Playing Up and Playing Down Risks

Last night I watched the talks given in 2009 by Dr Chris Busby and Dr Jack Valentin on the risks of nuclear radiation.

Chris Busby was arguing that the standard ICRP model of radiation risks was based upon the Hiroshima survivors, all of whom had received pretty much the same dose of radiation throughout their entire bodies. He said that while this may have been reasonable at the time, it wasn’t a valid model for internal radiation, where a radioactive particle got lodged somewhere in a human body, and produced a very high local dose of radiation in the tissues adjacent to it. He went on to say that radioactive fallout particles from nuclear bomb tests had generated some 60 million cancer deaths since 1945, particularly in areas of high rainfall. Which was, he said, a war crime.

I was familiar with this line of thinking, because I’ve explored it a bit in The Fallout Hypothesis and subsequent essays. And clearly Busby was someone who had been thinking along similar lines: that the modern cancer epidemic may be the result of the appearance and distribution of radioactive material in the modern world, So I was very sympathetic to what he was saying. Particularly when Valentin’s response, playing down the risks of radiation , was much less clear and forceful. I began to wonder if the risks of radiation were greater than I imagined.

However, when it emerged that Busby was active in the UK Green party, and had been “chaining himself to nuclear power stations“, I began to wonder whether he was an environmentalist zealot, and that I shouldn’t take him quite so seriously. Added to that he was wearing a brown shirt with a yellow tie, and a black beret on his head (Perhaps I shouldn’t notice these things, but I do).

And this is what I want to discuss – the response we have to people putting forward arguments of one sort or other.

Because my opinion of Busby initially rose sharply as I listened to him (because he was pursuing a line of thought that I had been following), but then plunged when he revealed himself to be a Green (I’m getting thoroughly sick of Greens these days), and fell further when he mentioned that he’d been chaining himself to nuclear power stations (shades of James Hansen and coal-fired power stations).

So nearing the end of it all, the diffident Valentin (dressed in a sober suit, white shirt and tie) was ahead on points, and I’d shifted back to thinking that maybe radiation wasn’t very harmful after all.

But then Busby mentioned “an extremely biased and rather stupid study done by Richard Doll”. And Valentin thought he saw an opportunity:

Valentin: “Let’s not throw too much rotten tomatoes at Sir Richard. Sir Richard, just to let everybody know, was the person who took on the tobacco industry by proving that tobacco causes cancer. He was the person who proved that there is a radiation risk even down to the lowest dose, by looking at radiologists. He was the person who first told Alice Stewart that her early results didn’t prove anything… He is the person who has been awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences the gold medal for radiation protection. I think you can’t really say he would be biased by the nuclear industry.

Busby: “I’m afraid I’ve shopped up Sir Richard Doll to the Danish committee for scientific dishonesty in 2004. So I’ve already said that. And I can back it up with all sorts of documentation too. Sir Richard Doll may have been doing some interesting stuff in the 1950s, but later on he became very much an advocate of the nuclear industry…. He never believed that the Sellafield leukaemia cluster was caused by the radiation.”

And with that, my growing opinion of Valentin collapsed, and my opinion of Busby shot back up. What a man, to have shopped Doll for scientific fraud! My only disagreement is that Doll wasn’t doing “interesting stuff” in the 1950s: he was producing nonsense.

Reflecting afterwards how my opinion had been yo-yoing around as I listened, I also thought that, in response to today’s hysteria about tobacco smoke (and carbon dioxide), I generally find myself downplaying the dangers of more or less everything these days.

And this applies also to nuclear radiation, particularly after seeing a couple of documentaries about the flourishing wildlife around still-radioactive Chernobyl, and Galen Winsor who went swimming in radioactive cooling ponds to show how harmless they were.

Currently I think that what’s really dangerous is to get radioactive particles lodged inside your body – inhaled as dust, for example -, and that aside from that it may well be that people can live in much more highly radioactive environments than is currently believed. Radioactive dust inhalation is one way to get lung cancer. And viral infections like HPV are another. But smoking is more or less harmless. Right or wrong, that’s my present view.

Much the same applies to the current Ebola epidemic, which really does seem to only be highly infective in its final stages. I currently think that it’ll only become a global pandemic if the WHO and the CDC screw things up even more than they already have. Which I suppose makes a global pandemic more or less certain.

