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When smoke ran like water
  1. T Nicolai

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    Devra Davis. Perseus Press, 2002, pp 256, £14.99. ISBN 1-903985-50-1

    This is a powerfully written book, and it is not only about environmental research and epidemiology itself, but also about the life of a scientist before and after research. In movingly written chapters the childhood years spent in a horrendously polluted steel mill town in the Monongahela valley become the backdrop for a life devoted to environmental research. An extreme pollution episode during a fog period culminates in the loss of many lives and is described like a crime story. From there, Devra Davis takes us to the places and times of other environmental carnages of the past, to a foggy London and an utterly polluted Liege. These chapters are written like wartime reports about the effects of a mixture of limited knowledge, poverty, and malign intent to disguise the real effects of pollution, lest we forget to stop this from happening again now and in the future.

    This book also takes us to what may occur after the research is finished: the typical researcher’s war cry of “more studies are needed” has been misused by interested parties to avoid the political and often costly consequences of epidemiological or climate research studies. Interest groups have bullied and destroyed the life of people who were an obstacle to their financial interests, while individual researchers have still prevailed and come out vindicated. Devra Davies lets us observe how environmental researchers are in a similarly difficult position, particularly in developing countries even today.

    Devra Davis has the rare gift of bringing to life the world of environmental science and the people who generate it. This brilliant and vivid book is really hard to put down, and it left me with the impression of having lived through many of its stories myself. A must for everybody interested in this field!

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