Hormonal Chaos: The Scientific and Social Origins of the Environmental Endocrine Hypothesis


  • David A. Lovejoy

Sheldon Krimsky (2000)
Hormonal Chaos: The Scientific and Social Origins of the Environmental Endocrine Hypothesis.
Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, USA. £23. ISBN: 0-8018-6279-5.

The recent public awareness that hormonally active substances in the environment can be responsible for cancer, falling sperm counts and gender confusion, has spawned another book on the subject. In Hormonal Chaos, author Sheldon Krimsky, Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy at Tufts University, describes the process by which laboratory data is brought to the forefront of public consciousness. Herein lies the strength of the book. It is first and foremost a historical account of how the United States government and public eventually recognized that environmental pollutants can act as endocrine mimics and, moreover, how this knowledge is presently shaping government policy on the regulation of synthetic endocrine mimics.

The historical and philosophical analysis of how scientific research and theory from disparate sources are woven into a cohesive theory is of interest. Within the public arena, the sources of scientific theory, offered primarily from popular books, newspapers and talk-shows, all compete leaving a confused public. Though known in toxicology and endocrinology for a long time, the notion that environmental chemicals can interfere or ‘disrupt’ the endocrine system is novel to the public. Krimsky takes the reader through the eyes of the public in trying to differentiate scientific fact from fiction.

As an endocrinologist and former environmental toxicologist, I agree with much of the scientific theory discussed in the book. Tragically, however, Krimsky’s description of the studies cited are naïve and at times, misleading. As a result of this, I found it necessary to examine each cited reference. But, because Krimsky is focusing on the public awareness, many of his references are drawn from popular journals, government reports, newspapers, books and television transcripts. Sprinkled between these sources are citations from a handful of, generally refereed, scientific journals. Unfortunately, all sources have been referenced in an awkward manner. References are cited initially as numbers, which leads the reader to a list of the authors in the reference, presented at the back of the book. This then directs the reader to a second alphabetical listing of the sources.

Be forewarned: this is not a book on science, despite the title. Readers trying to understand the endocrinology of environmental chemicals are likely to be disappointed. However, despite the scientific weakness of the book, the historical events described would apply to any emerging scientific hypothesis. Thus, in this respect the book will always be relevant to science and society.