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Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology Hardcover – July 3, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0231141482 ISBN-10: 0231141483 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1 edition (July 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231141483
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231141482
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,098,244 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

The book can engage and enlighten regarding the complex context in which known and suspected health risks are identified, explored, and acted on.

(Barbara Gastel, M.D., M.P.H The New England Journal of Medicine)

A strong, valuable corrective to public understanding of the debate of environmental hazards... Highly Recommended.

(CHOICE)

Reading and reflecting on the thesis of this book can only help epidemiologists be more aware of our place in society and thus be more effective contributors.

(David A. Savitz American Journal of Epidemiology 1900-01-00)

With clarity and dispassion, Geoffrey C. Kabat challenges widespread beliefs that secondhand smoke, low levels of radon, and other ostensible environmental nemeses are certain killers. In making his case, Kabat draws extensively on scientific evidence while shunning rhetoric and political posturing. The result is an admirable search for scientific truth amid a sea of conflicting and often uninformed opinions.

(Leonard Cole, Rutgers University)

Geoffrey C. Kabat, a respected epidemiologist, provides an insider's account of how a number of ostensible health hazards have been blown out of proportion. While we face a daily barrage of health scares, Kabat cuts through the confusion and provides a lucid and rigorous rationale for rejecting much of the fear culture that permeates our society.

(Shelly Ungar, University of Toronto)

This book does an exceptionally good job, first by putting epidemiology within the context of public health and then by explaining key terms, concepts, and methods. It provides a penetrating treatment of a difficult and complex subject in a readily understandable way.

(Steven D. Stellman, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University)

"Kabat, who wrote Hyping Health Risks--a fascinating and detailed examination of how we fell for certain, illusory environmental hazards--is possibly the only epidemiologist in the world to have also published a book on Dostoyevsky (he got a Ph.D in Russian and comparative literature from Columbia before switching tracks). And the background in literary analysis and theory adds a crucial ability to explain why we, as a society, are prone to turning hypothetical risks into "social facts." The upshot is that most public alarms about health risks dispense with the tools required to make sense of the alarm--and we end up with "disembodied findings" and ideology."

(Trevor Butterworth Forbes)

"Health scares come and go, but they often have a tenuous scientific basis. Kabat, a cancer epidemiologist, systematically rips through cancer alerts that overrode scientific rigor in recent decades. In so doing, he dispels the dubious science underlying the scares and explains how public confusion can come about. … He extends his critique to debates linking radon gas exposure and secondhand cigarette smoke exposure to lung cancer. Those chapters will ruffle some feathers, but Kabat is unafraid of controversy."

(Nathan Seppa ScienceNews)

rich and valuable...

(Trevor Butterworth Forbes.com)

Review

Geoffrey C. Kabat, a respected epidemiologist, provides an insider's account of how a number of ostensible health hazards have been blown out of proportion. While we face a daily barrage of health scares, Kabat cuts through the confusion and provides a lucid and rigorous rationale for rejecting much of the fear culture that permeates our society.

More About the Author

As an epidemiologist, Geoffrey Kabat has studied the causes of cancer for thirty years, focusing on a range of factors including smoking, alcohol, diet, hormones, obesity, and electromagnetic fields. In recent years he became interested in the way in which information about health risks often gets distorted and exaggerated, leading to widespread confusion among the public about what risks are worth worrying about. His book "Hyping Health Risks" (2008) attempts to explain how a variety of factors contribute to the "manufacture" of hazards and how the resulting "hazards" must be understood as "social facts." The book has been favorably reviewed in the New England Journal of Medicine, the American Journal of Epidemiology, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere, and was named an "outstanding academic title, 2009" by CHOICE.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Mcfadden on January 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dr. Kabat's analysis of how the media presents scientific studies and how the public is easily fooled into fear by perceptions that the "cause of the day" represents a real and imminent threat to their lives is beautifully done.

Dr. Kabat avoids the easy road of political polemic and presents his work in a style that's rigorous and above attack. I spend an inordinate amount of time researching current news and opinions regarding one of the subjects he treats (the "secondhand smoke scare" issue) and have observed that the critics who might normally be expected to attack a work like this are simply dead silent: they have no substantive criticisms to offer and the style of his work doesn't lend itself well to simple silly mudslinging. And while he treats each of several different problems independently within their own sections of the book, he does a beautiful job of couching those analyses within a larger themed structure that draws a compelling picture of a need for a wide reassessment of how scientific research is done and presented to the public in today's world of headline-hungry media.

