Philip Alcabes is the author of Dread: How Fear and Fantasy Have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to Avian Flu, published by PublicAffairs Books. He is a skeptical scientist whose work challenges the conventional wisdom about health, disease, and risk.
Alcabes was trained as an infectious-disease epidemiologist and studied epidemic contagion, especially AIDS and tuberculosis, for two decades. Drawing on his experience as an epidemiologist, he examines the history of disease control and the ethics of public-health policy making from a scientist’s persepctive. Among his essays on epidemic history and society’s responses to contagion are “The Bioterrorism Scare“, “The Ordinariness of AIDS“, “What Ails Public Health?“, and “Heart of Darkness: AIDS, Africa, and Race“.
His writing exposes the myths of unprecedented danger and “risk,” and looks into the many ways that we express anxieties about modernity as misgivings about healthfulness. And he sheds light on the routes by which the consensus of the “scientific community” disguises the unwillingness of the powerful to wrestle with the real problems of modernity: too little relief for those who suffer and too much injustice.
He has criticized the use of race in health research, especially in the new field of genomics, wary of a movement to reify race as a biological fact. As a consultant to the Open Society Institute’s International Harm Reduction Development program he has supported harm reduction approaches to AIDS and smoking-related illnesses like cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Currently, he is Professor of Community Health at Hunter College, the City University of NY.