Salon has a good interview with Devra Davis, whose new book The Secret History of the War on Cancer
is causing quite a stir (well, it’s a good interview if you ignore the snide, dismissive title and introduction): Life Will Kill You.
Davis, who is a professor of epidemiology at the University of
Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and formerly served in the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, argues that the United
States’ $40 billion "war on cancer" has focused far too much on treatment, and not nearly enough on prevention. […]
Davis argues that again and again, from tobacco
to benzene to asbestos, the profit motive has trumped concerns about
public health, delaying, sometimes for decades, the containment of
avoidable hazards. And, as in the current scientific "debate" about
global warming, the legitimate need for ongoing scientific research
about many possible carcinogens has been exploited by industry to
promote the idea that there’s really no need to worry.
How have recent court rulings made it harder to try to prevent cancer?
We have gone backward since the ’70s. In the ’70s, in the decision
on lead in gasoline, the court said we could use experimental evidence
that something was a threat to human health in order to prevent harm.
The court repeatedly ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency
could use theories, models and estimates to prevent harm.
Now, we have to prove that harm has already happened before taking
action to prevent additional harm. In the area of cancer this is a
travesty, since most cancer in adults takes five, 10, 20 or 30 years
[to develop]. It means that we have no opportunity to prevent cancer,
because we must prove through human evidence that it’s already
happened. I think that is fundamentally wrong public policy. Ninety
percent of all claims now for toxic torts are denied.
What the court decisions have done is to make the burden of proof
close to impossible when it comes to human harm and environmental
Why are you concerned about cellphones?
I can’t tell you that cellphones are safe, and I can’t tell you that
they are harmful. That’s the problem. The reason I can’t is that there
isn’t really independent information, and the cellphone industry has
been so quick to spin information.
Studies that you hear about that don’t find a risk are often extremely limited, like the Danish Cancer Study.
That’s a ridiculous study. Anybody who used a cellphone for work was
kicked out of the study, which is crazy, because those are the highest
users. And they put all of these people together who were not using it
for business — the high users, the low users — and they didn’t find
just released from France showed that people who used a cellphone for
10 or more years have double the risk of brain cancer. And people who
owned two or more cellphones had more than double the risk of brain
cancer. The level of this increase wasn’t what we call statistically
significant, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t important.
I do advocate that people use them with speaker phones, and with a
head piece, and that children not use them. In Bangalore, India, and in
Scandinavia, they recommend that children not use cellphones. It’s
illegal to sell a cellphone to someone under the age of 16 in
A cellphone is a microwave, and basically the reason your ear gets
hot is that you’re warming it with a microwave. You like cooking your
brain? How would you like to cook the brain of your child? We’re not
cannibals. We shouldn’t be doing that.
Link: Life Will Kill You (Salon)
Davis was also interviewed on Fresh Air last week: Fresh Air October 4, 2007.