In their book, Bouwer and Rifkin argue that, although relative risk is a useful yardstick for research scientists, it should not be used by the public to assess the risks and benefits of screening tests. Far more weight should be given to absolute risk reduction values.
In their book, Rifkin and Bouwer give readers an easy way to visualize the absolute risk numbers through a graphic called the Risk Characterization Theater. This diagram is patterned after a seating chart for a theater with space for 1,000 people. The authors darken the seats that represent the number of people who are likely to benefit from a screening test or a medication or who may be at increased risk from exposure to an environmental contaminant.
These theater charts make it easier for people to see what the case studies are referring to, Bouwer said. Were trying to give people some new tools to help them make better informed decisions about health risks.
Various chapters in the book focus on topics such as environmental contaminants, prostate screening, cholesterol, statin drugs, smoking, chlorinated drinking water and exposure to residential radon. The authors said their intent is not to offer medical advice but to show readers another way to evaluate health risks.
In the books foreword, Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University, says Rifkin and Bouwer have been courageous in writing this book. In going to the heart of whats been lacking in risk communications and management, they have taken on established thinking. As a result, this book may be controversial. In my view, a book like this is long overdue, and we all will be better for the reflection and debate it is likely to stimulate among scientists and policy-makers.