some recent commentators about the effects of individual recklessness (for example, smoking, refusing to wear seat belts), corporate and professional irresponsibility (the marketing of dangerously flawed medications like the Eli Lilly Company's Oraflex, the long history of X-ray misuse), and government stonewalling or cowardice (the administrative and legal history of the extremely hazardous urea-formaldehyde foam developed for home insulation, the Department of Transportation's wafflings on automobile air bags). Unfortunately, they are also simplistic and impatient writers who tend to start spelling out heavily loaded implications before they have objectively examined the terms of an issue. The organization looks sensible enough: large sections presenting broadly defined concerns (""chosen"" and ""imposed"" risks, the process of defining a risk or influencing public perception of it, the business of quantifying costs and benefits, etc.) first in general terms and then in issue-by-issue ""close-ups."" But on the whole it fails to work. Genuine complexities are handled pretty much on the same level as competing propaganda claims. Basic concepts--e.g., different ways of measuring epidemiological incidence--are not introduced until halfway through the book; and jungles of Washington regulatory mandates are rarely sorted out enough to put individual cases in adequate perspective. Thoughtful analysis--of the highly publicized Feingold diet for hyperactive children, or the still-unfolding toxic shock syndrome story--alternates with naive attributions of vast, complex, decades-in-the-making product-safety problems to industry greed or the apathy of ""industry and government watchdogs,"" rather than to our rudimentary grasp on yet-unfamiliar areas of public concern. For all its pro-technology bias, the Urquhart-Heilmann Risk Watch (p. 910) is a far more lucid and thought-provoking introduction to the general field of risk analysis, and Lee Niedringhaus Davis' The Corporate Alchemists (p. 437) provides much more incisive insights into many of the individual issues raised here.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Viking