Man-Made Cancer Epidemic Fizzles

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One of the enduring modern myths is that there is an epidemic of cancer caused by exposures to synthetic chemicals. In a superb article, New York Times science reporter Gina Kolata takes a look at what is known about the alleged "links" between cancer and exposure to synthetic chemicals. It turns out that it is very hard to establish any link between exposures to trace amounts of synthetic chemicals and cancer.

Kolata points out, if tobacco-related cancers are removed from the statistics, that cancer rates in the U.S. have been dropping for the past 50 years. Keep in mind that this drop in cancer rates occured as thousands of new chemicals were developed and introduced into the marketplace. British epidemiologist Richard Peto, who first established the link been smoking and cancer tells Kolata: "Pollution is not a major determinant of U.S. cancer rates."

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  1. If you feed hysteria to rats at 10,000 times the normal dose for two years, 2% of them will develop brain cancer.

  2. “If you feed hysteria to rats at 10,000 times the normal dose for two years, 2% of them will develop brain cancer.”

    …but 100% of them will become registered democrats.

  3. Note the slip from “exposure to synthetic chemicals” in the first line, to “exposures to trace amounts of synthetic chemicals” in the third.

  4. By falling cancer rates in the U.S., do you mean falling cancer incidence or falling cancer mortality?

  5. joe,

    I would think that if there was “an epidemic of cancer” among the general populace which was “caused by exposures to synthetic chemicals,” then said epidemic would have to be caused by exposure to trace amounts because that’s all most of us are exposed to. No?

  6. Pollution may not be the key, but I’ve begun to wonder if we may uncover more virus/cancer links. Pure speculation, of course, but we know that cervical cancer is linked to a virus. Now the Reuters reports that the Brits have published a study linking the common cold to childhood cancer. And now there’s a study indicating that cancer even ACTS a little bit like a virus. Hmm. Interesting.

    http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/dec62005/snt1415392005125.asp

  7. Sweet, I can go back to putting Formaldehyde on my Freedom Fries.

  8. “‘If you feed hysteria to rats at 10,000 times the normal dose for two years, 2% of them will develop brain cancer.’

    …but 100% of them will become registered democrats.”

    ____________
    Next post was…
    ____________

    “Note the slip from ‘exposure to synthetic chemicals’ in the first line, to ‘exposures to trace amounts of synthetic chemicals’ in the third.”
    from Joe, almost as if to prove MrBungle’s point. Very funny.

  9. fyodor,

    I suppose there are different definitions of “trace,” but to get to the point, our society used to put up with much higher levels of exposure to pollution than we do now.

    And in certain areas, even today, the general population is exposed to much higher than “trace” levels of chemicals. Cancer alley in Lousianna comes to mind.

  10. Incidence has decreased for some sites and increased for others, but overall (i.e. for all site) the incidence decreased over the course of the 90’s.

    See:

    Jemal et al, 2004. Annual report to the nation on the status of cancer, 1975-2001, with a special feature regarding survival. Cancer 101:1, 3-27.

  11. You have to remember, British epidemiologists and NYT science writers are part of the Right Wing Media that is Hiding the Truth.

  12. Pass me the Five Pound Bag of Sweet N’ Low!

  13. Off-topic, but from what I understand, Europe has been using an anti-HPV (which causes cervical cancer) vaccine for years. However, this vaccine isn’t available in the U.S. because of the fucking Puritans and the fucking cowards at FDA. The fact that some people are willing to sacrifice others for their own personal sense of morality is simply beyond comprehension.

  14. One of the enduring modern myths is that there is an epidemic of cancer caused by exposures to…

    Television
    Power Lines
    Cell Phones
    Second Hand Smoke
    etc. etc. etc.

  15. Points taken, joe, but if your implication was that Bailey was being disengenuous, I don’t see how any of what you’re saying supports that. One could perhaps argue that he’s ignoring more pertinent issues that fall under the same broad subject matter, or perhaps that he’s arguing against a position that only a fringe believes anyway, but the shift from speaking about synthetics in a general sense in regard to the possibility of a generalized epidemic and supporting that with studies on trace amounts seems perfectly valid.

