Their industry is cancer
May 23rd 2008, 13:05 | Bryan Hubbard
How much do industry groups and their hired 'experts' hide from us the carcinogenic effects of their products and services?
We know the way the tobacco industry twisted and turned for years before finally having to admit that cigarettes cause cancer. But there are plenty of other industries, too, that seem to be playing fast and loose with the truth - even though it means that many thousands of us die every year from a cancer caused by our environment or from industrial or electro-pollution.
We know this because Dr Devra Davis, formerly with the US National Institute of Health, has finally blown the whistle on industries that deliberately mislead, confuse or blatantly lie to us about cancer. She wanted to tell all back in 1990 but her bosses warned her off, citing the example of Willhelm Hueper, who was forced out of the National Cancer Institute in the 1940s when he spoke out about the environmental causes of cancer.
As she says of her years at the NIH: "I watched the maturing of the science of doubt promotion - the concerted and well-funded effort to identify, magnify, and exaggerate doubts about what we could say that we know as a way of delaying actions to change the way the world operates."
Their tactics are well known. They employ 'experts' whose task it is to stop genuine research and debate, and she mentions Sir Richard Doll as one example. Doll had concluded in the 1960s that medical x-rays were harmless, and yet they were stopped for pre-natal evaluation only 20 years later. He also supported the pro-fluoridation movement, and he confirmed the view that there was no link to cancer. However, he had miscalculated, and there was a correlation.
Similarly, poorly conducted trials are often touted as 'proof' that a service or product is safe. Just such a tactic was carried out on behalf of the mobile phone industry, which surveyed the cancer risk on 421,000 cell-phone users. The survey concluded there was no risk of brain tumour, and it made newspaper headlines around the world. But the study was a short-term review - often, brain tumours do not appear for at least 10 years - it also featured infrequent as well as frequent users, thus muddying the results, and it didn't include any business people at all, probably the most intensive users.
It all leaves a nasty taste. While it's every industry's right to make a profit, should it be done when it risks the health of the general population? And, when they know the truth, isn't it their obligation to share it with us all? Or is this yet another example of profits before people.
Source:The Secret History of the War on Cancer (Basic Books, New York, 2007. ISBN 978 0 465 015665) by Devra Davis.