The Edge of Life: Controversies and Challenges in Human Health
It is one of the concerning paradoxes of modern life that as our scientific knowledge grows ever more sophisticated, our
society’s ability to comprehend and act upon it is increasingly strained. It is a paradox that sits at the centre of
Mike Berridge’s illuminating and thoughtfully provocative BWB Text, The Edge of Life: Controversies and Challenges in
A Distinguished Research Fellow and Senior Scientist at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in Wellington,
Berridge sets out his stall by citing public health issues such as water quality, vaccination, biotechnology, food
additives and the quality of the workplace and the environment – often experienced by the public through competing
lenses: accessible health information of ‘highly variable quality’, and an increasingly complex set of medical choices.
With admirable economy and an easy style, Berridge summarises the current state of knowledge on the origin of cells, the
cellular complexity of life, and the immune system, before exploring some familiar controversies – water treatment and
fluoridation, or refined sugar, for example. And while acknowledging the complexity and difficulty of modifying
‘culturally embedded eating habits’ in the face of a food industry sustained by an economic model that prioritises
profits, he does not shrink from identifying potential points of intervention.
Berridge goes on to cite cancer treatment, regenerative medicine and genomics as areas either currently or potentially
vulnerable to the ‘increasingly troubled terrain between new science and public benefit’.
‘We now know how to halve the incidence of cancer and associated deaths and yet we fail – as a society – to use this
knowledge effectively,’ he writes, a canary in the mine of modern scientific and medical endeavour.
The Edge of Life continues the BWB Texts series commitment to quality contemporary thought, finely expressed. It is a persuasive warning
in a short, eloquent treatise that should be compulsory reading for anyone associated with, or interested in, science
and public health – and in particular with the policies by which the two are integrated and actioned.
As German poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, quoted here by Berridge, said: ‘Knowing is not enough; we
must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.’
The Edge of Life: Controversies and Challenges in Human Health is a new addition to the BWB Texts series. It releases on 11 September.