Wednesday, January 21, 2009

BOOK REVIEW--Poisoned Profits: The Toxic Assault on Our Children

I sent Poisoned Profits: The Toxic Assault on Our Children to my Dad and he sent this email to me. I thought is was a great overview of Phil Shabecoff's outstanding book which describes how the government is not protecting us from the dangerous chemicals that are being produced by American corporations.

By W.B.

This is a really sad tale isn't it? It certainly reinforces my view that most cancers are environmental. And the disasterous effect on young children--something I had been previously unaware of--is absolutely tragic. And I now see what you are talking about: the explosion of new chemicals and compounds means that the problems are growing worse at an increasing rate. The damage being done to children is horrific.
I tried to back off and look at the larger picture. The main problem seems to be the average persons inability to comprehend cause and effect relationships unless they are immediate and direct. Like a simple two car collision. But, most cause and effect relationships in the chemical world are subtle and at the microscopic level and involve other agents like genes, etc. Even though modern statistical techniques have been developed that are up to the task, they are not comprehended by the general public. Add to this the fact that many scientists will violate their stated "quest for the truth" to misuse and abuse the statistical techniques to earn sizeable amounts of money and you have a recipe for disaster. The willingness of scientists to "sell themselves" is really sad isn't it? The government officials and elected representatives and public at large are confused when some scientists take positions that are simply a result of their being "bought off". And it is partly that some (I hate to use the word "many") scientists are not really that smart, even though they have higher degrees. Some of my friends who barely graduated from high school are smarter in the true sense of the word than Ph.Ds I know. The outgoing President Bush is pretty scientific illiterate so he tended to not see the problem at all. Scientific illiteracy is a real problem. Especially in a democracy.
Interestingly, economists have known about the general problem for years. Back in the 1600s and 1700s in England there was a category of grazing land called the "commons". There was unrestricted grazing on the commons. The villiage people viewed it as a free resource and overgrazing resulted in the total destruction of the commons. The commons became hoof-pounded grassless dirt. So, the nobility claimed title to the commons,fenced it off and with the newly introduced practice of "rotational grazing" the FORMER commons land became extremely productive. The general principle is that whenever a resource is owned jointly it will be abused and destroyed. Now, air, flowing water and large bodies of water and ground water are always jointly owned. Nobody for example has figured out how to allow an individual to claim ownership to "his own air" like the nobles in England who fenced off the commons and claimed title ownership to it. The result is that EVERYBODY AND ANYBODY owns the air and water and everybody has a tendency to use it as their "garbage dump." Therefore, while many economists favor capitalism as an economic system (INCLUDING ME), they carefully exempt air, water and ground water from the rules of capitalism. These truly joint resources have to be managed for the common good--BY GOVERNMENT. This is generally referred to as the "commons problem" in economics. So, the discipline of economics should not be an obstacle to the solution of the problem. In fact economics should be staunchly behind government devised regulations to solve the problem. This is one of the many areas where government is the only solver of the problem.
But, the power of big corporations and their use of their power to continue to pollute and confuse the public with phony research--this is really a huge problem.