Devra Davis

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Devra Lee Davis (born June 7, 1946, Washington, DC) is an American epidemiologist and writer.[1] the daughter of Harry B. and Jean Langer Davis, and was raised in Donora and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Her career has spanned all areas of academia, public policy, and scientific research.[2] While Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Health in the Department of Health and Human Services, she counseled leading officials in the United States, United Nations, European Environment Agency, Pan American Health Organization, World Health Organization, and World Bank.[2]

She has also authored more than 190 publications in books and journals ranging from The Lancet and the Journal of the American Medical Association to Scientific American and The New York Times, and writes in blogs such as Freakonomics in the New York Times, in The Huffington Post and elsewhere.[2] With David Servan-Schreiber, she co-founded the Environmental Health Trust in 2007.


Davis graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School in 1964 and later received a B.S. and a M.A. from the University of Pittsburgh in 1967[1] where she held National Science Foundation fellowships as an honors undergraduate and graduate student. A former Scholar in Residence at the National Academy of Sciences, she completed her Ph.D. in science studies at the University of Chicago as a Danforth Fellow, and an M.P.H. at Johns Hopkins University as a National Cancer Institute post-doctoral fellow.[1] She held post-doctoral positions with the National Science Foundation in the history, sociology and philosophy of science at Catholic University in 1971 and with World Man Fund and Lorenz K. Y Ng, MD at National Institutes of Health in 1975–76.

Professional life[edit]

From 1970 to 1976 she was assistant professor of sociology at Queens College of the City University of New York. Beginning in 1982–2002 she was a faculty associate at Johns Hopkins University, Department of Health Policy and Management, School of Hygiene and Public Health.[1] She's held a number of posts at universities around the world, and is currently Senior Distinguished Visiting Research Scholar in the WHO Collaborating Center for Capacity Building in Public Health at Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine.

Among her previous positions are: 1985 Visiting Professor, Environmental Medicine, University of Madrid. 1989 Visiting Scholar, Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, School of Public Health, Hebrew University. 1994–1999 Senior Scientist, Strang Cornell Cancer Prevention Center, New York, NY. 1996-97 Gotteman Distinguished Professor, Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University, New York, NY. 2000–2004 Visiting Professor, H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management, Carnegie Mellon University; Pittsburgh, PA. 2000–2004 Honorary Professor, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, England. 2001 Visiting Professor, Oberlin College, Department of Environmental Studies, Oberlin, Ohio. 2004–10 Professor, Department of Epidemiology, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.

She served as a visiting scholar at Hebrew University, School of Public Health, Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 1989.[1]

She was the founding director of the Center for Environmental Oncology of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute[2] from 2004–2010. The multidisciplinary center included experts in medicine, basic research, engineering and public policy, who developed cutting-edge studies to identify the causes of cancer and propose policies to reduce the risks of the disease. She also was founding director of the National Academies of Sciences, Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology of the U.S. National Research Council, from 1983–1993, and served as Scholar in Residence from 1990–93.

Other professional activities[edit]

A member of both the American Colleges of Toxicology and of Epidemiology,[2] Dr. Davis was also a Visiting Professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City[1] City appointed by Irving Selikoff, a founder of occupational medicine in 1988, until that appointment was terminated by Philip Landrigan in 2010. In addition, she was a Visiting Scientist of the Strang Cornell Cancer Prevention Center of the Rockefeller University in 1994.[1] She also advised the World Health Organization in developing its program on environmental health indicators and children’s environmental health, and traveled with the United Nations Development Program to China to advise on programmatic issues.

She served as a member of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the U.S. National Toxicology Program, 1983-86.[2] A member of the Presidio Advisory Committee to the U.S. government, and a Steering Committee member of the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program.

In 2001, Dr. Davis became one of the founders of the Green Zionist Alliance: The Grassroots Campaign for a Sustainable Israel[3] and was part of the Green Zionist Alliance slate for elections for the World Zionist Congress in 2002.[4]

Female health[edit]

Davis was Scientific Advisor to the Women's Environment and Development Organization in 1995.[1] Davis was also a founding member of the International Breast Cancer Prevention Collaborative Research Group,[1] an organization dedicated to exploring the avoidable causes of breast cancer. She has recently reported on unexplained differences in brain tumors in men and women to the annual meeting of the Bioelectromagnetics Society with Lloyd Morgan and Michael Kundi.


