Warning Fatigue: My Dog is Giving me Cancer

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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65 Responses

  1. Michelle says:

    Great post. And so true. The more we are inundated with warnings, so many of which warn against what’s obvious to anyone with half a brain, the more likely we are to ignore all of them. They’re not really written for the consumer anyway. They’re written for lawyers.Report

  2. Alan Scott says:

    As an adolescent and young adult, I took an SSRI antidepressant. in 2005, during my junior year of college, the only factory that made it got shut down by the FDA. I was not informed of this at the time, or I would have been able to wean myself or transition to a similar drug. I just knew that my mail-away prescriptions weren’t showing up in my mailbox.

    Fortunately, know blood-rain hallucinations. Just a month of nausea, headache and chills. When the drug became available again, I decided not to resume treatment, and I didn’t notice any reduction in quality of life. I’ve never been entirely sure that I needed the anti-depressants in the first place, or if my parents were just medicating angst. In subsequent research I’ve found that the drug has a number of additional side effects that I was not made aware of at the time, and the drug is now contraindicated for all patients under 18. So as you can imagine, I have very mixed feelings about the decline in anti-depressant use that accompanies the black-box label.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Alan Scott says:

      A whole bunch of people have taken SSRIs, so we got to learn a lot more about their side effects. It’s not at all difficult to find horror stories on the internet involving them.

      But I do wonder whether the newer stuff is getting a free pass simply because it hasn’t been subjected to the additional research scrutiny that only comes when you are the most prescribed drug in the country for a number of years.

      I just knew that my mail-away prescriptions weren’t showing up in my mailbox.

      That is crazy. I’m guessing it would be difficult to arrange for the right people to be informed, but it’s still scary.

      Just a month of nausea, headache and chills.

      Gee, only a month? That’s a pretty scary amount of time. I could imagine being at week 2.5 of that and wondering whether it would ever stop. Yes, it’s not as vivid as blood-rain, but even a month of nausea ought to be considered serious, IMHO.Report

  3. Kim says:

    What’s cute is you think you’re getting all the warnings.
    If it’s not legally obligated, no lawyer worth their salt is going to insist that they tell you about possible side-effects.Report

    • Don Zeko in reply to Kim says:

      You’re suggesting that if you know about harmful side effects to a product but are not legally required to list that particular side effect, any decent lawyer will tell you not to warn? Apparently our definition of decent lawyer is “one who wants to get paid to defend you in court a whole lot.”Report

      • Kim in reply to Don Zeko says:

        Nobody will sue you if they don’t know there’s something to be sued about.

        Besides, actual lawyerbait is biological research studies conducted without consent. Again, nobody will sue you if they can’t figure out (and convince a jury) that 1) They were experimented on 2) It was your company which did it.

        There’s a reason corporate research is often kept under WAY more security than NSA/Military stuff.Report

  4. Glyph says:

    “If it really were going to kill me, wouldn’t they make sure their rollers were well-inked?”

    They panicked when they saw cancer warnings on their own ink and rollers, and couldn’t complete the job of warning you about wood cancer. Can you blame them?

    Hey, I have a bunch of scraps of that roofing material (it’s what I used to cover my front and back porches and one of my sheds)! Maybe I’ll make a doghouse!Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Glyph says:

      I have to admit that carcinogenic ink is a possibility I neglected to consider. Or maybe they were on an extended bathroom break.

      I’ll be curious to see how the roofing performs here in New England. I spayed some foam inside too to try to keep bugs from nesting in-between the roofing and the plywood it’s nailed into. It certainly was easier to install than shingles would have been.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        It will fade with sun, but it can be painted. I’ve found it to be very durable, and very easy to install/replace if needed. It’s very reasonably-priced too, and my house is a Mediterranean/Spanish-style house so it almost looks like barrel tile, which is nice (I also covered a small structure that houses my water heater in it).Report

      • Glyph in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I even cut a small piece of it to keep water out of the kids’ sand table (it kept getting water in it and getting all gross). It’s pretty handy stuff to have around, easy to cut to size and use.Report

      • I’d be lying if I didn’t admit price was a factor. It is a little annoying that they want you to use their expensive, proprietary nails, but it still ends up cheaper than shingles would have been.Report

      • Francis in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Phthalates in printing inks are a well-known issue to people in that industry. There’s your Prop. 65 notice right there.

        One of the joys [sic] of Prop 65 is that there is virtually no downside to issuing the warning. Once the first gas station / apartment complex / parking lot put it out there and people got used to it, everyone else did as well.

