Back to top

Mad Cows And Mother's Milk: The Perils Of Poor Risk Communications

Book Review:

softcover $19.95

Inspired by two sessions at the Ontario Public Health Association conference that focused on strategies of risk communication, I picked up this fascinating book by two Ontario-based professors working in the fields of environmental policy. The authors use a series of high profile examples - including the mad cow fiasco, E. coli outbreaks and silicone breast implants - to explore the crucial role of risk management in dealing with public health controversies. They analyze risk communication practice and malpractice, and provide a set of useful lessons for risk management communication - and all health communications. They argue that the failure of institutions to inform the public about the scientific basis of various risks makes it difficult for governments, industry and society to manage risk controversies and often results in massive costs. In a particularly useful chapter, the authors outline 10 lessons for risk communication. Lesson #7 is quite relevant for health promoters: "Educating the public" about science is no substitute for good risk communication practice. That lesson applies for all our education and information activities - they are no substitute for good practice. This is a valuable book for many of us, whether we work in the area of risk management, environmental health or not.

- reviewed by Alison Stirling