[Marxism] Dr. Samuel Epstein, 91, Cassandra of Cancer Prevention, Dies

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 26 20:16:33 MDT 2018

(I read his "Politics of Cancer" when I was working as a database 
administrator at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. A very important book.)

NY Times, April 26, 2018
Dr. Samuel Epstein, 91, Cassandra of Cancer Prevention, Dies

In 1926, when Samuel S. Epstein was born in Yorkshire, an English baby 
boy’s estimated life span was about 60 years. Dr. Epstein lived to be 
91, after devoting his career to preventing cancer and heeding his own 
advice. He died of cardiac arrest on March 18 in Chicago.

In his own way, Dr. Epstein seemed to be getting the last word in an 
argument he first ignited four decades ago, when he blamed greedy 
manufacturers, lax regulators, misguided researchers and complicit 
charitable groups for what he saw as a coming cancer epidemic.

A widely read author and widely heard lecturer, Dr. Epstein was 
venerated by some as an environmental prophet and reviled by others as 
an overzealous toxin avenger. He outlived many of his critics, perhaps 
because he had practiced what he preached about prevention in his own life.

Dr. Epstein did not live his life in a bubble, but he sought to avoid 
tobacco, X-rays, pesticides, saccharin, talcum powder, cyclamates used 
as preservatives, hair spray with vinyl chloride, hot dogs dyed with 
nitrites, milk from cows injected with genetically engineered growth 
hormones and pajamas treated with a certain flame retardant — all of 
which he considered carcinogenic.

“In his early years, before all the research, he did smoke a pipe,” his 
son Julian said in a telephone interview. “But the things that we had 
data on he avoided religiously. He walked the walk.”

He added: “We were pretty conscious about prevention as a family. His 
view was more that we could readily avoid exposure to carcinogens, and 
that there are many available safe alternatives, if only the regulatory 
agencies would be more forward leaning and less beholden to industry.”

Dr. Epstein had summed up his thesis this way: “While much is known 
about the science of cancer, its prevention depends largely, if not 
exclusively, on political action.”

Dr. Epstein in 1973. His 1978 book, “The Politics of Cancer,” was 
embraced by environmentalists, consumer groups and organized labor but 
derided by the chemical industry and some fellow scientists.
He advanced that premise in his book “The Politics of Cancer” (1978), 
which was embraced by environmentalists, consumer groups and organized 
labor and derided by the chemical industry and some of his fellow 

“Few books have ignited such a firestorm of controversy,” Robert N. 
Proctor wrote in “Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know and 
Don’t Know About Cancer” (1995).

Professor Proctor, now at Stanford University, described Dr. Epstein’s 
book as an “indictment of industry malfeasance, research impotence and 
regulatory incompetence.”

That indictment was so sweeping, one critic complained, that Dr. 
Epstein’s disquieting alarms created a “free-floating paranoia among 
many people about everything they eat or breathe and, in others, a sense 
of hopeless resignation.”

Samuel Stanley Epstein was born on April 13, 1926, in Middlesbrough, in 
northern England, to the former Gertrude Joseph and Rabbi Isadore 
Epstein, who was principal of Jews’ College (now the London School of 
Jewish Studies).

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physiology in 1947 from the 
University of London, where he also earned his medical degrees.

After immigrating to the United States in 1960, he conducted research at 
the Children’s Cancer Research Foundation (now the Dana-Farber Cancer 
Institute in Boston) before joining the faculty of Case Western 
University Medical School in Cleveland in 1971.

In 1976 he was named professor of occupational and environmental 
medicine at the University of Illinois, in the Abraham Lincoln School of 
Medicine and School of Public Health. He taught there until he was named 
professor emeritus in 1999.

Besides his son Julian, who confirmed his death, he is survived by his 
wife, the former Catherine Dollive; another son, Mark; a daughter, 
Emily, from his first marriage, to Elizabeth Dougherty, which ended in 
divorce; and two grandchildren.

In his books and speaking appearances, Dr. Epstein was a 
statistic-spouting Cassandra who attributed rising cancer rates to 
occupational and household hazards (although he was accused of belatedly 
emphasizing the risks from smoking).

He spoke on behalf of Vietnam veterans who had been exposed to the 
defoliant Agent Orange. He also championed homeowners who fled the toxic 
waste oozing from the Love Canal dump in upstate New York in the 1970s.

He was never shy in choosing his targets, which included the American 
Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, which he accused of 
potential conflicts of interest because they had corporate sponsors.

In 1995, at a news conference in Washington, Dr. Epstein, as chairman of 
the advocacy group Cancer Prevention Coalition, joined with the consumer 
advocate Ralph Nader to release a “dirty dozen” list of familiar 
household products — including a baby powder, a brand of toothpaste and 
an aerosol disinfectant — that they labeled dangerously toxic.

Dr. Epstein helped draft the federal Toxic Substances Control and 
Resource Conservation Recovery Acts in the mid-1970s; was president of 
the Rachel Carson Trust for the Living Environment (now the Rachel 
Carson Council), which furthers her research on pesticides; and received 
the 2005 Albert Schweitzer Golden Grand Medal for Humanitarianism, 
awarded by the Albert Schweitzer World Academy of Medicine.

“He was very much a man of the moment — by which I mean the late 1970s — 
indicting industrial ‘chemicals’ as causing cancer,” Professor Proctor 
said in an email. “He showed that powerful industries could cause 
cancer, that cancer was a political disease, requiring political 
solutions, which made him a bit like the Rachel Carson or Ralph Nader of 

He added, “His weak spot was tobacco, which he downplayed as distracting 
from what he thought were the real killers. His strength was in 
realizing that most cancers are preventable, caused by exposures to 
carcinogens. That is still a truth worth telling.”

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