I think the dangers of anything can be played up, or played down. In the past, as when Madame Curie was fooling around with radium, the dangers were played down. Now the dangers of radioactivity have been played up much higher. And in an era when the dangers of more or less everything, from tobacco and alcohol to sugar and salt (and now even milk) seem to be vastly overplayed to the point of complete hysteria, it’s probably about time that dangers started to be played down.

About Frank Davis

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21 Responses to Playing Up and Playing Down Risks

  1. harleyrider1978 says:

    The U.S. national annual background dose for humans is approximately 360 mrem. A mrem, or millirem, is a standard measure of radiation dose. Examples of radiation doses from common medical procedures are:

    Chest x-ray (14 x 17 inch area) – 15 mrem

    Dental x-ray (3 inch diameter area) – 300 mrem

    Spinal x-ray (14 x 17 inch area) – 300 mrem

    Thyroid uptake study – 28,000 mrem to the thyroid

    Thyroid oblation – 18,000,000 mrem to the thyroid

    Average Annual Total
    361 mrem/year

    Tobacco (If You Smoke, Add ~ 280 mrem)

    Not quite 1 dental xray for a whole years smoking ehh!


    Thyroid oblation – 18,000,000 mrem to the thyroid /shrinking the thyroid

    Tobacco (If You Smoke, Add ~ 280 mrem)

    18,000,000 / 280 = roughly 64,000 years of equivalent years of smoking!

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      My step daughter had Thyroid oblation at 27………………..You can just imagine what she thought when I showed her the above! She smokes too!

  2. harleyrider1978 says:

    The cyber police…………….

    You been banned yet for fighting back heres why!

    They don’t like us destroying their agendas………….

    The invisible global army hot on the trail of trolls

    From a sunlit room in a small village in Devon, a 65-year-old woman is watching you. Patrolling the internet, she admonishes cyberbullies, trolls and spammers.

    Jennifer Paine is an online moderator for Emoderation, a company that manages social media for companies in sectors ranging from banks to children’s online games, from HSBC to Moshi Monsters. Described as the “granny of community moderation”, her first foray into the industry was as far back as 1997, when she managed chat rooms and forums in the dark days of dial-up.

    Christopher Caldwell The trouble with trolls

    Today her job is not unusual. Dotted around the globe is an invisible army of men and women monitoring our online comments. Some, like Ms Paine, work from their homes, often part-time, juggling the work with other jobs or caring for family. Others are based in the modern-day incarnation of the call-centre, in the Philippines or India. They work for specialist companies, who take on the work on behalf of some of the largest companies in Silicon Valley.

    These workers sanitise the internet for users and guard the reputation of brands and social media sites.

    Hemanshu Nigam was chief security officer at News Corp and MySpace, where he oversaw moderation operations, before setting up SSP Blue, an online safety and privacy consultancy. He estimates that “con mod” – as he refers to content moderation – companies employ well over 100,000 workers and are expanding around the globe. Given the sometimes nuanced and emotional nature of the work, moderators are almost always required to have a college education, he says.

    The emotional hazards of the job, he notes, are “reviewing images depicting every type of horrible human act from child exploitation to beheadings”. However, the bulk of the work is removing libellous content or managing trolls, the people that set out to start arguments or post threatening or inflammatory messages online.

    As new laws are discussed in the UK that could see internet trolls jailed for up to two years for threatening behaviour, these content moderators are on the frontline, monitoring trolls’ behaviour and reporting it to the owners of chat forums and social networks.

    Like beauty, a troll is in the eye of the beholder. Susanne Kendler, a 40-year-old Austrian who lives in London and works for Emoderation, is keen that people do not misuse the term. “If you comment on a news story forcefully and someone doesn’t agree with you, calls you a troll and reports your comments, that does not make you a troll.”

    One London-based woman employed by Tempero, a content moderating company, who prefers to remain anonymous, reflects on the motivations of trolls. “People troll for all kinds of reasons,” she says. There is the “original troll”, where someone posts something with the sole aim of riling other users. “They are just bored and often don’t realise the kind of upset they can cause. Best defence is simply to ignore them.”

    Others, she says, hold views that the majority of people find abhorrent. “They feel angry and marginalised. [They are upset] that others aren’t as racist or homophobic as they are, so they go online to rant in relative safety.” These ones, she believes, are scared that their way of life is disappearing. “It’s sad that the only way they can deal with that is by shouting at other people online.”

    The third type she identifies are those who go out of their way to make others’ lives miserable. “It would be easy to dismiss them as scumbags – and some undoubtedly are – but some also have problems of their own.”

