Getting Risk Right

Understanding the Science of Elusive Health Risks

Geoffrey C. Kabat

Columbia University Press

Getting Risk Right

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Pub Date: November 2016

ISBN: 9780231166461

272 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $35.00£30.00

Pub Date: November 2016

ISBN: 9780231542852

272 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $34.99£30.00

Getting Risk Right

Understanding the Science of Elusive Health Risks

Geoffrey C. Kabat

Columbia University Press

Do cell phones cause brain cancer? Does BPA threaten our health? How safe are certain dietary supplements, especially those containing exotic herbs or small amounts of toxic substances? Is the HPV vaccine safe? We depend on science and medicine as never before, yet there is widespread misinformation and confusion, amplified by the media, regarding what influences our health. In Getting Risk Right, Geoffrey C. Kabat shows how science works—and sometimes doesn't—and what separates these two very different outcomes.

Kabat seeks to help us distinguish between claims that are supported by solid science and those that are the result of poorly designed or misinterpreted studies. By exploring different examples, he explains why certain risks are worth worrying about, while others are not. He emphasizes the variable quality of research in contested areas of health risks, as well as the professional, political, and methodological factors that can distort the research process. Drawing on recent systematic critiques of biomedical research and on insights from behavioral psychology, Getting Risk Right examines factors both internal and external to the science that can influence what results get attention and how questionable results can be used to support a particular narrative concerning an alleged public health threat. In this book, Kabat provides a much-needed antidote to what has been called "an epidemic of false claims."

Geoffrey Kabat's vital, wide-ranging book cannot have arrived at a more fortuitous time. As individuals and societies, we are constantly asked to gauge risks—and we often do so hastily or irrationally, with grave consequences. In Getting Risk Right, Kabat provides a crucial framework to think about risks, biases, and judgment. Everyone should read his analysis—at once clear-eyed, thoughtful, and beautifully written—to understand the nature of risk. I cannot overstate the importance of this book.

Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies

Some risks are real, while others are much feared and speculated about, but of no portent. This important book by Geoffrey Kabat shows how the science of studying risks can lead to major discoveries that can improve the lives of millions by identifying and validating risks that do matter; or can ruin lives by propagating spurious, nonexistent risks in the public mind and in the scientific literature. Getting Risk Right carefully surveys a scientific field that is often the topic of hot debate and offers a balanced presentation. It is a fascinating read.

John Ioannidis, professor of medicine and health research and policy, Stanford University

Zika, Ebola, vaccines, dioxin, radon, black mold, environmental toxins. The media constantly bombards us with stories about unseen agents causing insidious harms. In Getting Risk Right, Geoffrey Kabat uses four case studies—BPA, cell phones, the HPV vaccine, and dietary supplements—to teach us not only whether these products are harmful but also how to grade information. Using Kabat's method, readers will be able to determine whether the next media-infused risk is a real one. Filled with cartoons, case histories, literary references, and fascinating asides, Getting Risk Right is the last book you will ever need to read on this subject.

Paul A. Offit, author of Autism's False Prophets

Geoffrey Kabat's writing, as usual, is phenomenally clear and expressive. His logical cadences are both airtight and a pleasure to read. His insights into the workings and mis-workings of science, the sociology of science, and the interplay of personalities and organizations are penetrating and precise, and above all original.

Steven D. Stellman, professor of clinical epidemiology, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

What matters most? How can we use scientific findings intelligently to set our public priorities? Through engaging anecdotes, and a clear-eyed analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of scientific work, Getting Risk Right helps us answer those questions. Perhaps more importantly, Dr. Kabat enhances our understanding of how science leads to action, and how we can better use science to inform a more rational and productive public agenda.

Sandro Galea, Dean, Boston University School of Public Health

An important study that teaches how to decipher science and medical news.

Library Journal

It is not easy feat to take complex issues and make them both understandable, easily readable and interesting, but Kabat does just that in Getting Risk Right. For people who are trying to sort through the deluge of conflicting information that we see every day, this book is a must.

Josh Bloom, American Council on Science and Health

Kabat writes clearly, but his discussions of association, causality and toxicology are, at times, a bit technical for the general reader. More intriguing — and more unique, in my experience — is his insider's dissection of the psychology of how environmental studies are funded, reported and interpreted by their authors and by various audiences.

Washington Post

Excellent.... A potent antidote to the toxic misinformation polluting our public health discourse.

Reason
List of Illustrations
Preface: Why Do Things That Are Unlikely to Harm Us Get the Most Attention?
List of Abbreviations
1. The Illusion of Validity and the Power of "Negative Thinking"
2. Splendors and Miseries of Associations
3. When Risk Goes Viral: Biases and Bandwagons
4. Do Cell Phones Cause Brain Cancer? A Tale of Two Sciences
5. Hormonal Confusion: The Contested Science of Endocrine Disruption
6. Deadly Remedy: A Mysterious Disease, a Medicinal Herb, and the Recognition of a Worldwide Public Health Threat
7. HPV, Cancer, and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Triumph
Conclusion
Appendix: List of Interviews
Notes
Glossary
Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Geoffrey C. Kabat, a cancer epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, has studied a wide range of lifestyle and environmental factors associated with cancer and other diseases. He is the author of Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology (2008) and writes a regular column for Forbes on the perception vs. the reality of health risks.