  16. Fyodor:

    but threats were tested, not just arbitrarily arrived at, a la Warren’s list above.

    just haphazard, precautionary principle lowering levels that aren’t yet established takes away from the actual importance of the work.

    (i’d add “acid rain myth – that it’s bad” and “being around social fucking activists”)

    heh.

  17. I believe there’s a new study that’s going to be released that WILL show that exposure to trace amounts of WalMart will cause several varieties of a very rare cancer. Film at eleven.

  18. Just imagine joe’s reaction if this post started “[TechCentral Station] takes a look at what is known about the alleged “links” between cancer and exposure to synthetic chemicals. It turns out that it is very hard to establish any link between exposures to trace amounts of synthetic chemicals and cancer.”

  19. almost as strongly as if it read “samizdata”

    GRINS BROADLY

  20. RC, you spend waaaaayyyyy too much time imagining ideas for me.

  21. joe: I’m beginning to question your intellectual honesty.

    And BTW, “cancer alley” is a myth, or so says the Brookings Institution.

  22. joe: It occurs to me that maybe you didn’t actually read the New York Times article before sounding off.

  23. Fyo,

    Bailey could have used the headline, “government regulation and toxic tort law appears to be holding back cancer rate.” But he didn’t. Instead, he is all aglow because it is difficult to establish a correlation between trace exposures and cancers. Well, duh. It is hard to establish a correlation involving trace exposures of anything, because trace exposures are very difficult to establish and control in the first instance. Even Erin Brockovich knows that.

    Summing the obvious, fairly meaningless thing Bailey chose to stress, and the obvious explanation of the stats that he chose to ignore, a savvy observer will find some disingenuousness.

    For someone who just admitted yesterday that he was wrong on global warming, the whole entry seems kind of glib.

  24. Hey Kids! Just wondering do you have ANY evidence to support the notion that the gov’t regs and toxic tort law are holding down cancer rates? Or do you just make up fantasies that suit your preconceived notions?

    In re: global warming–my views are much more nuanced than my detractors would have you believe, but as evidence comes in I do modify my views. I would hope that you would do the same.

  25. Well, the one potent carcinogen that the US government has steadfastly refused to regulate is tobacco. Of course, those are exactly the cancers you had to remove from the sample because the numbers looked big and bad. So there is the first scintilla of evocative evidence.

    I don’t know if legislating against trace carcinogens is generally a good idea or not. Or to put the question in more accurate terms, I don’t know where you draw the line between acceptable carcinogen risks and unacceptable risks.

    Whatever my views as a policy maker or jurist, I would certainly rather have my scientists crowing about ways in which they can leverage limited data about trace carcinogens into sound policy, rather than bragging how good they can block legal liability and other proactive action by virtue of the limitations on their powers of observation.

  26. I hear Long Island is a great place if you like post-op one-breasted ladies. But to look for some local chemical/variable correlation would be dumb, cuz that would be anti-buisness. Dumb anti-buisness two breasted lady lovers.

  27. Gee, last I checked smoking was, you know, a choice you idiot.

  28. What I’ve always wondered about is the effect of hormesis. Seems that with lots of chemicals, even if a high dose is harmful and increases cancer risk, a low dose can actually be beneficial and reduce cancer risk (the same study that found that dioxin was carcinogenic actually showed that low doses reduce cancer risk). I know that Bruce Ames, who invented one of the common tests for carcinogens, has pointed out that something like 50% of chemicals tested come out carcinogenic, which is ridiculous (there are more known carcinogens in a cup of coffee, for instance, than you’d be exposed to from articifical pesticides in a year). Obviously, it’s possible for high doses to cause trouble, but the trouble doesn’t scale linearly and small doses may have no effect at all.

  29. And here is the link to the Reason interview with Dr. Ames.

  30. Whatever my views as a policy maker or jurist, I would certainly rather have my scientists crowing about ways in which they can leverage limited data about trace carcinogens into sound policy, rather than bragging how good they can block legal liability and other proactive action by virtue of the limitations on their powers of observation.

    This sentence demonstrates a startling misunderstanding of both science and politics.

