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Environmental Cancer—A Political Disease?

Environmental Cancer—A Political Disease?

S. Robert Lichter
Stanley Rothman
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Environmental Cancer—A Political Disease?
    Book Description:

    Media reports on environmental cancer are frequent and frightening. Public policy-and public spending-reflect widespread concern over the presence of carcinogens in our air and water and food. Yet how reliable is mass media information about environmental cancer? How accurate are the risk assessments that underlie our public policy decisions?In this provocative book, S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman examine the controversies surrounding environmental cancer and place them in historical perspective. Then, drawing on surveys of cancer researchers and environmental activists, they reveal that there are sharp differences between the two groups` viewpoints on environmental cancer. Despite these differences, a further comparison-between the views of the two groups and the content of television and newspaper accounts over a two-decade period-shows that press reports most frequently cite the views of environmental activists as if they were the views of the scientific community. These findings cast doubt on the objectivity of the news media and environmental activists. And, the authors conclude, misplaced fears about the risks of environmental cancer have seriously distorted public policy and priorities.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14858-9
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 Historical Lessons of the Environmental Movement
    (pp. 1-22)

    THREE DECADES AGO, FEW AMERICANS could have imagined the extent to which environmental issues now pervade their society. Everything appears to be turning “green.” Manufacturers proudly advertise products packaged with recycled materials; recycling bins are appearing in airports and schools, on neighborhood curbs, and in grocery stores. Entire lines of environmentally friendly and recycled products, from paper goods to cleaning supplies to greeting cards, line store shelves. Schools are incorporating ecological issues into the curriculum; even children’s cartoons and toys reflect environmental themes.

    Many politicians actively compete for the green vote, wooing voters with promises to support policies of environmental...

  5. 2 Understanding Contemporary Environmentalism
    (pp. 23-53)

    THE MODERN ENVIRONMENTAL movement is a product of historical events of the past two centuries. But the vast social, economic, technological, and ideological changes of the 1960s and 1970s transformed the way Americans think and act about the environment. They also helped turn the relatively small-scale conservation movement into the immense and powerful environmental movement. The shifts in thought follow directly from the preservationist and conservationist roots of early environmentalism, yet the intensity and pervasiveness of the new movement has been unparalleled.

    Although the modern environmental movement consists of many different factions, two prominent ideological views, ecocentrism and technocentrism, form...

  6. 3 What Is Environmental Cancer?
    (pp. 54-98)

    AMERICANS FEAR CANCER MORE than any other disease. One Gallup poll found that the public overwhelmingly selected cancer as “the worst thing that can happen to you” when presented with a list of illnesses. Heart disease, which actually kills more people each year, was six times less likely to be selected (Blumenthal, 1978).¹ This fear is hardly groundless. Nearly four hundred thousand Americans will die from cancer this year, and it often kills in a slow, painful fashion. Heart disease is widely perceived as a quick, “clean” death, while cancer is seen as debilitating and horrible. The cost of medical...

  7. 4 The Experts versus the Activists
    (pp. 99-130)

    WHO KNOWS WHAT CAUSES CANCER? As we have seen, this is one of the most controversial, contentious, and politically charged scientific questions of recent decades. But another question may shed light on this debate: Whocareswhat causes cancer? Some of the most powerful forces in American society are involved in the continuing struggle to translate scientific information into public policy on environmental cancer.

    Who has an interest in this knowledge? Let us count the players. There are business interests whose products may be stigmatized or banned outright, or whose health and safety practices may invite costly litigation. There are...

  8. 5 Media Coverage of Environmental Cancer
    (pp. 131-172)

    “STUDY LINKS HOT DOGS, CANCER: Ingestion by Children Boosts Leukemia Risk, Report Says” (Washington Post1994a). Families heading off to baseball games and barbecues on June 3, 1994, may have had second thoughts after seeing this story in their morning newspaper. If the headline kindled parental fears, the lead sentence fanned the flames: “Children who eat more than 12 hot dogs per month have nine times the normal risk of developing childhood leukemia, a University of Southern California epidemiologist reports in a cancer research journal.” The widely reprintedLos Angeles Timeswire service dispatch went on to describe elevated risk...

  9. 6 Things to Come
    (pp. 173-186)

    IF ONE IS TO BELIEVE THE RELEVANT scientific community, many environmental activists have grossly exaggerated the dangers of environmental cancer in their pronouncements about food, pesticides, pollution, clean water, and other topics. Studies of the research literature and surveys of scientists demonstrate this point. Cancer experts see much less danger from man-made substances such as pesticides than do environmental activists. They have relatively little respect for those scientists who speak for environmental organizations and they have little respect as well for the expertise of the organizations themselves. Indeed they rate groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund only slightly higher...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 187-200)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-224)
  12. Index
    (pp. 225-235)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 236-237)