Phil Brown Ph.D.

Director of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute
University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences
Northeastern University
Email: Discipline: Sociology Expertise: Health Risks, Mental Health

Investigator Award
Contested Illnesses: Disputes over Environmentally Induced Disease
Award Year: 1998 Dr. Brown examines contested illnesses that involve major scientific disputes and extensive public debates over environmental causes. Because medical experts often fail to identify environmental diseases, these illnesses are frequently brought to light by victims and their advocates, scientists, and the media. The project focuses on three areas of major dispute - Gulf War Syndrome, small air particles and asthma, and environmental causes of breast cancer - and looks at how each condition became a social problem. Dr. Brown explores: 1) how victims and their lay allies identified diseases and organized to seek redress; 2) the roles played by government, professions, industry, advocacy/activist groups, and the media; 3) scientific and technological progress in disease detection and etiology and the development of less toxic products and processes; and 4) the effects of illness contestation on victims' health and on public health policy. Findings should demonstrate how environmental crises might lead to greater health protections and earlier treatment of disease.


Phil Brown is a professor of sociology and environmental studies. His research includes disputes over environmental causation of illness, community response to toxic waste-induced disease, race and class differences in exposure to environmental hazards, and the Jewish cultural experience in the Catskill Mountains resort area. His books include No Safe Place: Toxic Waste, Leukemia, and Community Action, Illness and the Environment (edited), Social Movements in Health (edited), and Perspectives in Medical Sociology (edited). His recent books are "Illness and the Environment: A Reader in Contested Medicine," "Catskill Culture: A Mountain Rat's Memories of the Great Jewish Resort Area," "In the Catskills: A Century of the Jewish Experience in 'The Mountains,'" and "Social Movements in Health." His latest book, "Toxic Exposures: Contested Illnesses and the Environmental Health Movement," was published in 2007. He directs the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University.