    1. Scientists should not be making policy: it is neither their job nor their competency.

    2. Policy should not be made on science that is so easily refutable: limitations on the powers of observation are real and can’t be sloughed off simply because they are limiting.

  31. Matt:

    It’s also a myth that the higher incidence of breast cancer in Long Island is caused by exposure to synthetic chemicals, or so says the National Cancer Institute’s Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project.

  32. that is fine Timothy. I am a libertarian. I have no problem with allowing smoking to increase cancer because many individuals find the pleasure worth the risk. That wasn’t why I brought up smoking. I brought up smoking because it helps to show that gov’t regulation (or lack thereof) can have a big impact on the cancer rate. Bailey is skeptical about this fundamental relationship, but when the cancers from the unregulated chemical jump and the cancers from the regulated chemicals hold steady, it is time to start taking the regulators’ position seriously, unglibly.

    Again, it doesn’t mean we should outlaw smoking. It doesn’t mean that DDT should be illegal in Africa. Hopefully, Mr. Bailey can bring some of his new-found capacity for nuance into the field of toxic tort and environmental regulations, so that we can sort the economically efficient torts and regs from the inefficient. This is a difficult task that asks science for good faith assistance and not knee-jerk, hired gun obstructionism.

  33. Matt,

    But to look for some local chemical/variable correlation would be dumb, cuz that would be anti-buisness.

    I believe a fairly comprehensive epi study was done on Long Island women a couple of years ago.

    joe’s attitude is typical. “It has ‘artificial’ chemicals in it; it must be cancerous.”

    However, most cancers are caused one of two things are completely within the power of individuals to deal with: smoking and diet.

  34. MikeP:

    I agree. Your point 1 is implicit in the way I worded the text you quoted. Your point 2 is a reasonable caution to add to what I said, although it has little application in the way-too-happy-to-be-ignorant context of Mr. Bailey’s HnR post.

  35. Kids!

    “Hired-gun obstructionism”–talk about nuance! Do you know “joe”?

    BTW, just who hired me? Believe you me that I could be much more comfortably well off if I wanted to work for a nice profit-making magazine peddling whatever the conventional wisdom is. And yes, my years of reporting have made me skeptical of alarmism since so many “scares” have turned out not to have been the case. When a new alarm comes along I don’t say it’s not true, I go and check it out with scientists.

  36. When was the last time you suggested increased regulation of a carcinogen? Do ya gots the nuance or don’ts ya?

  37. Kids! Can you name a carcinogen that needs regulating?

  38. Kids! That’s not already regulated?

  39. Instead, he is all aglow because it is difficult to establish a correlation between trace exposures and cancers. Well, duh. It is hard to establish a correlation involving trace exposures of anything, because trace exposures are very difficult to establish and control in the first instance. Even Erin Brockovich knows that.

    Kids!

    Hmph, sounds all high falutin’ and interlecshual. However, it need not be. That’s the point. We hear alarm bells, loud ones, and pronouncements like “It is known in the State of California that such and such causes cancer”. In the interlecshual, high falutin’ world of debate, that’s what’s known as B.S.

    If it’s, as you say, “hard to establish a correlation involving trace exposures of anything”, then it would be equally hard to establish a correlation between trace amounts of exposure to WalMart and cancer. So why do we believe one, but not the other?

    That’s why Erin Brockovich et. al had to make up symptoms in her clients– because it was, as you say, “hard to establish a correlation involving trace exposures of anything”

  40. Ron Bailey:
    “Kids! Can you name a carcinogen that needs regulating?”
    “Kids! That’s not already regulated?”

    Thank god for science and the environmental movement or *none* of them would be regulated.

    As for regulating even trace amounts of certain chemicals, I thought that was the rational behind banning lead in gas and paint, to protect children against neurological damage.

  41. No. But if I were a science writer for a political magazine the answer would certainly be yes. There is a protocol here that science needs to figure out where the likely problems are in the first instance before the policymakers can determine optimal policy, in view of seriousness of the health problems, confidence level of the science data, individual freedom of choice, corporate freedom of choice and all the rest of the relevant factors, both scientific and not. If a veteran science writer says that he has never seen a carcinogen potent enough to be regulated, over the course of a long and distinguished career, that’s an indication of an attitude problem.

