Alcohol and Non-Linear Dosage Effects
By Bryan Caplan
Our years overlapped, but when I was an undergrad at Berkeley, I never met Aaron Wildavsky. My loss. Here’s a great passage he wrote (along with Adam Wildavsky) for Henderson’s encyclopedia:
Another questionable assumption is that cancer causation is a linear process, meaning that there is no safe dose and that damage occurs at a constant rate as exposure increases. This is known as the “linear no-threshold hypothesis.” Scientific evidence increasingly shows that there are indeed threshold effects.
Consuming two gallons of 100-proof liquor is an hour would be enough to kill most of us. If the linear no-threshold hypothesis applied to alcohol, one would expect that if 256 people consumed an ounce of liquor each, then on average one of them would keel over and die. It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that were the EPA to regulate ethyl alcohol… the same way that it regulates other chemical compounds, we would each be limited to sixteen-millionths of an ounce per lifetime.
Hmm. I wonder whether Aaron would have advised me to take to drink?