How solid is the link between high cholesterol and heart disease" Do regular screening tests for breast and prostate cancer lead to far fewer deaths from these diseases" How safe is the water we drink and the air we breathe" How should we interpret the daily flood of news reports on sometimes contradictory medical studies"
A new book, co-written by a Johns Hopkins University professor and an outside colleague, seeks to examine health questions like these in a new light. Authors Erik Rifkin and Edward Bouwer are not physicians; both are environmental scientists with decades of experience in analyzing health risks connected with air, water and soil pollution. By directing this expertise at data from mainstream medical studies, the researchers believe they have found a fresh way to help the average reader assess common health risks.
Their findings are described in a new book published by Springer and titled "The Illusion of Certainty: Health Benefits and Risks." Bouwer is a professor and chair of the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at Johns Hopkins. Rifkin is president of an environmental consulting firm in Baltimore. The book includes a chapter on The Physicians and Patients Perspective, written by Bob Sheff, a radiologist who trained at UCLA and Johns Hopkins.
The researchers said they wrote the book because they believe that the average person, who must make critical decisions about health risks, is not getting a complete picture. They discovered that health-related choices that sometimes sound straightforward and obvious are often much more uncertain and controversial when the risk statistics are viewed in a different way.
Ive been involved in human health and environmental risk assessment for more than 30 years, Rifkin said. It became clear to me during this time that the uncertainty in health risk assessment had gotten lost, and the numbers had taken on a life of their own