31 Mar 2011

On cherry picking science

How many people died as a result of the Chernobyl accident in 1986? 43 or "up to a million?" Take a look at this set to between George "I luv nuclear power" Monbiot and Helen "Fried Brains" Caldicott. Watch it right through - it gets close to meltdown by the end.

Here's some choice quotes from Helen Caldicott:

• "George you don't understand internal emitters - you've bought the propaganda of the nuclear industry."

• "It's not low level to the cells exposed." "Incubation time is 2 to 60 years."

• "I'm a highly trained physician, I came second in my year of medicine, doctors can't lie." Really?

Behind the heat of this debate, there is an argument about the effects of low-level radiation. On the one hand, we do not and never have lived in a world free from radiation - we are constantly exposed to it, whether zapping us from outer space or seeping out of the Earth's core. It doesn't appear to be a problem for life on Earth. But equally well, our nuclear activities have caused the release on tiny amounts of radioactive substances which don't appear to exist "naturally," if that is the word for background radiation. Do these substances cause mutations? Do they kill anyone? Can we safely ignore them? Or are we building up a toxic legacy which will last for centuries?

I don't begin to know the answer. That's what makes me a nuclear agnostic. But I take George's point about the cherry picking. The anti-nuclear advocates may well be as guilty as the climate change deniers in choosing which bits of evidence they select to back up their case. No doubt it's the same with GM "Frankenstein" foods. To get an informed opinion, you'd have to spend months reading all the relevant literature, months which I don't have. I'll keep my punditry to matters housing.

But that means we all tend to leave stuff like this to "the experts" and when the experts disagree it's no wonder we get confused.


  1. For good info try



    even wikipedia has a fairly comprehensive account of the accident as it unfolds.

  2. Well, it's a one-sided view of things, but IMHO Amory Lovins makes some very good points in this recent article:


  3. Lovins is another like Caldicott. No discussion because the conclusion is foregone, so instead delivers a catalogue of woe, and arms himself with cherry picked factoids. It's the very certainty of the man that makes me suspicious.

  4. http://www.marklynas.org/2011/03/the-dangers-of-nuclear-power-in-light-of-fukushima/

    Seems a good laymans explanation putting the levels of radiation in context to natural background levels and comparing to other exposures.

  5. Now we have to be careful to the radiations from the Fukushima. Those radiations seem to be dangerous just like those from Chernobyl.

  6. People seem to think that very long-term danger only comes from radioactive substances but it also comes from carbon emissions from coal and oil burning. A significant proportion of the CO2 being produced now and accumulating in the atmosphere will still be there in thousands of years, still continuing to warm the Earth.

    We also need to remember that there is enormous potential danger from hydro-electric for many people in places like China which has built large numbers of giant dams. If one of these dams bursts (e.g. earthquake at the dam or upstream of the dam) then millions of people will be drowned because the downstream river valley runs for thousands of miles through many cities. The reservoirs behind some of these dams are so big they are like seas rather than lakes and would result in a the same effects as a tsunami if the dam is breached. Remember, these dams are on rivers thousands of miles long.