Phantom Risk: Scientific Inference and the Law

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Phantom risks are risks whose very existence is unproven and perhaps unprovable, yet they raise real problems at the interface of science and the law.

Phantom Risk surveys a dozen scientific issues that have led to public controversy and litigation - among them, miscarriage from the use of video display terminals,birth defects in children whose mothers used the drug Bendectin, and cancer from low-intensity magnetic fields, and from airborne asbestos. It presents the scientific evidence behind these and other issues and summarizes the resulting litigation.Focusing on the great disparity between the scientific evidence that is sufficient to arouse public fears and that needed to establish a hazard or its absence, these original contributions probe the problem of scientific ambiguity in risk assessment, and the mayhem this creates in the courtroom.Although the authors are clearly optimistic about the use of science to detect and evaluate risks, they recognize the difficulty of inferring cause-and-effect relationships from epidemiological (observational) evidence and of inferring risks to humans from high-dose animal experiments, the two major sources of evidence. The final chapter reviews the exceptionally difficult problem of how the legal impact of disputes about phantom risks can be reduced.Kenneth R. Foster is Associate Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. David E. Bernstein is an attorney at the law firm of Crowell & Moring. Peter W. Huber is a Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and serves as Counsel to the law firm of Mayer, Brown & Platt.

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Editorial Reviews

Investigates the difficulty of assessing environmental and occupational risks to health and safety, and the difficulty that causes in law courts. Scientists review a dozen cases, including weak magnetic fields, asbestos, Three Mile Island, and several drugs. In summary they offer recommendations for the legal system. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262561198
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 1/22/1999
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 472
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Kenneth R. Foster is Associate Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania.

David E. Bernstein is an attorney at the law firm of Crowell & Moring.

Peter W. Huber is a Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and serves as Counsel to the law firm of Mayer, Brown & Platt.

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Table of Contents

1 A Scientific Perspective 1
2 A Legal Perspective 27
I Phantom (Or Not So Phantom) Risks 45
3 Weak Magnetic Fields: A Cancer Connection? 47
4 Spermicides and Birth Defects 87
5 Bendectin and the Language of Causation 101
6 Miscarriage and Video Display Terminals: An Update 123
The Legal Context 137
II Just a Little Bit of Poison 151
7 Environmental Pollution and Cancer: Some Misconceptions 153
8 Asbestos: The Hazard, the Risk, and Public Policy 183
9 The Human Health Effects of Polychlorinated Biphenyls 211
10 Trichloroethylene: Toxicology and Epidemiology: A Critical Review of the Literature 229
11 Dioxin: Perceptions, Estimates, and Measures 249
12 The Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident and Public Health Consequences 279
13 The Fallout Controversy 299
14 The Saga of Fernald 319
The Legal Context 337
III Medical Controversy 357
15 Trauma and Cancer 359
16 Chemical Pollutants and "Multiple Chemical Sensitivities" 379
17 Immunologic Laboratory Tests: A Critique of the Alcolac Decision 401
The Legal Context 425
IV Conclusion: Phantom Risk - A Problem at the Interface of Science and the Law 431
Abbreviations and Acronyms 445
Index 449
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