In what I considered a bad April Fool's joke, Devra Lee Davis of the World Resources Institute and others published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (4/1/98) titled "Reduced Ratio of Male to Female Births in Several Industrial Countries: A Sentinel Health Indicator?" Devra and crew claimed that reduced male births were a "sentinel health indicator" of environmental exposure to chemicals.
In the October 7, 1998 issue of JAMA, three letters-to-the-editor were published. Here's the gist of what they said:
- "Although [sex ratios] may be useful markers, prospects are not good that they will be shown to be sentinel health indicators." William H. James, University College, London.
- "Our finding of a continuing slight upward trend in the male proportion at birth in Australia since the 1970s differs from those trends in other countries reported by Davis and colleagues." Paul A. L. Lancaster and Peter L. Day, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
- "Perhaps an explanation for the readiness to ascribe a complex phenomenon to one specific cause can be gleaned from an understanding of the World Resources Institute (WRI), with which the first two authors are affiliated. A review of the institute's comprehensive Web site (http://www.wri.org) reveals an environmentalist organization dedicated to, among other things, promoting the notion that pollutants are responsible for myriad global health problems. Now, this is a bona fide opinion that the authors are free to support, but their maintenance of such a viewpoint certainly bears on their interpretation of the data and on their conclusions." Barak Greenfield, North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, NY.
What was the response of Devra and her colleagues?
- To James, "We concur that the changes in sex ratio... may be regarded as sentinel health indicators."
Can Devra read? James said it was looking bad for the sentinel health indicator nonsense.
- To Lancaster and Day, "[their] trend is not statistically significant."
So what? It's still not in the direction of Devra's data.
- To Greenfield, "World Resources Institute is a policy research institute...[that] does not take positions on particular issues. Instead, the institute produces top-quality policy and scientific research, all of which is subjected to intensive peer review. To do other than [take precautionary action], we believe, subjects humans to uncontrolled experiments with consequences that are seldom resolved."
A "policy research institute" that produces "top-quality" scientific research? WRI does not take positions? Here's a quote directly from WRI's web page on the global warming issue: "WRI's Climate Initiative is aimed at building support within the private sector for a stronger response to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change." That's not a position?
It's no wonder that Sir Richard Doll, a highly regarded scientist who helped establish the link between smoking and lung cancer in the 1950s, once told Science magazine that Devra Lee Davis' work was "uninteresting," "uninformative," "boring" and "old junk."
I'm sure we could all add a few more adjectives based on her responses to her critics.
Send your suggestions (and other comments) directly to Devra Lee Davis.
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