    At one point there was bitching about the Vioxx claim based on the Houston plaintiff’s spouse who only took the med for 22 days before dying or whatever. Now in media reports there are complaints that the plaintiff in no way “proved her case.” But I think I can explain the holdout juror mentality that has proved so adverse to Merck here:

    we hear story after story about the Herculean effort it takes to get a drug approved — seven years, testing costly beyond belief, patent extensions, aggressive (some would say cruel) foreign policy vis-a-vis drugs, etc.

    Ok, great. Now all that money is spent and Merck can’t make an affirmative showing that its drug is safe? Instead they rely on the burden of proof and want to see studies that the plaintiff’s wife and her lawyers may have been able to conduct? In view of the FDA regulation, and all the complaining about the burden of the FDA regulation, that is just outrageous. Tha is what the holdout juror thought. He thought the scientists were playing games at the FDA when they could have and should have been affirmatively establish safety, establish it good enuf for summary judgement. he thought the scientists had dropped their vigilance and were playing an expensive game with his insurance premiums and co-pays.

    You think these attitude problems are invisible, but they only are to most libertarians and 8 out of 9 Houston jurors. Everybody else kinda gets it.

  42. Ron Bailey:
    “Kids! Can you name a carcinogen that needs regulating?”
    “Kids! That’s not already regulated?”

    Thank god for science and the environmental movement or *none* of them would be regulated.

    As for regulating even trace amounts of certain chemicals, I thought that was the rational behind banning lead in gas and paint, to protect children against neurological damage.

  43. C’mon, Ron…That’s not fair. There isn’t a product in existance that isn’t regulated in some way – carcinogen or not.

  44. I thought that was the rational behind banning lead in gas and paint…

    Actually, I believe that banning lead in gas was due to the fact that lead would damge catalytic converters and had nothing to do with any perceived danger from lead. This also was not a huge problem since there had been substitutes for lead as an anti-knock compound from the very beginning; they just didn’t work quite as well.

  45. Instead, he is all aglow because it is difficult to establish a correlation between trace exposures and cancers. Well, duh. It is hard to establish a correlation involving trace exposures of anything, because trace exposures are very difficult to establish and control in the first instance. Even Erin Brockovich knows that.

    Kids!

    Hmph, sounds all high falutin’ and interlecshual. However, it need not be. That’s the point. We hear alarm bells, loud ones, and pronouncements like “It is known in the State of California that such and such causes cancer”. In the interlecshual, high falutin’ world of debate, that’s what’s known as B.S.

    If it’s, as you say, “hard to establish a correlation involving trace exposures of anything”, then it would be equally hard to establish a correlation between trace amounts of exposure to WalMart and cancer. So why do we believe one, but not the other?

    That’s why Erin Brockovich et. al had to make up symptoms in her clients– because it was, as you say, “hard to establish a correlation involving trace exposures of anything”

  46. but when the cancers from the unregulated chemical jump

    Kids! actually thinks tobacco is unregulated. And that it’s a chemical.

    Everybody else kinda gets it.

    Just like everybody gets that tobacco is an unregulated chemical, hmm?

    Now please tell me all about getting cancer from a microwave oven.

  47. It is hard to establish a correlation involving trace exposures of anything, because trace exposures are very difficult to establish and control in the first instance. Even Erin Brockovich knows that.

    Maybe that is because there IS NO CORRELATION!

  48. Hey Kids!

    Oh, no, no, no, no, no, Ron! Say it with more emotion! Why don’t you say it like how Binky says it?

    HHHHHHEEEEEEEEYYYYYYYYYYYYYY KKKKKKKKIIIIIIIDDDDDDDSSSSSSSSS!!!!

    – Josh, hopes someone gets the reference

  49. i got it.

  50. we hear story after story about the Herculean effort it takes to get a drug approved — seven years, testing costly beyond belief, patent extensions[…]

    Ok, great. Now all that money is spent and Merck can’t make an affirmative showing that its drug is safe?

