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The chain of scientific authority

March 21st, 2011

Noted scientist Andrew Bolt assures us that exposure to radioactivity is beneficial. His source is creation scientist Ann Coulter, who in turn relies on all-round scientific expert Tom Bethell, whose Incorrect Guide to Science[1] rejects scientific correctness on radiation, evolution, climate change, DDT, AIDS and many other topics. As far as I know, none of these experts has ever studied any scientific subject at a level higher than high school, which guarantees that they haven’t been infected by the subversive influence of correctness in science (or, for that matter, any other topic).

(Hat tip, Tim Lambert, who points to one of those correct scientists, PZ Myers)

fn1. The full title says “Politically Incorrect”, but this is a bit redundant. No doubt politics are the reason for Bethells incorrectness on science, but that’s true of all his incorrect opinions.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Science Tags:
  1. TerjeP
    March 22nd, 2011 at 15:55 | #1

    JQ – on which specific issue of fact have I wrongly sided with Bolt?

  2. jakerman
    March 22nd, 2011 at 16:04 | #2

    TerjeP :JQ – on which specific issue of fact have I wrongly sided with Bolt?

    You’ve specialised in avoiding concrete issues to try and smear critiques of Bolt into John and Lambert.

    Well done for saying noting in so many words, sorry that you were attempting to associate Bolts actions with everyone else, rather than facing up to Bolts fallacious reliance on Ann Coulter.

  3. Fran Barlow
    March 22nd, 2011 at 16:28 | #3

    @TerjeP

    Blot’s pattern of misrepresentation is so consistent in its objects and so reckless with the data, his refusal to recant so solid, that it stretches credulity to conclude other than that he is simply lying for his tribe. Lying seems to be his default position. He has the old RW ALP machine motto — never resign never apologise.

    He misrepresents on big things and on small things and if the matter involves the Greens, then his trolling goes up a notch.

    And as others have said, he won’t permit challenges on his blog if he thinks the challenger just might expose his duplicity. I know that from personal experience. He decalred some years ago that I was never to return and deleted my posts. He’s entitled of course — it’s his blog — but it reflects on his ethos.

    He truly is a blot on the mediascape.

  4. Nick R
    March 22nd, 2011 at 16:34 | #4

    Terje – the best candidates for neutral arbiters of the truth are the scientists who understand the problem and submit their work for scrutiny, and they all seem to be in pretty strong agreement. While I am aware that you have sensible views on AGW, you should acknowledge that most on the right don’t (e.g. Bolt) and that this is not something easily overlooked.

  5. TerjeP
    March 22nd, 2011 at 16:46 | #5

    rather than facing up to Bolts fallacious reliance on Ann Coulter.

    Jackerman – my first words on this discussion were:-

    Nice attack on the anti science behaviour of Andrew Bolt.

    Did you presume that I didn’t mean it?

  6. TerjeP
    March 22nd, 2011 at 16:51 | #6

    Blot’s pattern of misrepresentation is so consistent in its objects and so reckless with the data, his refusal to recant so solid, that it stretches credulity to conclude other than that he is simply lying for his tribe. Lying seems to be his default position. He has the old RW ALP machine motto — never resign never apologise.

    I don’t think Bolt is a liar. I do think he is over zealous at times and that he should take more time out to listen to and properly understand the more intelligent criticisms of his arguments. However that is not the same as being a liar.

  7. TerjeP
    March 22nd, 2011 at 16:54 | #7

    You’ve specialised in avoiding concrete issues

    I avoid concrete positions when I have nothing concrete to say. I can and do however take quite specific positions on certain issues from time to time. Sorry if you have not noticed.

  8. jakerman
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:06 | #8

    TerjeP :JQ – I broadly agree with your repudiation of Coulter and Andrew Bolts reliance on her. But his article about 4 Corners makes similar valid criticisms of who others rely on for their science.

    @TerjeP

    I disagree, Bolt’s criticism of the Four Corners programme are bogus. Lets take his leading point, (terjeP can pick a better one if he can find one). Bolt complains that the following quote is “a wildly unlikely hypothetical“:

    The problem there is, if that plutonium fuel is melting inside the core, if it’s being vented out or if an explosion were to break the containment open, we could have, and we have as much as a quarter of a ton of additional plutonium in that reactor, we could have radioactive releases containing plutonium, which would be just yet another horror to have to deal with…

    Yet this is not “a wildly unlikely hypothetical“, in Japan it is reported they are actually venting radioactive material to cool the reactors.

