28 NOVEMBER 1931, Page 16


[To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.]

SIR,—Mr. Ellis Barker's letter seems but remotely relevant to my article or to Drs. Gye and Purdy's recent book. The feature of that book which particularly impressed me is— as I said in my review—the extreme fairness and fullness with which its authors state the case against their own contention.

Will Mr. Barker forgive me if I suggest that he might with advantage read this work and study its method of controversy ? At least, he would learn how mistaken he is in thinking that " researchers tell us that cancer can be overcome only by discovering the guilty microbe." We all agree that any information which statistics afford should be taken into account and utilized ; but statistics are tricky things. From certain English figures for the years 1910-12, Mr. Barker argues that cancer mortality is twice or thrice as great among seamen, brewers, and butchers as among clergymen and agricultural workers.

But I have before me a table giving the experience of the Prudential Insurance Company of America for the years 1907-12 ; and this table seems to point to very different conclusions. Out of a total of 133,000 deaths the proportionate cancer-mortality was, among brewers, 5.78 per cent. ; among butchers, 5.89 per cent. ; among farmers, 6.94 per cent. ; among gardeners, 8.43 per cent. ; and among clergymen. 8 per cent. I quote these figures not to show that statistics are useless, but to show that they need careful handling.—I am,