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News Reports About Radiation Risk: A Glimmer of Hope
Recent reports about radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in ocean water off Canada reported the risk responsibly. At low doses, the risk is infinitesimal. More news coverage of radiation needs to say so.
Have you heard!? More bad news about the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
From those headlines, and many more like it, you’d figure, “Here comes more scary news about radiation.” But in a hopeful sign that maybe, just maybe, news media coverage might start reporting the actual health risk of radiation more objectively, nearly every story made clear that the mere presence of radiation does not automatically mean there is any reason to worry. And most of the coverage established right up front that the risk was tiny, unlike a lot of stories about radiation (or other risks) in which, after a scary headline, the first part of the story is usually about how much danger there might be, while information suggesting that the risk isn’t all that big is buried down toward the end... if it’s included at all.
The very first paragraph in the Reuters wire service story that ran in many places reported:
Radiation from Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster has for the first time been detected along a North American shoreline, though at levels too low to pose a significant threat to human or marine life, scientists said.
The CBC story had the low risk right in the sub-headline
Nearly every story offered additional language that made it clear that the level of radiation in the water was FAR below anything that would put people or the environment at risk. A Seattle TV station quoted a scientist saying:
“The levels we are seeing are so low that we don't expect there to be impacts on the health of either the marine environment or people living along the coast."
Another piece put the risk in perspective this way:
“Swimming in the Vancouver Island water every day for a year would provide a dose of radiation less than a thousand times smaller than a single dental X-ray.”
This is encouraging news, a sign that the news media are starting to report about radiation more responsibly. As with any toxin, the dose determines the level of danger. Even at high doses nuclear (ionizing) radiation is a weak carcinogen. The extraordinarily high doses received by atomic bomb survivors who were within four miles of those explosions raised their lifetime cancer death rate by less than 1 percent. At lower doses, below 100 millisieverts, the A bomb survivors have taught us that radiation causes so few ill health effects (except birth defects when fetuses are exposed) that they can’t be detected against normal disease rates. (The doses that most people got from Chernobyl and Fukushima were much lower than that.)
That critical information is often left out of stories about radiation, which usually play up the risk, like the one about the Fukushima radiation in ocean water that ran in Deutsche Welle, a news service run by the German government. It is relevant that the German government, under pressure from the staunchly anti-nuclear German Green Party, decided in the wake of Fukushima to reverse its decision to re-license Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants and instead ordered them all shut down.
Deutsche Welle reported:
But unlike every other report on the subject, they failed to include anything about how the tiny doses in the water posed only the tiniest risk, and found a way to play up the fear of radiation, saying in their sub headline:
Scientists have detected radiation from Japan’s 2011 nuclear disaster off the Canadian Coast. Experts disagree as to whether the amount detected constitutes a dangerous level or not.
That’s the same as a conservative American news outlet reporting that there is still scientific disagreement about whether climate change is real. It’s hogwash. Deutsche Welle quoted Peer van de Rijk, a scientist at an anti-nuclear environmentalist organization, saying;
"There is only one safe level: That is zero level. Every amount is possibly harmful, and it adds up. You can never say that there is a safe dose for radiation."
Maybe not. But you can report that low doses mean low danger, and tiny doses mean tiny danger, which Deutsche Welle failed to do, a huge disservice to their readers. (Their story also included a quote from van de Rijk opposing nuclear power.)
Excessive fear of radiation is dangerous all by itself. It feeds opposition to carbon-free nuclear energy, which most energy experts agree should be part of how we minimize climate change. It makes us vulnerable to the risk of radiological terrorism. A "dirty bomb" — a regular explosive contaminated with radioactive material — will do far more harm by the fear it spreads than by the damage the bomb itself does. Excessive fear of radiation scares some people out of medical care options that would do them far more good than harm.
So responsible reporting about the biological risk of radiation is really important for public health and safety. It’s too bad that the tiny levels of radiation in the ocean off Canada got big headlines and high-profile coverage in the first place, given that the risk to human and environmental health was infinitesimal. But it is encouraging that nearly all the coverage prominently reported that RADIATION does not always mean DANGER. The media certainly should sound the alarm when the risk is real. But they should avoid the temptation to be alarmist when it isn’t. This episode provides a hopeful example.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.