        Because it’s a voter-approved proposition, it’s a bitch to amend. So a somewhat good idea in theory doesn’t work in practice and there’s nothing anyone can do.Report

  5. ScarletNumbers says:

    This reminds me of the now-defunct Homeland Security Advisory System.

    For those who don’t remember this, it consisted of five colors than indicated the probability of a terrorist attack. However, the entire time only two colors were used: yellow (elevated) and orange (high).

    Keep in mind, the entire time we didn’t suffer a terrorist attack. However, these warnings were so widely disseminated that the cable news stations would have them on the screen in perpetuity.Report

    • Another example I somehow forgot about for this post were the modal User Access Control warnings that came with Windows Vista (I think). Any time you did something innocuous it would solemnly ask if you were sure as if you were asking it to format your hard drive.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Yeah, that was one of the things people liked least about it. Though for me, the fact that it would not restart reliably in the morning [1] and often would refuse to understand that its monitor could run at its maximum resolution were far more annoying. (Both of these problems went away for good after upgrading the Windows 7.)

        1. “Resume” would often hang and require removing and reinserting the battery to make i reboot.Report

  6. Road Scholar says:

    Comparing the way red and blue states handle this sort of thing I think neatly illustrates my observation that liberals are biased towards alpha errors and conservatives toward beta errors. On the one hand you have California’s exhaustive disclosure and warming regime. At the same time you have North Carolina passing a law making it a felony to disclose the constituents of fracking fluids.

    Now I think it’s safe to say there’s more behind the North Carolina law (or bill anyway. I’m not sure if it’s actually made it that far.) than just an assumption of the risk inherent to fracking chemicals, but that would seem to be a necessary background assumption unless these people are actually, clinically, insane.

    One argument I’ve heard a lot from the right on issues of pollution and environmental hazards is that the people making these decisions wouldn’t want to expose themselves and their families to hazards so it must be benign. This ignores the reality that they actually aren’t, by and large, exposed to these hazards since they live in walled compounds gated communities far away.Report

  7. Mike Schilling says:

    It’s not just medical warnings. Much of punditry today is warnings (if that word applies to screaming) about how this week’s crisis (Child immigration! ISIL! Russian expansionism!) will lead to the apocalypse. Though we somehow survive until it’s dropped in favor of next week’s crisis.Report

    • Michelle in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      That’s the reason I quit watching cable news. I could no longer deal with the crisis-of-the-day phenomenon.Report

    • Lyle in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Very much agreed. I recall going to seminars as a freshman in college in 1968 and hearing of all the things that could kill us. By now I have apocalypse fatigue, having decided that only one of these things will kill me. Perhaps Christ was right in the Sermon on the Mount, about not worrying about the future (see lillies of the field).
      But of course warnings and predictions of the end of the world get and keep viewers, so that they can see the adds, which is the only reason the media exist to get eyeballs for the advertisers.
      Of course on drugs the message should be as few as possible, and take older drugs first as adverse reactions will likley have shown up for them compared to the newer ones. Perhaps this is partly why generic prescriptions are up.Report

  8. Burt Likko says:

    Where is the line more appropriately drawn, then? I mean, I agree with the basic thesis that warning labels of every hazard on every thing and in every place dilutes the effectiveness of warning labels so much that they all might as well not be there at all.

    But some things probably ought to have some warnings. “Common sense” is too fluid a notion to be a real guide. “Reasonability” may be similarly vague in this context, too.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I know I pick on the drug industry in the post, but I actually think “black boxes” or something like that might be the way to go. Though I think there are probably overused now, so maybe they need another level, like a double-black-box for really serious problems.

      I’ve seen power tool manufacturers try the same kind of thing, but the warnings they choose to black box are actually the least useful. They tend to be about electrocution, which is not really helpful. They should be emphasizing things like the correct installation of router bits and safety guards, not electrocution by using your table saw in water.Report

      • Kim in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        One problem with drug labels is that it is sometimes a bit difficult to diagnose an issue.

        “May cause headaches” — okay, that I can deal with.
        How about: “May cause skin to atrophy?” That’s really better shown, with a picture.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Warning: misuse of this product may result in chronic constipation. (Pictured)

        “Let’s get the other kind of cheddar cheese.”Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        The assumption is that these drugs are being taken under close supervision of a medical professional who can identify the symptoms.

        Not “here’s some Vioxx, don’t take ’em all at once, see me in six months”.Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        My farm implements are actually pretty darn good at pictorially showing exactly how I will meet my end if I am not careful…the link below is pretty common.


        Depending on the tool, the large number of pictures can make for a sort of cartoon strip of 1000 ways to die in the West. Though simple… I take them very seriously.

