Agent of Confusion

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is the WHO branch dedicated to flagging cancer concerns—telling us, for example, that yoga pants and toothbrushes are okay, but wood dust is carcinogenic.

However, with the agency under fire for its confusing methods, Kate Kelland explains the agency’s role and what gets lost in translation. IARC is there to assess hazard (whether something causes cancer) and not risk (the likelihood that a person will get cancer from something). Thus processed meats ended up sitting beside plutonium as a top-level carcinogen.

But with much at stake—not only lives, but also economic activities—some believe that IARC’s approach—and communication tactics—needs reform.

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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