She has served on the Board of the Climate Institute,[1] and the Coalition of Organizations on the Environment and Jewish Life,[1] and the Earthfire Institute, and is a scientific adviser to the UK registered charity MobileWise.[5] She also has advised Green America, Environmental Working Group, the Green Guide and Healthy Child—non-profit organizations that promote environmental health. She occasionally discusses avoidable environmental health hazards on national and local programming with NPR, Fox News, CNN, ABC, PBS, CBC, BBC[2] Dutch Public Television and others [2]. She also served as a Lead Author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the group awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with the Honorable Al Gore.[2]

President Clinton appointed the Honorable Dr. Davis to the newly established Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, an independent executive branch agency that investigates, prevents, and mitigates chemical accidents, where she served from 1994–99.[2]

With David Servan-Schreiber, she co-founded the Environmental Health Trust in 2007, a non-profit that carries out research on policy relevant environmental health matters including on the long-term health impacts of microwave radiation. EHT has carried out policy-changing and public educational activities in Jackson, Wyoming and San Francisco, and is conducting major basic and epidemiologic research on cellphone health impacts.[citation needed]


Tackling publicly sensitive topics from tobacco, to asbestos to overuse of diagnostic radiation, Davis' findings and methods have been criticized,[6] in some cases being called 'junk science,' especially for raising concerns about cellphone safety[7][8] and climate change. She publicly criticized the prominent epidemiologist Richard Doll, noting in her book The Secret History of the War on Cancer that his work discovering the link between tobacco and lung cancer in 1955 had been influenced by earlier German studies in the 1930s that he had not acknowledged. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, reviewed Davis' work favorably in a lengthy analysis, taking great exception to her critique of Doll in the New York Review of Books.[9]

Other public health critics have defended Davis' analysis, noting that Doll had a long career of taking money from industry without acknowledging this.[10][11]


She was honored by the Betty Ford Comprehensive Cancer Center and the American Cancer Society with the Breast Cancer Awareness Award, commended by the Director of the National Cancer Institute for Outstanding Service, and appointed a Global Environmental advisor to Newsweek Magazine.[2]

The recipient of a Women’s Leadership Exchange Compass Award, presented by OPEN: The Small Business Network from American Express, for breaking the paradigms of how women are perceived, Dr. Davis received the first Lisa Zhang Environmental Award from the United Nations in July 2008.[2]

In June 2009, Dr. Davis was honored with the Artemis Award presented by the Euro-American Women's Council and the Greek Foreign Ministry in recognition of her outstanding contributions to science and public health policy.[2] In 2012, she received a lifetime achievement award from Green America[12]

In 2012, was listed on What's The 411 TV List of 25 Most Interesting People of 2012.[13]

Private Life[edit]

Davis married economist Richard D. Morgenstern on October 19, 1975. They have two children and three grandchildren.


Her books have been translated into more than a dozen languages, including Chinese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Japanese, and Estonian. When Smoke Ran Like Water, which begins with the tale of the Donora Smog of 1948, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2002.[1][2] Davis's second book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer was published by Basic Books in October 2007.[1]

Her book, Disconnect, published in September 2010, and discusses the dangers of modern cell phone use and the ways in which the cell phone industry has gone to lengths to cover these up. A documentary film directed by Kevin Kunze, Mobilize: A Film About Cell Phone Radiation (2014), was co-written and co-produced by Davis.

Publications include:

  • Trends in Cancer Mortality in Industrial Countries (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences) (New York Academy of Sciences, 1990)[1]
  • Urban Air Pollution Risks to Children: A Global Environmental Health Indicator (World Resources Institute, 1999)[1]
  • When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception And the Battle Against Pollution (Diane Publishing Company, 2002)
  • The Secret History of the War on Cancer (Basic Books, 2007)[1]
  • Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family (Dutton Adult, 2010; paperback, Plume, 2011). Davis also co-produced the documentary film Mobilize: A Film About Cell Phone Radiation (2014) on cell phone radiation with Kevin Kunze.


Mainstream Media References[edit]


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