[Marxism] "Radiation phobia"

Jeff meisner at xs4all.nl
Wed Dec 6 16:35:05 MST 2017


I generally agree with David's post in regards to the (mis-) use of 
anecdotal, sloppy, and/or statistically insignificant data in reaching 
unfounded conclusions, and which the popular science article that 
started this discussion appears to be guilty of. But now I'm switching 
gears.....

In the last paragraph of his post David inadvertantly changed the 
subject:

On 2017-12-06 22:24, DW via Marxism wrote:
> ......
> Generally speaking the left is spooked by radiation phobia.

Well I plead guilty to that! Of course I wouldn't call it a "phobia" 
which implies a psychological problem, but valid "fear" and "avoidance" 
to ionizing radiation and radioisotopes. There are good reasons to do 
so! And it's understandable that people who distrust the governments and 
corporations are more likely to question reassurance offered by those 
evil entities.

The dangers due to radiation are a matter of scientific inquiry, not a 
left-right issue, but given dangers that become known then how you act 
on them are indeed political issues. Corporations that cause radiation 
exposure have every interest in reducing our "phobia" as do governments 
that stockpile nuclear weapons for use in war. But of course that 
doesn't mean that you should just believe every such claim which is 
punctuated by "They are keeping this fact secret because it threatens 
their profits...."

As our knowledge has advanced, there has been a steady increase in the 
appreciation of health risks caused by ionizing radiation. I haven't 
studied that history in detail, but I can cite some rather well-known 
examples to that effect. Over a hundred years ago when Marie Currie 
isolated and studied radium she certainly had little idea of what it was 
doing to her body, or she would have worn a lead apron that would have 
saved her life.

As soon as x-rays were recognized for their diagnostic value in 
identifying fractures, they also became used in fluoroscopy (which 
delivers a very high radiation dose because the x-ray source is kept on 
for many seconds or minutes) not just for medical purposes but even in 
shoe stores (with the x-ray beam pointed toward the person's head!) just 
so people could see how the bones in their feet fit in the shoes they 
were trying out!

Watches and clocks were widely manufactured with radium painted dials so 
that they could be seen in the dark. I'm sure people who bought those 
assumed that they wouldn't be allowed for sale if there were a danger, 
but they were wrong. The workers who hand-painted those dials suffered 
health effects at a high rate; the effect would have been much smaller 
(perhaps undetectable) among wearers of those watches but still probably 
amounted to many many avoidable deaths. I doubt most people would have 
accepted that risk, even if small, just so they could see the time 
without turning on the lights.

What amounts to experimentation on unwilling or naive human subjects 
took place when they marched US soldiers over the radioactive embers of 
the first nuclear bomb test, and then again on the Pacific islanders 
when they vaporized Bikini island with the first H-bomb. It may well be 
that the dangers were not unknown to those commissioning these tests, 
but they were certainly kept from the test subjects and the public as a 
whole. Either way this sordid history provides good reason to distrust 
the authorities responsible for providing false reassurance.

Generally through the 20th century there was a continual increase in the 
assessment of dangers from ionizing radiation, with the public always 
finding out too late what was not being told them by governments and 
corporations whose interests were served by avoiding alarm among the 
public. Meanwhile there has been greater care in reducing exposure, for 
instance by making x-ray film (or detectors used now) more sensitive so 
that exposures could be reduced, and more careful control of the x-rays 
through collimation and energy selection. But exposure to nuclear 
fallout (contamination) increased until popular pressure eventually 
pushed for the treaty banning atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. 
And then in the last 40 years there have been a number of accidents at 
nuclear power plants, resulting in various amounts of isotope leakage 
and consequent excess cancers (whether detectable or not). This was 
always after the power companies had sworn over and over that their 
plants were safe and that what later happened was "unthinkable." No 
wonder that this form of energy production became a target of leftists 
while supporters of the corporations were more willing to minimize the 
perceived danger.

Now a lot of what I'm saying is more historical concerning dangers that 
have now reduced. But I don't consider it a "phobia" for people to avoid 
radiation exposure. If I had a basement that was well sealed and which I 
was going to spend time in, I would definitely get it tested for radon 
(a radioactive gas that is very high in some localities). Before 
undergoing an x-ray or nuclear medicine procedure, I would want to know 
that the (usually small) risk was justified by the medical benefit of 
the diagnostics. I'm not talking about an occasional chest (etc.) x-ray 
which is a quite small exposure, but a CT scan involves turning on the 
x-ray for many minutes resulting in a body exposure 100's of times 
larger. According to a study cited in Wikipedia they have estimated that 
there is an extra cancer for every 1800 CT scans. I have no doubt that 
the medical benefit of this imaging technology greatly outweighs that 
risk, but I would absolutely advise against getting one just so you 
could look at a picture of your insides (which the insurance company 
wouldn't pay for so this is probably not an issue).

There are even places on earth where the natural  background radiation 
is so high people should stay away. Probably most nuclear plants never 
have significant radiation leaks. But would you blame nearby residents 
for not trusting the business when they are told just that?

One problem is that although it's known that about 500 rads of radiation 
exposure will kill half the people, there is great uncertainty 
concerning the statistical effect of low radiation exposure, simply 
because it's difficult to run tests on humans as we've been discussing. 
So equally well-informed people can choose to ignore or overemphasize 
the danger without clearly being wrong. It may be (say) that the average 
person has a 1% lifetime risk over their lifetime of getting a cancer 
from unnatural sources of radiation: is that something they should avoid 
if it means not having electricity or never flying in an airplane? What 
if it just means we need a different form of electricity that is more 
expensive? Or that causes global warming that will threaten your 
grandchildren?

I don't think there can be clear answers to these questions, both due to 
lack of good knowledge concerning the danger levels and also due to 
individuals' priorities. But what leftists can see better than the 
average person, is that trusting the governments and corporations isn't 
a solution, which is why we are fertile ground for articles of the sort 
that started this thread.

I can't take a clear position on which is greater, the danger from 
nuclear power or from burning fossil fuels. I really think both are bad, 
but I will offer one final statistic. The total number of fatalities 
from solar power: zero.

- Jeff




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