    Kids!,

    Again, that’s the point. The drugs go through seven years of testing, which includes safety testing, then, at the end of that testing, someone of the lawyerly persuasion pops their head up and asks “Yeah, but is it safe?”. Erh, that’s what the last seven years was all about. And also, the ‘ is it safe’ question is also framed in a demand for proof of a negative: “Prove your drug WON’T cause undue damage.” If one learns anything about hyper-complex proceses, you know how nearly impossible that is.

    I’ve written software programs and modules that amounted to hundreds of thousands of lines of code- but could I prove that it would ‘never’ fail? No. And any engineer, drug maker etc., would be lying if they said they could. All that we can do is set up reasonable parameters and see if it fails within those boundaries.

  51. “Smarter”:Yes, tobacco is so unregulated that it’s taxed all to hell, limited in sale, and many states are banning its use in public. Not to mention restrictions on its advertisement, useage on the property of schools, etc etc etc…yeah, TOTALLY unregulated. Completely.

  52. Hakluyt wrote
    However, most cancers are caused one of two things are completely within the power of individuals to deal with: smoking and diet.

    Really? Can you name the agents consumed/inhaled when smoking or eating improperly that lead to cancer, Hak? Do these agents occur outside cigarettes or food? Likely you meant you poor lifestyle associated with smokers and poor eaters leads to ‘most cancers’. Personal responsibility, right? Just as long as nobody can say a polluter is at fault. Tell that to Lance Armstrong.

    One question: How come all you mavens of personal responsibility are so lax on the responsibility of polluters? If I was letting toxic shit out of my house at levels that arguably endangered people, wouldnt you ‘personal responsibility’ guys jump all over me? Why let polluting buisness’ off the hook? I realize that environmentalists go overboard, but that doesnt mean buisness’ dont pollute? Ever seen pictures of 1940’s Pittsburgh? Black snow. Black sky at three in the afternoon. That really happened. Promise. It was buisness who polluted and buisness was forced to stop. Do you really think breathing that air didnt effect peoples health? Sometime buisness’ are in the wrong. It doesnt make me a wild-eyed back to nature druid to point that out.

  53. Off-topic, but from what I understand, Europe has been using an anti-HPV (which causes cervical cancer) vaccine for years. However, this vaccine isn’t available in the U.S. because of the fucking Puritans and the fucking cowards at FDA.
    Mr.NiceGuy–
    It’s not available in Europe yet, but might be within a year. (That article’s about an hour old as I post this.) Merck apparently submitted its version of the vaccine for FDA approval earlier this week. Now, yeah, there’s bound to be some FDA hangups, but I have a feeling that it’s not going to be as controversial with the fundies as Plan B since there’s no “sanctity of life” argument involved.

    I know it’s a little tangential from the current discussion, but I think it’s an important point.

  54. Hi, Matt. We “personal responsibility types” didn’t let polluters off the hook, the “for the common good” government did, by weakening traditional property rights that could have been used to rein polluters in. Here is an interesting historical anecdote. (From Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto.)
    ——————————————–

    Air pollution that injures others is aggression pure and simple. The major function of government — of courts and police — is to stop aggression; instead, the government has failed in this task and has failed grievously to exercise its defense function against air pollution.

    It is important to realize that this failure has not been a question purely of ignorance, a simple time lag between recognizing a new techno?logical problem and facing up to it. For if some of the modern pollutants have only recently become known, factory smoke and many of its bad effects have been known ever since the Industrial Revolution, known to the extent that the American courts, during the late- and as far back as the early-nineteenth century made the deliberate decision to allow property rights to be violated by industrial smoke. To do so, the courts had to — and did — systematically change and weaken the defenses of property right embedded in Anglo-Saxon common law. Before the mid and late nineteenth century, any injurious air pollution was considered a tort, a nuisance against which the victim could sue for damages and against which he could take out an injunction to cease and desist from any further invasion of his property rights. But during the nineteenth century, the courts systematically altered the law of negligence and the law of nuisance to permit any air pollution which was not unusually greater than any similar manufacturing firm, one that was not more extensive than the customary practice of fellow polluters.