        I think there’s something about the immediacy of the warning… *everything* gives you cancer eventually.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Weirdly, that same warning graphic is mandated on turntables.

        Poor, poor DJ Fingaz.

        Now he’s just DJ Finga.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        That’s…kinda horrible.

        (needle imagery pretty reliably yeeshes me out).Report

      • It’s foreseeable that someone who doesn’t read English might use a farm implement. Of course, it’s also a better way to communicate to the literate as well.

        Is there a universal stick-figure design we could design for a constipation warning?Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Yes, yes there is.


        I know I’d think twice about taking *that* cold medicine.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Sometimes, though, a few words are worth a thousand pictures.


      • Marchmaine in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        @jaybird hah, reminds me of the bit by Ray Romano on Potato Chips with Olestra (from his Live at Carnegie hall, if the link doesn’t work).


        Though, in reference to the original post, the warning label worked.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Sometimes we should just decide to not warn about idiotic stuff everyone should know.

        I’m sorry, but no one should need a warning not to use things, that plug into the wall, in water. That is basic knowledge. If you don’t know that, there’s no one way on earth you’ll learn it randomly from looking at warning labels. If you haven’t quite grasped the electricity is dangerous when it touches water, you’re going to have a tough time in this world. (*And* suck at Pokemon.)

        Warning labels should be for things that are not obvious. And are actually dangers. (From what I can tell, the problem with California’s law is that, uh, a hell of a lot of stuff increases the risk of cancer. The question is, does it *meaningfully* increase the risk of cancer? If something causes less cancer risk than, I dunno, an hour sitting in traffic, we probably don’t want to warn people about it.)

        OTOH, ‘don’t breathe sawdust’ is a perfectly reasonable warning by itself. But probably belongs with the saw, not on each and every piece of wood.

        On the third hand, ‘don’t breathe anything stuff that isn’t air that you don’t know is safe to breathe, and especially don’t breathe particulates, because your lungs are not your stomach, and have no stomach acid in them, and hence cannot digest wood or soot or coal dust or talcum powder or asbestos or whatever solid matter you’ve decided to breathe in today’ is something that probably *should* be basic knowledge, but somehow isn’t. (We really do a shitty job teaching children how to function in the real world.)Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Bison come with a warning sign, too.Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        @james-hanley as someone who has been rammed by a ram I’ve handled since it was 6 mos old (and here I thought we had something special)… that Bison sign is something to which I would very much attend.

        Talking to my vet, he comments on how well mannered our male animals are… he tells me stories of other farms where the bull/ram/buck will run half-way across a field to challenge him. Bisons, I hear, are particularly ornery.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Bison warnings make sense. I mean, less than 5% of the population grew up in a house with a pet bison[citation needed], so have no idea how they act. It doesn’t help that they look like, basically, overgrown cows. I mean, I had no idea they would attack people. (Of course, I’ve never needed to know this, and if I had ever needed to know it, that’s what the internet is for.)

        That said, ‘Do not approach wild (or even domesticated) animals that you have no idea of the behavior of’ is also something that people should be taught in school, but aren’t really.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Ordinary Times

      “Common sense” is too fluid a notion to be a real guide. “Reasonability” may be similarly vague.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

      +1 to @burt-likko . and it’s not just where to draw the line, but how it gets drawn so that people see it and warning-issuing organizations heed it, and who does that drawing.

      Ultimately, the reason for all these warnings is that companies produce products that harm people, producing causes of action. Radical tort reform could change that dynamic, but AFAIAC, if the result of a strong corporate accountability system running through the civil courts is that producers provide lots of accurate information about their products that is framed as “warnings,” and people then have to develop the ability to make judgements about what kinds of risks they’re really taking from a variety of warnings of varying underlying severity, that’s okay with me.

      I’m open to discussions about a government panel tasked to identify the most important consumer warnings in order to standardize their presentation in a way at emphasizes their seriousness, along he lines of the standard food label, though. That might be a reasonable, though rather daunting, avenue for government to explore. But people just having to sift through lots of consumer information, the vast majority of which announces itself as important? That seem like what we’re just basically called on to do as consumers. I don’t think it’s necessary to get that hung up on the use of the word “warning.” You should assume you’ll have to make judgements about the importance of various warnings as you go through life, and assume (at least some) responsibility for the consequences.Report

      • I’m not optimistic about the prospects of people developing “the ability to make judgements about what kinds of risks they’re really taking from a variety of warnings of varying underlying severity”. These disclosures rarely discuss the probability of negative effects. At least when *I* take an over-the-counter drug and see that it warns me of “severe health consequences”, I don’t make an intelligent cost-benefit analysis based on the information provided. I just figure that if it were really that bad they wouldn’t be able to sell it. It’s the pretense of information.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I think the available evidence counsels optimism. It’s broadly whatI see people doing around me. People in the relevant environments (this problem of excessive “warning” is mainly a first-world problem) generally go through life fairly healthy & happy in my experience,with obvious and significant exceptions. I don’t see the problem you describe (note: I’m not dismissing it outright, just giving my sense of its relative place among actual and potential problems, and considering the alternatives) causing widespread human misery I guess is what I’m saying.

