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Good Intentions Are Not Enough
on December 17, 2007
If a non-fiction book could be judged by good intentions, the perfect resume of its author, and passion for subject, this book would be rated 5-star. Its main thesis is that environmental exposures, especially workplace exposures, are the primary causes of cancer, and that exposures other than smoking are at least as important as smoking. To make a long story short, this, in my opinion, was not accomplished. What is needed in a book of this sort, besides the anguished tales of slow death from cancer or oncologists, is a clear estimate of what fraction of cancer deaths are caused by smoking, what fraction by chemical exposure, and what fraction by neither. Nothing of the sort was done. There were too few numbers and too much innuendo.
The form is good in that there is a good index and many citations with numbers in the text (the best way). Unfortunately, so many claims or suppositions are made that ten times the number of citations would not have supported them all. Writing is easy to read, with some occasional grammatical slips and misspellings.
Example after example of hazardous exposures were given, some dating back and well-known from the 18th century (scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps), workers in chemical plants using the dye intermediates (precursors) 2-aminonaphthalene and benzidine, radium-dial watch painters, blacksmiths, miners of all kinds, and many others. In no case were the cancers observed quantified so we can see how serious the numbers were by the usual method of toxicologists: deaths per 100,000 of population exposed per year. Many examples of concealing these cancers are given; this is very well done.
One of the ploys of Big Pharma in overpromoting its drugs was used throughout -- relative risk (RR) with no absolute risk (usually). And for the same reason: RR always gives bigger numbers. If you do something beneficial and the absolute risk (AR) drops from 2 in a 1,000,000 to 1 in a 1,000,000, that would be presented as a RR=0.5 or 50%, or a drop in risk of 50%, which sounds bigger. Every chart (seemingly) or table has some error in it, such as the Y-axes had no units, just numbers, but numbers of what? Or a study of electromagnetic effects that fails to include the numbers of those most exposed, even while presenting the numbers of those not exposed, and thus only RR is seen, and AR cannot be calculated.
The utter nonsense that all ionizing radiation is dangerous is in full bloom here. Never mind the facts -- that we are hit with about 1,600,000 cosmic rays per minute as determined using plastic scintillator detectors the size and shape of the human body. Study after study has shown that exposures to Xrays at 5-15 rads per year lowers cancer rates. See: Joel M. Kauffman, "Radiation Hormesis: Demonstrated, Deconstructed, Denied, Dismissed, and Some Implications for Public Policy", J. Scientific Exploration , 17(3), 389-407 (2003). To top it off, Davis worries about Xray exposure in medical imaging of .017 cGy/yr (rad/yr) for a dental set, 0.4 for a mammogram, and 6 for a body CT scan, yet hardly blinks at the typical 6000 cGy given to a cancer victim. Note that ID, CO and NM, with a background radiation level of 0.72 cG/yr have 20% lower cancer rates than AL, LA, MS with 0.22 cG/yr. Many such examples exist.
Contrarily, the Donora, PA, deadly smog of 1948 was cited repeatedly, as it was the parental home of Davis; but never with a hint that the deadly agent was some form of fluoride. See: Bryson C (2004). The Fluoride Deception, New York, NY: Seven Stories Press. Fluoride ion causes a 10% increase in over all cancer rates, including bone, breast and lung. To me it is inconceivable that a big treatise on enviromental carcinogens could leave out fluoride ion. The RR of bone cancer in boys who drink fluoridated town water is 4-7 fold (RR=4-7). See: Bassin EB et al., Age-specific fluoride exposure in drinking water and osteosarcoma (United States), Cancer Causes Control 2006;17:421-428.
And the very title of this book is misleading. The "War on Cancer" has always meant research on treatment, not the causes. The mostly useless standard treatments are not criticised for the painful waste that they are, and no promising alternative was ever even hinted at. See: Fisher B, Jeong J-H, Anderson S, Bryant J, Fisher ER, Wolmark N ( 2002). Twenty-Five-Year Follow-Up of a Randomized Trial Comparing Radical Mastectomy, Total Mastectomy, and Total Mastectomy Followed by Irradiation. New England Journal of Medicine 347(8):567-575; Moss RW (2000). Questioning Chemotherapy, Brooklyn, NY: Equinox Press.
When you have looked over the 127 questionable statements that are vetted below (or e-mail email@example.com), and you remember that only 2 or 3 serious errors will make a reader suspicious of everything in such a book, you will probably agree that Davis is less credible than she might have been, even in areas where she may be correct.