    As factories began to arise and emit smoke, blighting the orchards of neighboring farmers, the farmers would take the manufacturers to court, asking for damages and injunctions against further invasion of their property. But the judges said, in effect, “Sorry. We know that industrial smoke (i.e., air pollution) invades and interferes with your property rights. But there is something more important than mere property rights: and that is public policy, the ‘common good.’ And the common good decrees that industry is a good thing, industrial progress is a good thing, and therefore your mere private property rights must be overridden on behalf of the general welfare.” And now all of us are paying the bitter price for this overriding of private property, in the form of lung disease and countless other ailments. And all for the “common good”!

    Source.

  55. Terry: there may be some chemicals where trace levels can cause harm (I think lead may be one of them-as I understand it, the stuff builds up in your body. But I really have no idea). But the point of the Scientific American article I linked to is that most chemicals that are toxic in large doses are actually beneficial in small doses. The standards we usually use to set safety thresholds, I belive, generally way underestimate how much the body can handle before there’s any risk.

    And Kids!: I realize that other people have beaten me to this already, but unless you’re God it’s simply not possible to “prove” that a chemical safe. Note, I don’t use that word lightly. It’s not ‘difficult’ to prove; it’s not ‘expensive’ to prove; it’s not ‘not worth the effort.’ It’s impossible.

  56. Did anyone read the other parts of the series? The gist (so far) seems to be that diet, exercise, and stress have no clear relation to cancer. Some exceptions are made for specific cancers (like prostate cancer and selenium, MAYBE), and some effects are only substantial after cancers have developed (like dietary changes after developing breat cancer). For the most part it seems like we don’t know what the hell is going on.

    And yet mortality rates are going down. And some cancers that used to be prominent, like stomach cancer, have apparently just dropped off the map. Seriously, I hope the final installment, about genetic factors, ends with some definitive insights. The most interesting research suggested to date seemed to be a multiple factor research mentioned in the linked article. Suppose linear regression on a single factor _is_ inadequate…

    Frankly speaking, if this is the state of the art, I would prefer my doctors be vocal rather than silent. It certainly seems better to proclaim the current consensus loudly, with caveats, so that people can at least attempt to (and in some ways be forced to) assess the state of the science for themselves. I came away from the article much more sympathetic to the survivors’ groups position than I expected to be — it seems like they have spurred on at least some research dedicated to answering their questions definitively, even if it is pretty much always in the negative.

    It also makes me think we should teach more statistics in high school.

    Anon

  57. Matt,

    It appears that someone already beat me to the punch.

  58. Stevo, Hak,
    Thanks for the reading, really. I think environmentalists underestimate the value of property rights as a method for advancing their cause. Ironic to see the ‘common good’ defense applied to protect buisness long before its used to restrict it, Kelo notwithstanding.

    some background on me.

    1. I dont think people who sit around all day and eat twinkies should be able to sue Nabisco/Hostess for their own obesity.

    2. I think the tobacco lawsuits have gotten way out of hand, though I admit to shakily supporting them ten years ago on grounds that RJ Reynolds and the rest withheld health risk information and lied about it for an awfully long time. Unintended consequences, lesson learned.

    3. I understand the near futility in trying to ‘prove’ a carcinogen, and isolate a ’cause’ for cancer. I think its fair to say lifestyle, genetics, and environmental factors all play a part. How you tease these things out and quantify them is basically impossible at our current state of knowledge.

    4. given point 3, I still think we should limit environmental factors, within reason. Yes, ‘within reason’ is a squishy, arguement starting phrase, and I want reasonable, informed people on all sides hammering it out. The end result will likely be a something no one is completely happy about, a true sign of good politics.

    People are going to get cancer no matter what we do, ok. It doesnt mean we shouldnt try to figure out why (diet nannies, exercise gurus’, and envirodruids unite). Twinkie addicts shouldnt be able to sue Hostess, but they shouldnt have to breath/eat/drink soot/mercury/pfisteria either, above reasonable levels.

    So, my previous posts aside, Im a reasonable guy, open to dialogue, willing to modify my position based on new information. I think it sucks that poor people tend to live in polluted areas, therefore suffering more of the externalities associated with pollution, so yea, im emotionally partial to regs/lawsuits that try to address this.