        Moreover, it’s not clear to me you’ve shown that the annoying ubiquity of warnings you bemoan doesn’t nevtheless on the whole have the effect of making people overall safer and happier than an undersupply ofsimilar magnitude would.

        We have to make choices; it’s not clear to me that given the real options, we’re not making the right one here. Not saying we are, but it’s not clear to me we’re not.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        …To explicate a bit more, I guess I’m saying perhaps presumptuously that you’re wrong, or very plausibly might be, when you say, “when *I* take an over-the-counter drug and see that it warns me of “severe health consequences”, I don’t make an intelligent cost-benefit analysis based on the information provided.”

        Do we disagree that you *are* at least making *a* cost-benefit calculation? So how intelligent is it. Well, you’ve made it this far, and you’ve had to make a lot of them. Maybe they’re pretty intelligent. Maybe just not by the standards you’d like to use to judge intelligence. But maybe for the purpose we’re talking about, that’s the wrong standard. (Maybe!)

        Everyone has to do this; it’s how we cope with the problem you describe in the OP, which is a specific instance of the more general problem of oversupply of information in the environment (explicitly labeled “WARNING!” or not) combined with the need for sentient organisms to figure out how to survive and be happy. Humans, especially in agreeable environments like the First World, have in fact figured out how to do this pretty well. The evidence gives reason for optimism. Maybe you’ve hit on a potential memetic bug that could significantly undermine this evolved ability, namely (over)use of the label “WARNING,” but I don’t currently see enough evidence to be greatly afraid that that’s the case.Report

      • Do we disagree that you *are* at least making *a* cost-benefit calculation?

        We do not. Where we disagree is that you seem to think I and others read labels and make informed decisions based on the information presented whereas I think I and others don’t read labels and just assume that if it’s for sale it must be safe.

        I further argue that when they do read the label, they aren’t able to do a proper risk trade-off because there is no mention of probabilities. I find it difficult to imagine how these choices could be intelligent if we lack such basic information and are instead presented with simple lists of things that could happen.

        So how intelligent is it. Well, you’ve made it this far, and you’ve had to make a lot of them.

        I’d be hesitant to attribute my survival to the presence of warnings. I can’t even think of a product I haven’t used because of the legal disclaimers that came with it. (Besides Olestra, I mean.) Whatever makes this world safe, it isn’t the little sheets of paper people throw away without more than a glance at.Report

    • LWA in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Warnings make sense only when the message is consistent with the audience.

      Information disclosure of the Prop 65 type is a political baby-splitting; Liberals prefer to have the state exercise authority over what may be harmful or not, while conservatives generally don’t.
      “Lets just inform everyone” is the sort of political message (and Proposition 65 was extremely politicized) that liberals can win, since its difficult for anyone to mount a defense of “Lets keep everyone in the dark”.

      Even though telling me that Drug XYZ may- or may not- cause mild headaches, a skin rash, or sudden death is nearly pointless. Without the advice of a trained physician, the actual level of risk is still unknown.

      Which for me, demonstrates the limits of self-empowerment. Much of what attorneys, architects, physicians and engineers do is act as guides, experts who can offer guidance to lay people. We take the mad jumble of information and data, and synthesize it down into options that lay people can understand, and put into perspective. These warnings are given as raw enigmas, like mysterious pronouncements by an oracle, without context or assessment.

      Ever read Snopes? Its amazing, how the Internet has enabled and allowed to flourish the old wives tales and urban legends. Everyone once assumed that the vast stream of information would lead to the extinction of myths and superstition. Yet its just the opposite.

      In retrospect, its not at all surprising. Given the bewildering volume of data, we lack any ability to distill it sift it to weed out error and foolishness.

