Paranoia as Prudencen”Believing where we cannot prove. “nEdith Efron: The Apocalyptics:nCancer and the Big Lie: HownEnvironmental Politics ControlsnWhat We Know About Cancer;nSimon & Schuster; New York.nFor nearly two decades, secularnprophets have intoned warningsnof the terrible impending retributionnfor our technological sins ^beginningnwith the original sin of the IndustrialnRevolution). According to the aggregatendisaster scenario of Paul Ehrlich,nBarry Commoner, the Club of Rome,nand others, by now or very soon wenshould all be dying of cancer and/ornstarvation, on a poisoned and overcrowdednplanet depleted of all energynresources. True, the din of such fero- ‘nciously righteous predictions has ofnlate abated—some of the nightmaresnhaving missed their appointments,n”Edith Efron would like to shake thencancer-fighting agencies to their foundationsnwith this book, and perhaps shenwill.”nThe New Republicnothers having upon examination dwindlednto problems of less spectral proportions.nNonetheless, we hear, weeklynit seems, the brief drumroll of doomnas another substance once thoughtnharmless is claimed by someone somewherento “cause cancer.” Our reactionsnare likely to mix fatalism (“every-thingngives you cancer anyway”),nsuspicion (“can this really be true?”),nand defeatist resentment against thenkilljoy scientists who must, after all,nRobert Geary is head of the Englishndepartment at James MadisonnUniversity.n8ICHR0NICLES OF CULTUREnOPINIONSnby Robert F. Gearyn-Tennysonnknow what they are talking about. Asnthe list of cancer-causing substancesnbecomes apparently endless, we shrugnin dismay, wondering if perhaps therenisn’t more to the story.nSeeral years ago Edith Efron setnout to find the answer to this question.nA graduate of the Columbia School ofnJournalism and author of The NewsnTwisters, she began by asking if then”epidemic” of environmental cancern(what one CBS report called “ThenCancer Pox”) was being invented orninflated by the news media. She foundninstead that the media conveyed fairlynaccurately the tone and substance ofnthe message given them by regulatorynagencies and their scientists. But thatnmessage itself was distorted. It is thenregulatory bureaucracy and not thenpress that she holds responsible for thenmyth of a cancer epidemic which hasndisquieted the public. Journalism,nlimited to coverage of daily events andnthe surfaces of actions, simply conveyednthe official version of the dangersnof “environmental cancer.” Ideologuesnlike Ralph Nader wailed aboutn”corporate Cancer” and a “carcinogenicncentury.” But it was the regulatorynagencies, by policy decisions and publicnstatements, which obscured thenfierce and unresolved scientific debates,nthe acknowledged uncertainties,nand the leaps of faith behind the direnjudgments the agencies handed down.nHow did it happen that the healthiestnpeople in human history came tonsee themselves as the helpless prey ofnhidden chemical killers? Part of thenanswer lies in the apocalyptic intellectualnclimate of the early to middlen70’s, a doomsday faith which seesnFaustian technological man destroyingnhimself and his world. Amid suchnhysteria, every problem of pollution orndisease could be envisioned as only thennnlatest instance of corporate genocide.nTinged with such paranoia, the publicnand its legislators asked: How can wenreally know all these new chemicalsnare not secretly destroying us? Thatnthere might exist no evidence of dangernfrom any particular chemicalnbrought no reassurance, since the lacknof evidence, could only mean that sciencenhad failed to discover the hiddenndanger. Nor did it ease fears that scientistsndiscovered carcinogenic propertiesnin industrial substances before findingnthe same in nature; the lag gave credencento the idyllic picture of a purenand balanced nature disrupted by industrialncivilization. In this iew, cancernis the price man must pay for thenrepressive disharmonies of a bourgeoisnorder.nAll this might by now have eaporated,nlike other recent manifestationsnof fashionable guilt, had not suchnpanic achieved legal power in the scientificn(NIH) and regulatory (OSHA,nFDA, EPA) agencies charged with carrvingnout a program of cancer prevention.nA scare engendered by ideologuesnhardened into “prudent”nregulatory decisions which carry judicialnauthority and shape public opinion.nIn her heavily documented work,nEfron probes beneath the public imagenof regulatory knowledge to find thenreality of scientific ignorance, confusion,nand disagreement. She reealsnhow bureaucrats turn the most fragilen”findings” into fiats.nThe ominous regulatory warningsnabout potential carcinogens rest onntwo related assumptions. The first isnthat animal tests predict cancer innhumans. The second is that therenexists no threshold, or safe dose, of ansubstancenif that substance has beennfound to induce cancer in any animalnat a higher dosage. Both assumptionsnare controversial. What causes cancernin one animal does not necessarilynhave the same effect on another species.nWhat is more, the no-thresholdntheory defies the basic axiom of toxicology,nthat the dose determines then