Exploiting junk science is great for re-election campaign coffers.
Thus, one of Sen. Hillary Clinton's first major crusades after she took office was to whip up public health hysteria on Long Island, where some activists have blamed slightly elevated breast cancer rates on everything from pesticides to power lines to planes.
"There's something going on in the environment," Sen. Clinton declared two summers ago. Long Island women, she asserted, were being "plagued" by breast cancer. Never mind that the annual breast cancer case rate in the region -- 117 cases per every 100,000 women -- is just a few percent higher than the national rate of about 114 per 100,000 annually.
Sen. Clinton's politically active constituents heartily and hastily seized the eco-alarmist spotlight. Karen Joy Miller of the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition stated at Sen. Clinton's public hearing on the matter: "The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat all break down our body and cancer can take hold. So I think we need to educate the public on lowering their risk."
Regina Axelrod, a political science professor at Adelphi University, added: "I'm hoping that not only is there awareness, but that federal monies will be used to establish correlations and then, most important, that decisions will be made to ban these carcinogens."
Sentence first, verdict afterward!
Red Queen Hillary and her courtiers' expert conclusions notwithstanding, there is no shred of legitimate scientific evidence connecting breast cancer on Long Island to chemicals or other environmental causes.
Environmental activists in Long Island and elsewhere continue to blame persistent pollutants in drinking water for elevated rates of incidence of breast cancer in some Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. But last year, an $8 million epidemiological study funded by the National Cancer Institute found that exposure to organochlorine compounds, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and pesticides including chlordane, DDT and dieldrin, do not increase risk of the disease in women.
Researchers tested the blood and urine from 3,000 women in Long Island and concluded that women who exhibited traces of the chemicals in their bodies were no more likely to develop breast cancer than unexposed women -- findings consistent with every other large-scale study on breast cancer and chemical exposure.
Another bogeyman is electromagnetic radiation from power lines. But the latest Long Island cancer study, published in the most recent issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, found no association between exposure to electromagnetic fields and breast cancer. Researchers examined 1,161 women on Long Island -- 576 who had breast cancer and 585 who did not.
After taking measurements of magnetic fields in often-used rooms in the women's houses, such as bedrooms and living rooms, and mapping the power lines surrounding each home, the decade-long study concluded there was no evidence that power line exposure hampered production of the estrogen-related hormone melatonin. These findings are consistent with every major investigation of the alleged power line-cancer link. After conducting an exhaustive assessment of over 500 studies published in the last 17 years, the independent National Research Council reported that there is "no conclusive and consistent evidence" that exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields threatens human health.
If it isn't the evil chemicals or invisible rays, then what's causing the alleged cancer cluster in Long Island? Scientists not seeking Senate re-election have noted that certain lifestyle choices -- from smoking to delaying child-bearing to opting against breast-feeding -- have been associated with higher rates of breast cancer. Alas, pointing out these epidemiological connections won't win you Long Island soccer mom votes.
More important is the simple concept of chance. The population of the United States is roughly 300 million people. Based on random statistics, the existence of cancer clusters is inevitable. Disease rates will naturally be high in some places and low in others. Unlike the college student admissions process, Mother Nature cannot be socially engineered by government meddlers.
That won't stop politicians from trying, of course. Preaching fear has always been more lucrative than promoting skepticism.