Is a Little Pollution Good for You? Incorporating Societal Values in Environmental Research

By Kevin C. Elliott | Go to book overview

7
The MCS and ED Cases

In 1996, while Al Gore was vice president of the United States, he wrote in the foreword to the book Our Stolen Future1 that it was in many respects the sequel to Rachel Carson’s famous work, Silent Spring. Like Carson’s earlier plea for close examination of the health risks associated with synthetic pesticides, Our Stolen Future also raises concerns about the potentially damaging biological effects of synthetic chemicals. The focus of the more recent concerns, however, is evidence that a number of substances may mimic estrogen or otherwise interfere with the endocrine systems of humans and other animals. Because the endocrine system is sensitive to extremely low levels of hormones, especially during embryonic and fetal development, endocrine-disrupting chemicals have the potential to cause damage at surprisingly low levels of exposure. This chapter examines endocrine disruption (ED) and another low-dose chemical phenomenon, multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), as additional case studies of the ways in which societal values can be more successfully brought to bear on contemporary environmental research. The chapter draws heavily from the excellent previous analyses of ED by Sheldon Krimsky and of MCS by Nicholas Ashford and Claudia Miller.2

The chapter shows how these additional cases support the major claims that the book draws from the hormesis case in chapters 2 through 6. First, research on MCS and ED supports the claim in chapter 2 that value judgments play an important role in the choice and design of studies, in the development of scientific language, in the interpretation and evaluation of studies, and in the application of research results to policy making. Second, the MCS and ED cases support the lesson in chapter 4 that current COI policies are insufficient to keep academic science from being overly influenced by powerful interest groups. Third, these cases provide further support for the lesson in chapter 5, namely, that concerned citizens and policy makers should diagnose what sorts of deliberative mechanisms are most appropriate

1. Colborn, Dumanoski, and Myers, Our Stolen Future.

2. Ashford and Miller, Chemical Exposures; Krimsky, Hormonal Chaos.

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