      Telling me that this drug may ease my cramps- or may kill me- doesn’t help me- it just leads us right back to the Dark Ages, when any given ointment or potion might heal you, or kill you, but really, your best bet is to listen to someone you trust- your wife, your buddy at work, some guy on the Internet- and toss a pinch of salt over your shoulder.Report

  9. Mike Schilling says:


    Warnings may be hazardous to your health. Symptom include depression, panic, and sleep loss. If you think you might have warning-induced emotional disturbances, stop paying attention to them immediately.Report

  10. Jim Heffman says:

    I’m thinking of all those proposals to label foods that contain genetically-modified organisms, and I’m looking at California’s Proposition 65, and I’m thinking that we’d end up with a world where every single packaged foodstuff has a “May Contain GMO” label on it, and every single table at every farmer’s market has a hand-lettered “these foods may contain gemo” sign, and there are lawyers whose entire business model is “find people who distribute food products without GMO-warning labels and sue them”.

    Then I see all the people telling me that we ought to be totally down with GMO-labeling laws because it’s all about “informed consumers” and that any libertarian who argues against such laws is just being an asshole.Report

  11. Jim Heffman says:

    PS the point of these labels is not to inform consumers; the point is firstly to protect the provider from the liability industry, and secondly to comply with government regulatory bodies whose employees don’t actually understand the industry they’re regulating.Report

    • I do wonder actually whether the industry might fight less enthusiastically than they might otherwise against such legislation for that reason. Disclosing “risks” has to help you if you ever do end up in court.Report

  12. ScarletNumbers says:

    Another related example is when the most recent Supreme Court Justices were nominated.

    The way that Rush, FOXNews, et al made it sound, the world was going to come to an end if Kevin James Elena Kagan became a justice. Then, after it happened, it was completely forgotten about. The sky didn’t fall.

    As for Sotomayor, don’t forget she ended the 1994-95 MLBPA strike.

    Because of this Sky is Falling mentality, I am much less likely to take Rush, FOXNews, et al seriously.Report

  13. Kazzy says:

    My friend and I spent a whole afternoon chuckling about those warning signs they put on the side of shallow pools warning against diving in. “Do not dive for fear of electrocution by red lightning bolts.” “Do not dive for fear of disturbing your clown wing.”

    We were drunk.Report

  14. James Hanley says:

    I bought a lawn mower once, which carried a warning to not use it as a hedge trimmer. Which suggested to me that the firm probably once dealt with a lawsuit from a jackass who did so.Report

    • Glyph in reply to James Hanley says:

      Perhaps someone saw this old Peter Jackson sequence and thought it a documentary.

      [WARNING to those who have never seen Dead Alive, AKA Braindead: if a guy dispatching hordes of the undead using a lawn mower, and ensuing mayhem with gallons upon ridiculous gallons upon stupendously-ludicrous gallons of hilariously-fake blood spraying everywhere doesn’t sound like your thing, do NOT click.] Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to Glyph says:

        That was an interesting way to start my morning.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        I just watched it again and it’s even more hilarious in the morning. THAT’S the Peter Jackson we need again, not all this CGI nonsense.

        (Fun fact: his King Kong remake features a crate in the ship’s cargo hold that is labeled “Sumatran Rat-Monkey – Beware the Bite!”, a reference to the mythical creature that causes the zombie outbreak in Dead Alive.)

        Shaun of the Dead was OK for a zombie comedy, but for my money a double-feature of Evil Dead 2 and Dead Alive is time much better spent.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Glyph says:

        Not only did I see it, I went to the theater to see it. And then someone told me that this was the guy was going to direct the Lord of the Rings movies.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        Dead Alive was Shakespeare next to Meet the Feebles.

        Heavenly Creatures was pretty classy though.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Glyph says:

        “Sumatran Rat” is actually a Sherlock Holmes reference, in fact, so it’s two references deep…Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

      Did it say anything about using it as a mustache trimmer?Report

  15. notme says:


    What do you expect of the liberal nannies in CA?Report

  16. ktward says:

    No really, this is my last test. I think.Report

  17. Kazzy says:


    As I watched Mayo play in his inflatable kiddie pool today, I noticed an entire ring of it was adorned with warning notices and labels in a myriad of languages. Closer inspection revealed two side-by-side, labeled AU and GB: Australia and Great Britain. “Why two English-language warnings?” I wondered. Then I realized they had different wording, likely meeting different mandates in each country even though they essentially said the same thing in the same language. What was most interesting was the differing pictures: one showed an adult walking away from a child in the pool with a big red line through it; the other was in royal blue and showed an adult watching a child (with a dotted line connecting the eyes of the adult to the child). It struck me that the verbiage and imagery of different countries’ warning labels might prove an interesting study in the underlying culture.Report