54 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars
Don't get even, get mad, 25 Aug. 2005
Public health scares probably cause more anxiety than terrorism. From GMOs to MMR, from BSE to RSI, we are now all conversant in a language of three letter acronyms, each spelling another reason not to eat or do anything, lest it kill or contaminate us.
Sitting above all this is a big, bloated meta-anxiety; the latent belief that we can no longer trust those charged with keeping us safe from poison food, hazardous medicine, toxic air and harmful work practices. The authorities either lack the wherewithal to get to the facts, or the will to confront the big businesses responsible for our plight. We are adrift in a sea of accusation and counter-accusation, with nobody to steer us safely to the hard shores.
Enter Stanley Feldman and Vincent Marks, two noted medical experts whose book Panic Nation aims to set the record straight and confront the dodgy science behind recent high profile scares. Between them and their contributors they take on many of the old chestnuts we all fret about - obesity, pesticides, food labelling, pollution, GMOs, stress, mad cows, the MMR vaccine, passive smoking and many more.
There is much here that is very good. The opening section of the book deals brutally with the shortcomings of epidemiology and the abuse of statistics by pressure groups. The process of Chinese whispers, by which sober scientific research study becomes lurid red top splash is dealt with unsparingly. It makes me realise that, far from my conceit as an informed member of the public, I am in fact receiving my truth fourth hand at best, once it's been sifted through any number of agenda.
After that we are delivered in short order a series of arguments as to why we can after all eat chips, drink booze, ignore organic food and vitamin supplements, put our feet up (in the sun, without any sun screen), get The Jab, enjoy beef and pretty much ignore everything we read in the papers.
Chapters on things like sugar and pesticides are excellent. While the authors show how the dangers of sugar have been exaggerated largely by ignorance down the years, the supposed perils of pesticides, it is argued, have their roots in something far more pernicious; a belief that science itself is bad for you, a view aided enthusiastically by a culture of new age mumbo jumbo and a host of latter day snake oil merchants.
It is this lot who really rile Panic Nation's contributors. One cannot help feeling however that in their zeal to deliver a good kicking to the hippy dippies, panic mongers and single-issue propagandists that the authors have scythed through rather too much orthodoxy. In so doing, they sometimes lapse into the kind of strident, opinion-heavy, fact-light propaganda they have set out to nail.
For example, under the Exercise and Sports chapter they have confronted the myth 'we should exercise as much as possible' with the fact 'excessive exercise can cause more harm than good'. No kidding. Of course excessive exercise is a bad thing - that is why it is excessive, it's beyond what is needed. As evidence they cite 'joggers dropping dead' when in reality the number of joggers who have indeed died unexpectedly is insignificant as a proportion of the population who jog, and is probably consistent with sudden, unexpected deaths among the wider population. The authors really should have been alive to this kind of sloppy writing, since they criticise it in the opening section.
I'm glad this book was written and published. It is timely and there is a need to counter the ill founded fears that often pervade our thinking about food, health, medicine and our environment. I just wish the authors had kept their tempers, stuck more rigorously to fact and confined their riposte to those areas where reason and science have long been abandoned in favour of ignorance and panic. As it is, they have been just too trenchant to make a difference and redress things. They could have got even with their targets. Instead, they just got mad.