    What you philosophical Libertarians do, is sit from the sidelines and point out all the problems with liberal democrats’ policy decisions. You end up turning it back around to, in effect, “poor people would be better off if their property rights were stronger”. Now, this may be so, im open to this, but. But. We live in a world of Republicans and Democrats splitting power. We rarely ever get a fully Republican or Democrat ‘solution’ to any problem. The parties fight to benefit their base, dont give an inch, and mixed, ideologically compromised policy tends to go on the books. Reality sucks. What tends, TENDS, to happen, as far as the Libertarian critique is concerned, is your arguments, when partially enacted, tend to cut towards benefiting the traditional republican base (Not always, Fuck Kelo!). Property owners, buisness owners, etc. Now, I think you believe what you say, I take most of you on good faith, but the enacted reality tends to result in something less. I react against this. I tend to favor taxes/regs that are intended, though not always effective, to benefit the Democratic base. Now, I know some of you will now proceed to show me how the Democrats have done their own base wrong with wrongheaded policy decisions. And the Republicans will smile wide.

  59. Attack Hampster (Moose, actually),

    YOU RULE ALL EVIL MAN! 😉

  60. Just for the record, I’m fucking glad to live in a day and age when I can live long enough that cancer is a worry. I’m not going to die of malaria at 25, is what I’m saying.

  61. Isaac Bartram:

    “”I thought that was the rational behind banning lead in gas and paint…””

    “Actually, I believe that banning lead in gas was due to the fact that lead would damge catalytic converters and had nothing to do with any perceived danger from lead. This also was not a huge problem since there had been substitutes for lead as an anti-knock compound from the very beginning; they just didn’t work quite as well.”

    No, I think lead was banned for health reasons. Which is why lead is banned in gasoline, pumbing and severely restricted in paints.

    http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/hwtr/demodebris/pages2/bannedlead.html

  62. Jadagul:

    “Terry: there may be some chemicals where trace levels can cause harm (I think lead may be one of them?as I understand it, the stuff builds up in your body. But I really have no idea). But the point of the Scientific American article I linked to is that most chemicals that are toxic in large doses are actually beneficial in small doses. The standards we usually use to set safety thresholds, I belive, generally way underestimate how much the body can handle before there’s any risk.”

    Well I just finished reading that article. It was excellent ! Hopefully they are correct that most/all carcinogens, at very low levels, don’t actually cause cancer (it would be one less thing to worry about).

    Regarding Ron Bailey post, I just wanted to point out that even if correct there is still the issue of relatively low levels of certain chemicals causing neurological damage, birth defects, reduced sperm production, etc.

    http://teratology.org/jfs/Industrial.html

  63. Terry

    Gasoline – Lead was banned from gasoline used in transportation in December, 1995.

    So, yes, you are correct that lead in gasoline was banned for health reasons but that was not until long after it was no longer in common use due to reasons having nothing to do with the harmful effects of lead itself.

    By 1995 lead in gasoline was irrelevant, since gas using no-lead anti-knock compounds had been in normal use since the mid 70s. The reason for this is that lead damages catalytic converters. The only vehicles that needed to continue using lead were older cars with high compression ratios.

    On balance it is probably a good thing that lead concentrations have been reduced. Lead has long been known to be a poison which as others have noted accumulates in the body but it is not a known carcinogen. The fact that it accumulates in the body is the reason it is harmful even in low doses. See also mercury and other heavy metals.

  64. MATT wrote:
    “Hakluyt wrote
    Really? Can you name the agents consumed/inhaled when smoking or eating improperly that lead to cancer, Hak?”

    I can. Here’s a partial list of some of the agents in cigarette smoke that are carcinogens:

    Benzo[a]pyrene and several other polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons 1,3-butadiene, isoprene, formaldehyde, acetylaldehyde, N-nitrosodimethylamine and N-Nitrosodiethylamine, benzene, ethylene oxide, ethyl carbamate, 2-Napthylamine, 4-Aminobiphenyl.

    Based on a variety of evidence, we can say that not all of these compounds contribute equally to smoking-associated cancer risk. It is the PAHs and the tobacco-specific nitrosamines, extremely potent carcinogens, that seem to have the dominant roles in increasing cancer risk in smokers.