    Ms Kendler says in many cases trolls want to be acknowledged. “Those sorts of trolls can go on forever, no matter what others in a conversation say, no matter if facts are against them, they just enjoy the baiting.”

    Sari Kiiskinen works from her home in Tobago when her four-year-old son is at school and during the night when he sleeps. She observes that some commenters try to get as many fellow users banned as possible. “They celebrate the fact with comments such as ‘Yeeaahhhhh!!! I got X, Y and Z banned just now . . . Follow me let’s go and troll some guys to get them banned’.”

    The job, muses Ms Kiiskinen, is good for staying on top of trends and expressions used by children and teenagers. “I like to think I am one of the more informed people in my age group for new English expressions, profanities, memes invented and trending in North America, Europe and Australia.”

    Stumbling across horrific images is a professional hazard. Wendy Christie, chief production officer at Emoderation, says part of her job is to identify moderators who are suffering distress. The tell-tale signs are becoming angry, uncommunicative or physically unwell. “I’ve dealt with lots of tears, anger. People are angry over why there are people like this in the world. Images of children hit people the hardest.”

    Many companies now offer psychological support because of the nature of the material that moderators witness, Mr Nigam says.

    Ms Kiiskinen says she can maintain a professional distance. “Seeing or reading unpleasant or distressing content is part of the job like attending to emergencies in real life is for the police, doctors, firefighters. Usually I don’t think about work after I finish the shift.”

    They also face abuse themselves. At Tempero, the anonymous moderator says she has been accused of being all “races, religions, political persuasions and even, memorably, French”. It can be hard dealing with outpourings of hatred, she notes. “There are some very angry people in the world.”

    The topics that rile people are astounding, she says. There is the predictable: immigration, politics and animal rights. But she has seen huge spats break out over driving – “everyone thinks they’re a great driver” – and minor celebrity stories. “All you need is two or three people with strong opinions and you have a bunfight in the making.”

    A particular bugbear for her is spammers, especially those who target sites providing support to vulnerable people. “What kind of sick mind do you need to have to carpet a forum for the recently bereaved with adverts for kitchens?”

    The moderators also scan online communities for potential suicides. Ms Christie advises her charges that they are not counsellors; the best they can do is report people to the client companies who may be able to trace them through personal information and IP addresses.

    The busiest times are holidays. Ms Kiiskinen says there is an increase in work in these periods as people have time off and visit online communities. Again, she draws a parallel with the emergency services, noting that they are generally busier in the festive seasons. “So, the number of users violating the guidelines also tends to rise.”

    Ms Christie does not want to overstate the dark side of the internet. The majority of the work is to delete comments that have breached a company’s code of conduct. The most typical reaction is that people feel they are being “censored by someone with an agenda”. In reality, their comment has been taken down because it breached contempt of court or libel law, or contained some extreme swearing or a vicious attack on another commenter.

    As the anonymous moderator likes to see it, her job is simple: she is tasked with “keeping the internet civil”.

    • Many companies now offer psychological support because of the nature of the material that moderators witness, Mr Nigam says.

      I could probably do with some therapy as an online commentator/debater after many years, especially after having tried to debate civilly with Richard Dawkins’ adherents.

      I was banned from his blog after being reported for proselytising when I was replying to questions the Dawkins faithful were asking me about scripture.

      I went there to try to talk about the science, but most of his followers haven’t a clue about that. They just love the religion-bashing. They just believe the science.

      I like to think I was really banned for consistently showing them up for the intolerant and ignorant people most of them are.

      They did me a favour by saving me a lot of time and a lot of hurt. Militant humanists/secularists are possibly the most conceited, self-important and deluded people on the planet which makes them the most vile to try to debate with.

      That’s why they believe, despite being a minority, that the direction society goes should be up to them and them alone.

      I was probably considered a troll by some for always contradicting their blog posts. In future, could this mean two years in prison for offending devout followers of Dawkinism?

      • westcoast2 says:

        “They just believe the science”, makes as much sense as “They just believe the table”.
        Dark matter, dark energy, dark flow, it seems ‘the science’ is in the dark.

  3. waltc says:

    On the topic: I guess the thing is to listen to the disembodied arguments (never mind if their proponent chained himself to plants, trees, or a talon-nailed, black-stockinged dominatrix) and test them against counter evidence. Even a zealot can be right on occasion, even on the subject he’s zealous about, And in the end, it’s okay to just admit, “I don’t know.” (I wish more zealots were capable of that.)

