Sunday, November 18, 2007

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0723 - The "secret" is out

I picked up the Globe & Mail's Books section yesterday and saw malignancies sprawled across mid-page. A quick glance indicated that Andrew Nikoforuk was reviewing The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Devra Davis, a book just released in October.

Normally, this would be, at the very least, an occasion for heightened interest and gratitude that mainline news organizations were focusing on the battle against cancer. But that first surge of enthusiasm was quickly tempered with a growing unease and sense of frustration.

Maybe it was just a bad day for Nikoforuk and the editors of the Globe & Mail. But the tone of muckraking and exaggeration, and the flow of non sequiturs exacerbated the frustration:

  • "the cancer establishment has retreated from the truth faster than Canada's commitment to a greener country."

  • "Devra Davis, one of North America's sharpest epidemiologists (her previous book When Smoke Ran Like Water, was a finalist for the National Book Award).

  • industry and its propaganda hit men

  • easily the most important science book of the year

And then, to my utter amazement, I learned of the "death" of one of my favorite comics - Andrea Martin:

  • She too [Davis] has smelled and felt cancer first-hand, having lost two parents and many friends, including the comic Andrea Martin to the disease.

Without having the book in my hands, I don't know whether the mistake is Nikoforuk's or Davis's, but a simple Google search clarifies that the comic Andrea Martin (born in 1947) is alive and well and that The Breast Cancer Fund founder, Andrea Ravinett Martin (born 1946), died of brain cancer in 2003. The latter did comment on Tom Batiuk's comic, Funky Winkerbean, for his series on breast cancer. But it's still hard to believe the Globe & Mail let that one slip, especially given the Canadian comedienne Andrea Martin's credentials.

I'm not a fan of industry's record in preventing cancer, nor even of the Canadian government's record in promoting the export of asbestos. But I do appreciate clarity, caution, and case-building, all of which are missing in this week's centerpiece book review.

I will certainly buy and read Davis's book - even if only to ponder why she reminds me so much of Mary Tyler Moore. But I will be doing so in the context of what I still think is the single best book on cancer prevention out there - T. Colin Campbell's The China Study. Why? Because despite the clear connection between industrial chemical pollutants and carcinogenesis, it is still diet which is the single most significant factor in whether carcinogens become problematic or remain dormant.

It may be a fine line, but I prefer Campbell's approach to that of Davis. Campbell doesn't think there is a massive conspiracy afoot, just a systemic, and far more dangerous, problem in which assumptions are made without critical reflection, information is promoted without caution, and careers are built on obfuscation instead of clarity.

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