Mad Cows and Mother's Milk


308 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-1618-2
DDC 363.1'001'4




Reviewed by Moira Harris

Moira Harris is a freelance science writer in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.


Risk communication, as defined by Douglas Powell and William Leiss, is
the process of exchanges about how best to assess and manage risks. In
their view, communicating the nature and consequences of environmental
and health risks is “one of the most problematic areas of public
policy in Western democracies.” Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk is a
compendium of case studies that illustrate the ways in which risk
communication can fail. The case studies include stories of bovine
spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), silicone breast implants, E.coli
outbreaks, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which concentrate in
breast milk (hence the title of this book).

The book’s major failing lies in its organization. The second
chapter, “A Diagnostic for Risk Communication,” reads like an
introduction but nevertheless follows the first case study. In fact, the
definition of risk communication, which deserves a prominent place, is
buried in the middle of that chapter. Also curious is the fact that
Powell and Leiss are represented as the book’s authors, while many of
the chapters carry the names of other writers. Given this multiple
authorship, why were Powell and Leiss not called editors? Finally, while
all of the authors have made a commendable effort to make their case
studies lucid and coherent, nonspecialists may find some of the material

Weaknesses aside, Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk makes for absorbing


Powell, Douglas, and William Leiss., “Mad Cows and Mother's Milk,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 20, 2024,