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New Solut. 2007;17(4):293-310. doi: 10.2190/NS.17.4.f.

Science is not sufficient: Irving J. Selikoff and the asbestos tragedy.

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School of Social Science and Planning, RMIT University, City Campus, GPO Box 2476V, Melbourne, 3001 Victoria, Australia.


Professor Irving J. Selikoff (1915-1992) was America's foremost medical expert on asbestos-related diseases between the 1960s and early 1990s. He was also well known to the public for his media appearances on the burgeoning asbestos problem. Yet his reputation has been strikingly mixed. On the one hand, he has been portrayed as a mischief maker and irresponsible demagogue, who exaggerated the risks of asbestos and so destroyed an industry; on the other, as a pioneer in asbestos epidemiology, whose landmark studies of insulation (and other) workers demonstrated the severity of a modern occupational and public health tragedy. Drawing upon unprecedented access to the Selikoff archive at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, this article demonstrates that the most serious criticisms of Selikoff are either ill-founded or simply false. It also shows that Selikoff, in the highly politicized world of asbestos science, was a far more complex and conservative individual than previous studies have suggested.

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