The Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research wrote a recent article about how the UN's cancer agency IARC flat out refuse to say that coffee is safe to drink.
For decades, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) warned coffee drinkers that their favorite beverage might cause cancer. Finally, the agency updated its assessment in June 2016 and downgraded coffee to Group 3 or “not classifiable as carcinogenic to humans.” While this decision is a step in the right direction, it raises new questions and concerns.
First, IARC did not categorize coffee as Group 4, “probably not carcinogenic to humans,” even though there is considerable evidence supporting the health benefits of coffee consumption, including protection against Parkinson disease, liver disease, type 2 diabetes and liver cancer. Second, IARC’s decision to classify coffee in Group 3 rather than Group 4 represents a pattern of ignoring scientific evidence that supports certainty and the safety of products and behaviors. In fact, IARC has examined almost 1,000 agents over the past 30 years, only once classifying a substance as Group 4. IARC has explained this by saying that to be downgraded to Group 4, science would have to “prove a negative,” a statement that is neither reasonable nor useful to the goal of providing meaningful information to the public. In the end, IARC’s treatment of coffee provides another example of the urgent need to reform both the Agency and its processes.
This blog is my attempt to explain how this peculiar state of affairs arose
The idea that science should 'have to “prove a negative,”' seems to me to come straight out of what's now called 'precautionary thinking'. It also defies the scientific method. How did they do that? The IARC seem to have taken the precautionary principle, PP, and cubed it. The original PP said we should place a moratorium upon technologies which might have the potential to cause widespread environmental change (foreseen or unforeseen), posing a potential existential threat to life. The PP was the environment movement's alternative to cost benefit analysis, CBA. A kind of 'radical' risk analysis. Their arguments against GMOs, nuclear power, atmospheric carbon dioxide, and recently, nanotechnology, try to derive existential threats from otherwise benign technology. I sense the PP was only ever there to avoid CBA. Today enviros often call it 'precautionary thinking', with an implication that it's a way to looking at the world, rather than a principle to be applied in extremis (as the PP was supposed to be). I would not be surprised to find the IARC have never published or acknowledged a CBA of coffee. Please tell me I'm wrong.