    Most of these compounds occur elsewhere in the environment, however at concentrations that are vastly smaller than that present in tobacco smoke.

  65. “joe: I’m beginning to question your intellectual honesty.”

    – Ron Bailey

    You know, that’s funny. Because just this morning, Chewbacca told me he was beginning to think I was too hairy.

  66. What tends, TENDS, to happen, as far as the Libertarian critique is concerned, is your arguments, when partially enacted, tend to cut towards benefiting the traditional republican base

    You say that as if it’s necessarily and inherently bad. And maybe to you it is. But obviously to us, it’s not. When Republican positions are closer to ours, then we think they’re more in the right (as in correct). And vice versa. As long as we don’t support Republicans reflexively, and I think most of us here don’t, I don’t see any point to your point other than that you and we disagree on some stuff. I really don’t give a shit if Republicans are smiling wide. As long as it’s for the right reasons, that is. And when it’s for the wrong reasons, well then we criticize them, no? Seems simple enough to me.

  67. joe: Chewbacca’s right.

  68. Fyodor,

    to illustrate my point about partially enacted libertarian policies, consider the following:

    Issue: pollution and damages suffered.

    If I understood the above Rothbard excerpt by Stevo correctly, Dec 13 7.07, he is essentially saying damages suffered by individuals from pollution are torts and should be treated legally as such. Weakened property rights in the name of the common good of the economy weakened the ability of the victims to recoup on their damages. Conclusion: support property rights and victims of pollution can properly defend themselves.

    Now, my point is that Republicans make policy, not Libertarians. So Republicans also tend to support property rights, for various reasons. They also support tort reform, limiting damages awarded in court (yes, i hate frivolous lawsuits too, I also hate a system which encourages companies to pollute because paying the cap on lawsuits is cheaper than not polluting). Maybe Libertarians dont support tort reform, I dont know, but it seems to me the combination of these two things would result unsatisfactorily for those adversely affected by pollution.

  69. Well, I didn’t read the NYT article as I deleted my cookies, don’t recall my password, and can’t be bothered to retrieve it (long way of saying I can’t get access to the article).

    Last night, I saw Bruce Ames, a UC Berkeley professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, speak. I’ve never heard of the guy (biochemistry being a subject I’m far from knowledgable about –that’s a disclaimer, btw.) His area of interest is identifying mutagenic agents that damage human DNA and lead to cancer. What an entertaining and reassuring guy he is.

    As in the article, Ames pointed out that, controlling for smoking, cancer rates have been declining over the past century. He describes the findings of the high dose studies in rats as “high dose artifacts.” Says the major causes of cancer are:

    30% smoking
    35% diet (too many calories, too little fiber, too few of 40 micronutrients)
    20% chronic infections (apparently the hyperchloride produced by white cells to fight infection damages DNA)
    20% hormones
    2% occupation

    Regarding the hypothesis that pollution is a major cause of cancer, he said “We put all the nails in the coffin but the spectre keeps on coming out…just don’t worry about it.”

    He recommends not smoking, eating a varied diet, and taking a multivitamin every day. Apparently, micronutrient deficiencies cause DNA damage akin to that caused by radiation.

    I might actually buy some multivitamins today.

    I sure wish I could get my friends to stop worrying about the nonsense they worry about. In the last week, I have been informed by people I know that peanut butter and sunscreen — yes, sunscreen, cause cancer.

  70. pollution causes LT 1% of cancer…percentages total 107% due to multiple causes…and i don’t know why a sentence was deleted from my post

  71. vanessa,

    If you ever wander back and if you have bugmenot set up, the NYTimes article on the effects of diet is here:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/27/health/27canc.html?ex=1134709200&en=fcc322d8bd6cbd62&ei=5070

    and it seems to suggest that some of the dietary studies that informed Ames’ talk (at least with regard to fat and fiber) have mostly come back with negative results, i.e. no statistically significant correlation with cancer.
    Again, I’m hardly taking Kolata’s word as gospel, but the number of failed hypotheses discussed is still rather surprising.

    Anon

  72. thanks anon. i’ll check that out.
    v.

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