NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Setting Policies Based on Fear Is Bad Strategy

July 14, 2011

Despite the hysteria suggesting that modern society is being assaulted by its increased reliance on synthetics, chemical exposure represents "relatively small risks" and human cancer rates continue their steady decline, says Jon Entine, a visiting fellow at American Enterprise Institute.

  • Cancer caused by chemicals is mostly confined to work settings, amounting to about 4 percent, with pollution and all other exposures adding another 2 percent of cases.
  • The more pertinent danger is from obesity and lack of exercise, which contributes to an estimated one out of five cancer-related deaths.

Misrepresenting science studies and caricaturing corporations as self-interested to the point of being deceptive is a timeworn tradition of "reform minded" consumer advocates.  Risk researchers are statistically sophisticated and understand this complexity, but campaigners and the media often do not appreciate the grinding process of science.

  • For example, Bisphenol A (BPA) has come under relentless attack, yet a slew of recent independent reports disagree.
  • Independent reports from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Food Safety Authority, a special advisory committee of German toxicologists and the November 2010 meeting of the World Health Organization all concluded that the collective evidence from thousands of studies demonstrates that the small-scale investigative studies touted by interest groups do not lead to the consensus that BPA poses serious danger as an endocrine disruptor.

The costs to society -- economically and socially -- from setting policies based on fear rather than science are significant.  It often leads to political pressure to slap warning labels on packages that amount to skull-and-crossbones, stirring unnecessary concerns among consumers and workers, says Entine.

Source: Jon Entine, "Health Risks: Scared to Death," American Enterprise Institute, July 8, 2011.

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