Know Nukes

I always find the phrase “Nuclear family” rather funny.  Even though my parents divorced when I was twelve, I still think of my childhood as nuclear, just a different kind of nuclear. Dad worked in the scientific instrument field, so we had radioactive supplies around the house quite often.

I did the “Duck and cover” drills in elementary school, I grew up with the knowledge that a fission device could end the lives of everyone I knew at any moment, and that liquid scintillation counters used radiation for life saving research. I knew some forms of radiation were safe and some were not. I learned that some chemicals keep us alive while others are toxic. I learned that some plants are natural medicines, and some are natural poisons. I learned when to be afraid, and when not to. I used a cooler that my father had carried radioactive isotopes in to carry beer to concerts. There was no residual radioactivity, but I would joke about it and say “I didn’t want to have kids anyway”. It was a joke, okay? I’ve got four kids now.

Back then, all that information was in books. It still is, but it is supplemented, and sometimes supplanted by the internet.

The internet is a social forum. It is not a font of knowledge, it is a sewer of information. Sure, there may be a discarded gold watch in there, but it’s covered with feces.

There is a reason why scientists are respected. Because they are trained in critical thinking, and have studied their respective fields. When Emma had cancer, we didn’t seek the advice of a nuclear physicist, we were fortunate enough to find a premiere oncologist, Dr. Charles Yeo. When I’m looking for information on Global Warming, I don’t call Dr. Yeo, I check peer reviewed studies from respectable institutions. The resources available on the internet are amazing, and so is some of the garbage.

There is a lot of fuzzy logic out there. People who have no idea how to apply critical thinking are unlikely to apply any critical thinking to their sources. It’s maddening that people who say they don’t believe anything will believe anything, as long as it has no connection to actual research. For some reason fear mongering is popular. Maybe it’s the release of frustration, maybe it’s the need to control other people. Look at the various theories floating around, is there one that is based on a positive event?

Usually the false information is harmless. If people want to get worked up over issues that don’t exist that’s fine, just don’t try to get me worked up about it. Don’t come to my  door (this actually happened a few years ago) and insult me because I don’t believe your bullshit. If you don’t want there to be fracking, or a pipeline, or offshore drilling, then drive your SUV off a cliff. If you want to eat, drink, and breathe asparagus to cure your cancer, go right ahead. I’ll be pursuing therapies that actually have positive results. I don’t see a problem with genetically modified organisms. Gregor Mendels began the research in 1856, we’ve been modifying plants and animals at a genetic level for one hundred and fifty years. Suddenly it’s the end of the world?

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There is stuff to worry about, and insufficient time to worry about things that don’t matter.

The Fukushima disaster has caused a great deal of wringing of hands. Radiation can be scary, especially in the country where it brought Godzilla to life. I’ve read a lot about it, but actual verifiable information is being crowded out by fear mongering. If you’re afraid of nuclear power, fine, turn off your computer. Nuclear power has caused fewer deaths than any other source of power, when compared on a watt to death ratio. What that means is that more people die generating one hundred gigawatts of electricity in coal based generation, petroleum based generation, hydro-electric generation, and even solar generation than in nuclear generation. Wind power costs twice as many lives as nuclear per watt, while providing one seventeenth as much of the world’s electricity (I know that statistic could be claimed to be misleading as I’m using two different measures, read it carefully).

Fukushima survived one of the largest earthquakes in history. Measuring 9.0 on the Richter magnitude scale, with an epicenter less than one hundred miles away, it is not the kind of event that can be factored into safety engineering. The Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant, even closer to the epicenter, survived undamaged. Eight gas fired power plants and two refineries were damaged. Nearly sixteen thousand people died, but no deaths are tied to exposure to radioactivity, although several people died due to the evacuation around Fukushima.

There has been a good deal of speculation and outright lies in the reporting of the impact of the earthquake. When people don’t understand that there is a level of background radiation that occurs naturally everywhere on Earth, they are easily fooled into a  post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning when shown background radiation in an area they don’t expect to see it. This is similar to the concern over radiation in the waste water from fracking. Uranium is a naturally occurring element, if it is in the soil where fracking is taking place, it will be in the waste water. It is no different than the cognitive dissonance which takes place when people see a bear in a semi rural neighborhood such as my own, and ask “where did it come from?”. We move to the woods to be closer to nature, yet are surprised by its presence.

One of the reasons we need to be aware of our surroundings is so we’ll know the difference between normal and abnormal occurrences. This way we know when to be afraid, and when not to be.

Know nukes. No fear.

 

One comment on “Know Nukes

  1. MIke R says:

    Excellent advice, and one of your finest writings, I think. The media feeds off of “post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning.” The even add “if x occurred together with y, then one must cause the other” as in constantly reporting correlational research findings that say properly point out “may cause”, and even then should say that they are only correlated. So many nutritional supplements make millions. Politicians grow government and spend millions. Governments restrict behavior for which there is no solid scientific proof that is available, merely upon hype and poor reasoning. I find it helpful to use sources like junkscience.com and others. More importantly, as you point out, it takes experience, training, and knowledge in specific skills to make the best decision. I have tried to play plumber before. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes I had to call a plumber and pay even more money due to the damage I had caused, thinking that plumbing was not all that difficult. Even with all that experience, humans still must deal with poor or even fraudulent research and their own shortcomings. In the end, I think it wiser to find a skilled and knowledgeable person to help me sort out the good from the bad.

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