    In Japan, plant operators face a similar dilemma, forced to vent radioactive gas from the overheating reactors at Fukushima Dai-ichi.

    At the nearby Fukushima Daini facility, engineers have reported signs of three more reactors overheating, leading them to vent gas. A third facility, the Onagawa nuclear power plant, also is under a state of emergency.

    http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20110315/1anuke15_cv.art.htm

    [March 12] TEPCO workers began venting radioactive steam at Fukushima-Daiichi reactor No. 1 to prevent pressure from getting any higher and bursting the thick steel vessel that holds the nuclear core. In essence, the operators moved radioactive gases from the inner containment area into the larger building that houses the reactor. At the same time, the government began evacuating some 20,000 people from the region within 10 kilometers of the stricken power plant.

    On March 12, an explosion tore the roof off the building housing reactor No. 1 after workers vented high-pressure steam and hydrogen into the structure.

    http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-03-21/anatomy-nuclear-crisis-chronology-fukushima#

    Now elevated levels of radiation are being found in drinking water food and seawater.

    Now the Japanese government is warning that release of even more radiation is likely. They would not be planning further venting if the risk of worse were not real.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/radioactive-steam-buildup-hits-battle-to-cool-reactors-2247779.html#

  9. jakerman
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:10 | #9

    TerjeP :

    You’ve specialised in avoiding concrete issues

    I avoid concrete positions when I have nothing concrete to say. I can and do however take quite specific positions on certain issues from time to time. Sorry if you have not noticed.

    No TerjeP , I noticed all right, remember I pointed it out to you:

    That is called hand waving. This empty two sentances can be rolled out for any generic situation where you have no sensible comment to make. Pure mindless word mash.

  10. jakerman
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:17 | #10

    TerjeP :

    rather than facing up to Bolts fallacious reliance on Ann Coulter.

    Jackerman – my first words on this discussion were:-

    Nice attack on the anti science behaviour of Andrew Bolt.

    Did you presume that I didn’t mean it?

    I accept this correction to my claim. Will you accept your smearing Bolt’s behaviour with that of John is fallacious handwaving?

  11. TerjeP
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:18 | #11

    Yes but in that case I did actually make a quite specific statement of my position.

    I’m smart enough to know that Bolt is not wrong on all things just as you are not wrong on all things. And both of you are wrong on many things.

    It was JQ who was hand waving. He said:-

    You’re smart enough to know that Bolt is wrong on all counts

  12. TerjeP
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:19 | #12

    Will you accept your smearing Bolt’s behaviour with that of John is fallacious handwaving?

    I don’t understand what this means. Can you rephrase it please.

  13. jakerman
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:19 | #13

    The following is split to avoid the moderation trap:

    TerjeP :JQ – I broadly agree with your repudiation of Coulter and Andrew Bolts reliance on her. But his article about 4 Corners makes similar valid criticisms of who others rely on for their science.

    @TerjeP

    I disagree, Bolt’s criticism of the Four Corners programme are bogus. Lets take his leading point, (terjeP can pick a better one if he can find one). Bolt complains that the following quote is “a wildly unlikely hypothetical“:

    The problem there is, if that plutonium fuel is melting inside the core, if it’s being vented out or if an explosion were to break the containment open, we could have, and we have as much as a quarter of a ton of additional plutonium in that reactor, we could have radioactive releases containing plutonium, which would be just yet another horror to have to deal with…

    Yet this is not “a wildly unlikely hypothetical“, in Japan it is reported they are actually venting radioactive material to cool the reactors.

    In Japan, plant operators face a similar dilemma, forced to vent radioactive gas from the overheating reactors at Fukushima Dai-ichi.

    At the nearby Fukushima Daini facility, engineers have reported signs of three more reactors overheating, leading them to vent gas. A third facility, the Onagawa nuclear power plant, also is under a state of emergency.

    http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20110315/1anuke15_cv.art.htm

  14. jakerman
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:19 | #14

    [March 12] TEPCO workers began venting radioactive steam at Fukushima-Daiichi reactor No. 1 to prevent pressure from getting any higher and bursting the thick steel vessel that holds the nuclear core. In essence, the operators moved radioactive gases from the inner containment area into the larger building that houses the reactor. At the same time, the government began evacuating some 20,000 people from the region within 10 kilometers of the stricken power plant.

    On March 12, an explosion tore the roof off the building housing reactor No. 1 after workers vented high-pressure steam and hydrogen into the structure.

    http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-03-21/anatomy-nuclear-crisis-chronology-fukushima#

  15. jakerman
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:20 | #15

    Now elevated levels of radiation are being found in drinking water food and seawater.

