Kissing Cousins

This is how CNN (and most other media, including the New York Times, which ran a front-page, above-the-fold story) reported the "kissing cousins" story early in April:

"An unrelated couple has about a 3 percent to 4 percent risk of having a child with [birth defects]. But for close cousins who are married, that risk jumps only 1.7 percent to 2.8 percent, the study said."

In other words, the risk of birth defect-related problems increases from 3-4% for unrelated couples to 4.7-6.8% for children of first cousins. Perhaps we can accept that as a tolerable increase in risk.

But what if this same degree of increased risk of birth defects were shown (though scientifically it never has been) for exposure to pesticide residues, food additives, eating Hudson River fish exposed to trace levels of PCBs, and so forth. The news story would probably read like this:

According to a new study, children of parents exposed to (pesticides, food additives, fill in the teratogen de jour) face nearly a DOUBLED RISK of birth defects. Advocates call for regulation to reduce this intolerable risk...

Why do we have a double standard in reporting on factors that elevate risk?

Dr. Whelan, President of ACSH, holds doctoral and master's degrees in public health.