Saturday, March 12, 2011

Kevin Elliott's "Is a Little Pollution Good for You?"

Kevin Elliott is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Is a Little Pollution Good for You? Incorporating Societal Values in Environmental Research, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test works fairly well in this case. Page 99 is part of the fourth chapter, which discusses the importance of safeguarding policy-relevant scientific research from “deep pockets” who aim to influence science for their benefit. Sometimes the influences of powerful interest groups are fairly obvious. For example, chapter four discusses research on bisphenol A (BPA), a substance found in numerous plastic materials including many baby bottles and the liners of some food cans. Frederick vom Saal, a biologist at the University of Missouri, found evidence that BPA could interfere with the hormonal system of rats, potentially contributing to reproductive cancers and other forms of abnormal development. He later found that, whereas 94 out of 104 government-funded studies found effects comparable to those vom Saal reported, none of the 11 industry-funded studies on the topic reported effects at the same dose levels.

Other influences of deep pockets are more subtle. On page 99, I provide the example of Eli Lilly, which has been accused of trying to promote a questionable new disease concept for their financial benefit. About ten years ago, in response to the worry that their patent on Prozac would be expiring soon, Lilly allegedly took a variety of steps to promote the idea that many women suffer from the disease of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a severe form of PMS. They were then able to obtain extended patent protection to market Prozac under a new name, Sarafem, for the newly recognized disease condition of PMDD.

My book as a whole extends the themes found on page 99 and throughout chapter four by exploring scientific research on a phenomenon called hormesis. It involves beneficial effects caused by low-dose exposure to normally toxic substances. (Think, for instance, of the way alcohol appears to increase human mortality rates when consumed in large quantities but decreases mortality rates—below those of teetotalers—when consumed in small quantities.) Some scientists claim that the hormesis phenomenon would support dramatically weakening current government regulations on pollution—because pollutants are less harmful than we thought and perhaps even beneficial! Others respond that hormesis proponents have made questionable judgments about what research questions to ask, how to interpret and communicate the available data, and what policy conclusions to draw. My book explores ways to make policy-relevant science more responsive to a range of societal perspectives other than those of deep pockets.
Learn more about Is a Little Pollution Good for You? at the Oxford University Press website.

Writers Read: Kevin C. Elliott.

--Marshal Zeringue