That would be between the reaction of the National Council of Churches and the American Cancer Society to a report from the President’s Cancer Panel, published last week. The panel sounded what the New York Times called “dire” warnings about the carcinogenic effects of chemical use, which the ACS said was overblown and not based on fact:
The government’s 240-page report, published online Thursday by the President’s Cancer Panel, says the proportion of cancer cases caused by environmental exposures has been “grossly underestimated.” It warns of “grievous harm” from chemicals and other hazards, and cites “a growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer.”
Dr. Michael Thun, an epidemiologist from the cancer society, said in an online statement that the report was “unbalanced by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer,” and had presented an unproven theory — that environmentally caused cases are grossly underestimated — as if it were a fact.
The cancer society estimates that about 6 percent of all cancers in the United States — 34,000 cases a year — are related to environmental causes (4 percent from occupational exposures, 2 percent from the community or other settings).
Suggesting that the risk is much higher, when there is no proof, may divert attention from things that are much bigger causes of cancer, like smoking, Dr. Thun said in an interview.
But Dr. Thun said the cancer society shared the panel’s concerns about people’s exposure to so many chemicals, the lack of information about chemicals, the vulnerability of children and the radiation risks from medical imaging tests.
The NCC’s Washington Office director Cassandra Carmichael, on the other hand, said this:
We applaud the President’s Cancer Panel for emphasizing the connections between chemical exposure and cancer in a report released Thursday. As people of faith we are called to protect vulnerable populations such as women, people of color, the elderly and children. Our congregations are already working to educate people of faith about safer alternatives to everyday chemicals found in the food we eat and products we use. We hope that this report will help highlight the need to change the way we regulate chemicals.
I had heard about the ACS’s criticism of the report last week, but didn’t really give it that much thought until I saw the NCC response this morning. I thought Thun’s comments perfectly reasonable, especially in pointing out the need for fact-based policy as opposed to theory-based policy (policy that, though Thun doesn’t say this, would be based strictly on ideological presuppositions rather than scientific evidence–the chief criticism of Bush scientific policy-making, if I remember correctly). Carmichael, on the other hand, seems to base her applause of the report simply on the fact that it confirmed her preexisting beliefs. That’s standard practice for the NCC, perhaps more on environmental issues than any other.