The approach and style is more formal than some other books in the same area (My own work, while sticking tightly to a high standard of accuracy, tends to be a bit more polemic than Kabat's.) and the font size could have been just a bit larger (Hey, I'm being picky here, but once you get over 40 or so you appreciate bigger fonts!) but the content is absolutely stellar and I have no hesitation at all in giving both the book and Dr. Kabat a five star review.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful By F. R Anscombe on October 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In a dispassionate and painstaking way, Kabat sheds light on four health scares: radon, electromagnetic fields from power lines, DDT as a cause of breast cancer, and second-hand tobacco smoke.
If epidemiologists are to contribute useful insights, they need to be mindful of strengths versus weaknesses in evidence. Kabat quotes a distinguished pioneer of risks associated with cigarettes, Sir Richard Peto: "epidemiology is so beautiful and provides such an important perspective on human life and death, but an incredible amount of rubbish is published." After hyping by journalists, rubbish can be given undue credibility by governments eager to respond to public concerns. John Ioannadis: "In the past, we had few research findings, while currently we have too many research findings. Therefore, getting rid of tentative but wrong research findings should become at least as important as finding new ones." Kabat supports weighing evidence in a critically-minded, inter-disciplinary way. The only way to overcome misinformation is via still stronger science.
Chapter 2 overviews the field of epidemiology. Kabat mentions examples of valuable achievements: cholera as a water-borne disease; smoking and cancers; alcohol and cancers; risk factors for heart disease; estrogen, progesterone and breast cancer; sleep position and sudden infant death syndrome; solar radiation and skin cancer; hepatitis b and liver cancer. Cholera was a clear cause, a problem amenable to investigation by mapping victims and water supplies.
Kabat readably integrates narrow articles into an understandable big picture. Physicist William R.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Gordon S. Hassing on September 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Professor Kabat does an excellent job in describing how a combination of zealous regulators, activists, and media can combine to magnify "alarming" results of preliminary, usually inadequate or poorly done studies. Once these headlines are in the public psyche, it can take years, even decades, of further, expensive studies to demonstrate the early alarms were false. Meanwhile, many are scared, and billions of dollars are spent to "fix" or "avoid" the so-called problem.

Four examples are explored in detail, complete with literature references. They are: a) environmental chemicals can cause breast cancer, b) electromagnetic fields (mostly from power lines) can cause various cancers, c)radon gas in homes can cause lung cancer, and d)the (lack of)effects of second-hand smoke. The discussions are thorough and convincing. In addition, Professor Kabat has a chapter describing the science of epidemiology, and points out the usefulness as well as the weakness of the technique.

This is an excellent read for both the layman and the professional in the field.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Braven Griffin on February 22, 2014
Format: Paperback
While conducting research of studies linking secondhand smoke to lung cancer, I came across a compelling book: “Hyping Health Risks” by Professor Geoffrey Kabat. When I first approached the topic, I accepted the idea that second hand smoke was a major cause of lung cancer and heart disease in non-smokers. Being born in the early 90’s, I have been taught by family, doctors, teachers, and the United States government that this was a scientifically proven fact. I was skeptical, therefore, when I first came across the research conducted by James Enstrom and Kabat. A quick search into the credibility of Enstrom and Kabat reveals that they received funding from the tobacco industry. Kabat mentions this in Chapter 6 of his book in reference to their study which found no correlation between environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and lung cancer or heart disease, “the last 7 years of [the] 39-year project were funded by the tobacco industry” (p 172). I began looking for signs of poor research and/or poor logic. As an undergraduate with no medical experience, I have very little credibility in proving or disproving the quality of research in Kabat and Enstrom’s work, but looking through the many critical responses from other researchers of the topic, I was unable to find any attack that did not fall into the realm of Ad Hominem.
I was not able to find any critics who described how the results obtained were skewed. It also seems unlikely that Kabat would defend the position of restricting smoke in public places and refer to ETS as an unnecessary pollutant that no human should be exposed to if he is influenced by the tobacco industry. With no evidence as to how the tobacco industry or the other industries for the case studies in this book tampered with research, I began to critically review the claims made.
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