The book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Devra Davis showcases the problems caused by a profound lack of regulations on environmental toxins in the past century. I've used this information in my grade 12 Challenge and Change in Society class which focuses on human behaviour and, in this case the question: "Why do we continue to do things that bring us long-term harm?". Every fact here is in Davis' book, unfortunately I didn't include page numbers after each bit of information.
A Synopsis: The Secret History of the War on Cancer – Devra Davis, 2007
- In the past 50 years, cancer has increased dramatically, and it can’t all be explained by smoking, improved diagnoses, or aging.
- Could the fact that many of the leading figures in the war on cancer profited both from producing cancer-causing chemicals and from producing anti-cancer drugs have anything to do with the fact that both the incidence of cancer and its treatment options keep steadily increasing?
- Many cancer victims might still be with us if the things eminent scientists knew about the causes of cancer in 1936 had entered mainstream medical practice.
- The National Academy of Sciences confirm that we have no public record of the toxicity of ¾ of the top 3,000 chemicals in use today.
* suppress or delay publishing results
Germans created diethylstilbestrol (DES), the first synthetic estrogen, from coal tar. They added it to animal feed to fatten cows, pigs and chickens. Young boys who worked in the factories developed painful swollen breast. So they hired young girls – who ended up with breast cancer. From 1948 to 1972 DES was used to prevent miscarriages, but ended up creating children with serious problems, deformities, cancer, and sterility.
- Animal research is ruled out. It’s suitable to prove a drug is harmless, but not for showing harm to people. If rodents get cancer from exposure, it’s not considered relevant to humans.
- A large percentage of specific cancers affecting people in a specific location is not enough to show harm.
- To show harm the specific chemical causing the harm has to be isolated from all else in the environment, which is impossible unless the cancer victim was raised in an isolated chamber.
- To collect damages, you have to prove that exposure caused you harm AND that the corporation in charge knew of the harm. This is why many corporations stop any research that might prove damaging. As long as they can say they didn’t know, they don’t have to pay. The onus is on the victim to prove knowledge.
- “The real difficulties of the field have been complicated by a stream of disinformation fueled by short-term economic interests of those who stand to profit from keeping matters unresolved. In the meantime, thousands and sometimes millions of people continue to be exposed to conditions that had been known decades earlier to be dangerous.”
- In an effort to quash public discussion, firms file a “slap suit” (strategic lawsuit against public participation- SLAPP) filed for the purpose of rattling people which forces them to spend time and money defending themselves.
- In the 12th century, Moses Maimonides counseled staying away from dusty cities and dirty air, eating chicken soup and garlic, and getting regular exercise.
- Hitler, who wanted the German people to be cancer-free, limited tobacco smoking, the use of white flour and sugar, and dyes and other industrial toxins. He also kept an organic garden of foods and medicines for the private use of German elites and soldiers. No pesticides or chemical fertilizers were permitted to touch the plants. He restricted freedoms of his people to smoke or eat poorly because the German people had a duty to be healthy.
- H. Leon Bradlow found what we eat or are exposed to early in life strongly affects the chances we will get cancer and how well we can survive cancer later in life.
- In Scotland, right now, studies are being done on diindolylmathane, a compound derived from cruciferae vegetables (cabbage, brussel sprouts, and broccoli).
- Extracts made from red wine and dark chocolate look promising in their ability to turn on good properties and turn off bad ones, and other alcohols and living in high traffic areas do the opposite.
- Tuckfelt and Herberman suggest Vitamin D from sunshine or supplements helps.
- In Japan, studies have found positive results with Shitake mushrooms.
- The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard encourages us to reduce our consumption rate by insisting that most of the stuff we buy is harmful along the way, and we’ll likely throw it out soon anyway.
- Chris Turner in The Geography of Hope thinks that we can convince people to change by making environmental movements more appealing. We need to use the tools of marketing to convince people that environmentalism is sexy. He shows a few isolated areas of the world where this is working.
- But then in No-One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart, by Tom Slee, he shows us why individual efforts will never work. People are too focused, wisely, on immediate gain instead of distant effects, and we all free-ride on the hope that other people will do right, so we can keep doing wrong. So, only governmental regulation of industry, price controls and control over location of stores, can stop the destruction of entire cities and the low wages of workers.
- Heat by George Monbiot is similar to Slee’s take but with the environment. We won’t ever choose to reduce consumption willingly. The government has to work worldwide with all other governments to ration our fuel use using an “icecap” debit card system.
- Alan Weisman, in The World Without Us, goes one step further to suggest a worldwide ban on more than one child produced per woman. Monbiot, Slee, and Weisman all think reducing private freedoms is the only method towards survival.
- But Naomi Klein, in Shock Doctrine, shows us how closely the government is tied to industry. The American government wants to deregulate all markets, and privatize all industry worldwide. They’re working through countries one at a time. The government will never stop any industry that’s profitable to them.
- Devra Davis takes a similar stance in this book on cancer insisting that the government is not the place to go to get regulations placed on harmful chemicals. People working in the government have too much to lose, personally, to willingly reduce profits.
- John Raulston Saul, in Collapse of Globalism, introduces the notion that everything’s in the process of a pivotal change that was precipitated by TRIPS, a system that makes it impossible for some people to get life-saving medicine. With many people dying, many people protested, unrelentingly, until corporations and governments had to back down.
- Klein also discusses the effects of mass protests against the Iraq invasion – the US has gone too far this time. And Davis agrees, with 30% of women and 50% of men confronting this illness in their lifetime, we are truly on the verge of a major breakthrough in the way industry and government must work. Almost every person or someone they know closely is affected by cancer. With this many people affected, people will being to protest en masse which will affect the government and corporations worldwide to change common practices.