    Anecdotally, while John Wayne’s lung cancer was blamed on his smoking, others point out that he was shooting a movie in the desert near…Alamagodo?.. (somewhere, anyway) when an A-test went off. …but… I don’t know, and maybe it was just bad genes and bad luck. Anecdotally, a friend’s never-smoking mother died of lung cancer which was blamed on the fact that she assisted her dentist husband by doing the patient x-rays, staying in the room as was the custom Back Then and w/o any protection. Still,,, I don’t know though there’s a logic to the theory.

  4. gainny says:

    In addition to inhalation, radioactive particles are ingested in food and drink. Look up bioaccumulation—the higher up the food chain, the more radioactivity.

  5. margo says:

    IMHO, Frank, you need to do some hefty reading. Somewhere in Chris Busby’s packed book ‘Wolves of Water’ is a description of what he calls the ‘nuclear mafia’, a quite small group of bodies that control the ‘risk model’ for radiation: IAEA, ICRP, NCRP, UNSCEAR, BEIR, COMARE, CERRIE (there may be another one). They are all interconnected, often the same people functioning under different names, and they’re the source of a number of nuclear myths (the Chernobyl ‘wildlife paradise’, the rubbishy ‘mixed population’ explanation for the cluster of childhood leukaemia spikes round Sellafield, and so on).
    You could also read ‘The Woman who Knew Too Much’, the biography of Alice (not ‘Anne’) Stewart, the scientist who was silenced and ruined by Richard Doll and others.
    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both the IAEA agreement with WHO (which forces WHO to under-play the damage caused by events like Chernobyl and Fukushima) and the Smoking Studies of Doll occurred in the 1950s, just as the health consequences of post-war atomic bomb testing were beginning to be revealed.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Alice (not ‘Anne’) Stewart

      Thanks for the correction. It sounded like Anne when Valentin said it. And I actually mentioned Alice Stewart in The Fallout Hypothesis 3

      As for the Chernobyl “wildlife paradise”, I’ve seen two documentaries saying much the same about this, with wolves and fish. What makes you think that this is misinformation? It would have to have been an outright lie. I’ll see if I can find one of them.

      Here. Giant carp and catfish in the reactor cooling ponds. Wolf packs. Eagles. There are twice as many deformities as in uncontaminated zones, but otherwise (approx 31 minutes in) “the ecosystem is in robust health.”

  6. The Blocked Dwarf says:

    Just had a begging email from PlaguePal-asking on behalf of DEC for money to fight ebola.

    “So your money goes such a long way:

    • A £25 donation could provide a cleaning kit – with a bucket, bleach and soap for three families at risk of infection.

    • A £50 donation could provide basic protective clothing – including gloves, masks, boots and gowns for three volunteers in a quarantine area.

    • A £100 donation could provide community training – to help families keep themselves safe.”

    Notice the ‘could’ there and the expense of teaching people NOT TO TOUCH DEAD BODIES or kiss dying relatives ‘good bye’. The expense of teaching people that groundnut oil rubbed over a virgin will NOT cure ebola. But the real kicker was :

    If you simply send enough for a bar of soap, it will almost certainly stop someone from becoming infected”

    I don’t know which interpretation of that sentence is the more offensive…

    Don’t them there poor benighted heathens, what don’t know no better, even have SOAP?!

    • beobrigitte says:

      Indeed, the DEC is begging for money and berating the public for NOT donating enough – The WHO keeps mum.
      Is it too busy sending it’s delegates to various governments in order to force their in Moscow decided next step (higher tobacco tax; regulation –> tax of e-cigarettes) into law?

      So the WHO’s anti-tobacco jamboree in Moscow could have paid for cleaning kit for 64,000 families and protective clothing for 64,000 volunteers.

      And they’re asking YOU to donate because they pissed all that money up the wall on caviar and five star hotels while they were eagerly discussing how they could add further misery to YOUR life!

      What a shower of despicable low-lives.

      Indeed, the cost of this nonsense meeting (courtesy of the tax payer?) indeed could have SAVED REAL LIVES.

      What really gets me: The Gates’ donated $4,000,000 IN SEPTEMBER.
      Where did this money go to? The organisation ‘Doctors without Borders’ was by then on it’s knees, appealing to the WHO/all governments for help!!
      All I know is that the WHO blames burocracy/African Governments etc. etc. for it’s utter failure to act when the EPIDEMIC could have been brought under control. And they knew in SEPTEMBER that their preoccupation with tobacco is the reason that they condemned so many African people to death.

