Why does Gisele Bundchen look so sad in the print advertisements for YSL's fall collection? Maybe because working the night-shift for photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadini may put her at a bigger risk for breast cancer. In this week's issue of The New Yorker, writer David Owen reports on environmental pollution of a slightly-different sort than the type assailed by Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio and Laurie David: that coming from the glare of the street lamps and commercial floodlights most of us have never lived without. In addition to interviewing professional and amateur astronomers — did you know that in Iraq and Iran astronomy is an especially-popular hobby among girls and young women? — about the effect that industrialization has wreaked on humanity's appreciation of a clear, star-stippled night sky, Owen spoke to epidemiologist Richard Stevens, who suggests there may be a link between cancer and "the 'circadian disruption' of hormones caused by artificial lighting."
Early in his career, Stevens was one of the many researchers struck by the markedly high incidence of breast cancer among women in the industrialized world, in comparison with those in developing countries... A few years later, he persuaded the authors of the Nurses' Health Study, one of the largest and most rigorous investigations of women's medical issues ever undertaken, to add questions about nighttime employment, and the study subsequently revealed between working the night shift and an increased risk of breast cancer.
Unfortunately, the New Yorker article is not online, only in print, so if you want to read more, you'll have to pick up the magazine. And though we don't know how seriously that Nurses' Health Study ended up being taken by the medical community at large, we do know that we could all do ourselves a favor by turning off the boob tube for once, going outside and looking up at our ever-dwindling, natural night sky. Maybe doing so won't save us from contracting breast cancer, but at the very least, we'll be able to describe to our grandkids what a star once looked like.