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Phantom Risk Scientific Inference and the Law

By Peter W. Huber, Kenneth R. Foster, David E. Bernstein
MIT Press 1993 ISBN: 9780262061568

About the Book

Phantom risks are risks whose very existence is unproven and perhaps unprovable, yet they raise real problems at the interface of science and the law. Phantom Risk surveys a dozen scientific issues that have led to public controversy and litigation - among them, miscarriage from the use of video display terminals, birth defects in children whose mothers used the drug Bendectin, and cancer from low-intensity magnetic fields, and from airborne asbestos. It presents the scientific evidence behind these and other issues and summarizes the resulting litigation.

Focusing on the great disparity between the scientific evidence that is sufficient to arouse public fears and that needed to establish a hazard or its absence, these original contributions probe the problem of scientific ambiguity in risk assessment, and the mayhem this creates in the courtroom.

Although the authors are clearly optimistic about the use of science to detect and evaluate risks, they recognize the difficulty of inferring cause-and-effect relationships from epidemiological (observational) evidence and of inferring risks to humans from high-dose animal experiments, the two major sources of evidence. The final chapter reviews the exceptionally difficult problem of how the legal impact of disputes about phantom risks can be reduced.

About the Authors

Peter Huber is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, where he writes on drug development, energy, technology, and the law. He is the author of The Cure in the Code: How 20th Century Law Is Undermining 21st Century Medicine (2013); The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy (2005), coauthored with Mark P. Mills.

Kenneth R. Foster is Professor in the Department of Bioengineering, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia PA USA

David Bernstein has written on a wide range of legal topics, including junk science in American courtrooms, affirmative action, conflicts between antidiscrimination laws and civil liberties, the legal response to Soviet spying in the U.S. after World War II, anti-Western and anti-Israeli ideology masquerading as international law, and more. He blogs for the Volokh Conspiracy at the Washington Post.