      This exclusive (?sponsor dictated) club WHO may as well be dissolved. I can’t believe anything that is being broadcast from them anymore. The Ebola EPIDEMIC (it is an EPIDEMIC, not just a crisis as the WHO wants to downplay it) has proved that they don’t care about people. They just care for their donors’ agendas.

  7. nisakiman says:

    • A £25 donation could provide a cleaning kit – with a bucket, bleach and soap for three families at risk of infection.

    • A £50 donation could provide basic protective clothing – including gloves, masks, boots and gowns for three volunteers in a quarantine area.

    So the WHO’s anti-tobacco jamboree in Moscow could have paid for cleaning kit for 64,000 families and protective clothing for 64,000 volunteers.

    And they’re asking YOU to donate because they pissed all that money up the wall on caviar and five star hotels while they were eagerly discussing how they could add further misery to YOUR life!

    What a shower of despicable low-lives.

    • The Blocked Dwarf says:

      Thanks Nisaki, I meant to put a paragraph saying roughly the same in my original comment. Blame Old Age.

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        The doc looked at a brown spot I had come up today…………….He said its an old age spot or Liver spot as they call em……………My first. Im fucked. Old age is settin in.

  8. beobrigitte says:

    Reflecting afterwards how my opinion had been yo-yoing around as I listened, I also thought that, in response to today’s hysteria about tobacco smoke (and carbon dioxide), I generally find myself downplaying the dangers of more or less everything these days.

    Hysteria is the most apt description of what we find ourselves bombarded with on a daily basis. The result is that people stop listening and start yawning, so the hysterics have to dream up even scarier stories to get more attention. They seem to miss that their ‘health warnings’ have quite often amusement as a result. Today I have learned that there is a campaign for alcohol containers to display CALORIES in order to combat obesity.
    (At least I got to have a laugh today!)

    And this applies also to nuclear radiation, particularly after seeing a couple of documentaries about the flourishing wildlife around still-radioactive Chernobyl, and Galen Winsor who went swimming in radioactive cooling ponds to show how harmless they were.

    I did see some of these documentaries myself, including the one about the Przewalski horses having been released into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Indeed, I did think that the thriving horse population there originated from these horses.

    But then, I did find something written about this:
    In 1998 and 1999 the Reserve together with the State Forest Enterprise Chernobylles transported 31 Przewalski horses including 10 males and 18 females from Askania Nova and 3 males from a local zoo of the Lozovski stud to the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
    Eight horses including 2 ones from the local zoo died during transportation or soon after that; others formed 2 harem groups and one bachelor group. The Przewalski horses were kept in acclimatization enclosures from few weeks to 8 months; then they were released into the wild. The only survived male from the local zoo refused to leave the acclimatization enclosures and died there 18 months later.

    In 2004, unknown to the Reserve Askania Nova, other thirteen PHs were transported from some city zoos into Chernobyl exclusion zone and were released into the wild without acclimatization. The Przewalski horses failed in adaptation to the nature environments and soon died without posterities.
    Przewalski horses began breeding in 1998. Totally, 15 mares and 2 stallions (61% of the horses transported from Askania Nova) gave offspring and became founders of the population. The first foals of the 2nd generation were born in 2004…..

    With being fed so much hystric (and often contradictory) nonsense, it is easy to downplay a danger which might well be real.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      As Frank said,when they’ve taken nothing and made it something that kills its very hard to take anything they say seriously ever again. Ive posted comments from news stories around the globe here at times showing people saying ”I WILL NEVER BELIEVE WHAT THE GOVERNMENT SAYS EVER AGAIN!

  9. Fredrik Eich says:

    Both Sweden and the US (along with the rest of the world) saw a sharp rise in lung cancer when atomic testing started but at that same time Americans had been smoking for 30 years longer than Sweden. For smoking to be the cause of these rises then it would have to be true that Swedish cigarettes cause lung cancer in the year of purchase but US cigarettes take 20 – 30 years to cause lung cancer – which does not make sense.

  10. smokingscot says:


    Latest poll on the Rochester and Strood (now to be held on 20th Nov.) shows UKIP’s lead is growing.,_2014

    and should you wish to look into the poll results in greater detail, it defecates all over the propaganda that support comes from antiquated old farts who want to turn the clock backwards! 58% are aged 18 to 54 and – more to the point – 25% remain undecided.

    Click to access Rochester-Strood-TTIP-full-tables.pdf

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