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