    Now the Japanese government is warning that release of even more radiation is likely. They would not be planning further venting if the risk of worse were not real.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/radioactive-steam-buildup-hits-battle-to-cool-reactors-2247779.html#

  16. TerjeP
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:24 | #16

    Jakerman – the similar and valid criticisms is the solicitation of scientific opinion from non-scientists.

    As for the venting of radioactive gas it seems clear that you don’t know what this means in practice.

  17. jakerman
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:26 | #17

    TerjeP :

    Will you accept your smearing Bolt’s behaviour with that of John is fallacious handwaving?

    I don’t understand what this means. Can you rephrase it please.

    Will you accept the fallacious nature of your attemp to liken Bolt’s behavour with John’s. As per your handwaving comment I hightlighted http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2011/03/21/the-chain-of-scientific-authority/comment-page-1/#comment-276468

  18. jakerman
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:29 | #18

    TerjeP :Jakerman – the similar and valid criticisms is the solicitation of scientific opinion from non-scientists. >

    4 Corners illiciated a range of views, and Bolts criticisms of those views are bogus.

    As for the venting of radioactive gas it seems clear that you don’t know what this means in practice.

    Empty words TerjeP, I assume you have no sensible comment to make on this point.

  19. TerjeP
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:34 | #19

    Jakerman – With those words I was refuting the suggestion that Andrew Bolt is wrong on all things. Nothing more.

  20. jakerman
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:36 | #20

    As for the venting of radioactive gas it seems clear that you don’t know what this means in practice.

    Empty words TerjeP, I assume you have no sensible comment to make on this point. (As per)

    TerjeP :

    You’ve specialised in avoiding concrete issues

    I avoid concrete positions when I have nothing concrete to say. I can and do however take quite specific positions on certain issues from time to time. Sorry if you have not noticed.

  21. jakerman
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:39 | #21

    TerjeP :Jakerman – With those words I was refuting the suggestion that Andrew Bolt is wrong on all things. Nothing more.

    That’s quite a standard you set. Like I said, fallacious hand waving

  22. rog
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:40 | #22

    The venting of radioactive gas indicates that desperate measures are being taken, the ongoing very high temperature combustion of nucear material continue to produce gases which, if not released, could cause an explosion emitting even more radioactivity. Is this a situation that corresponds with Bolt’s version?

  23. bobalot
    March 22nd, 2011 at 17:41 | #23

    TerjeP :
    I avoid concrete positions when I have nothing concrete to say.

    This however doesn’t stop you from posting useless waffle or attempting to derail yet another thread with “look over there! there’s somebody who does the exact same thing!”.

    What makes this even more stupid is that you fail to show how the two situations are remotely equivalent.

  24. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 22nd, 2011 at 19:33 | #24

    or attempting to derail yet another thread

    I was intending to post a single comment. I thought it was interesting and ironic that Andrew Bolt was currently making the same case against others which was currently being made against him here. It is all the ridiculous accusations that are leveled at me subsequent to that which have derailed the thread. I’d be quite happy for the discussion to get back on it’s rails. However it seems that I manage to evoke strong emotions for some reason.

  25. jakerman
    March 22nd, 2011 at 19:45 | #25

    TerjeP (say tay-a) :

    I thought it was interesting and ironic that Andrew Bolt was currently making [trying to fabricate] the same case against others which was currently being made against him here. It is all the ridiculous accusations that are leveled at me [conflations I tried to make between Bolt and others] subsequent to that which have derailed the thread. I’d be quite happy for the discussion to get back on it’s rails. However it seems that I manage to evoke [project] strong emotions for some reason.

  26. Donald Oats
    March 22nd, 2011 at 19:48 | #26

    @paul walter
    I do not know what you saw and heard, but I’ll guess it was much the same as what I saw and heard. All I can say is “Thank Goodness for MediaBash!” for without it there would be no media presence actually counterbalancing the shock jocks egregious lyin’ mouths.

  27. March 22nd, 2011 at 19:52 | #27

    Regarding the earlier discussion of the effects of radiation on cells.

    Basically doses off radiation can cause damage to the DNA nucleotides ” the letters” and also break the DNA. Since damage to DNA is a process cells have evolved to deal with, cells can respond by up-regulating repair enzymes to try to fix this. Once they have done their job they will likely go back to normal levels, but a future bout of radiation/ DNA damaging reagent could see them turned up again.

    Conversely higher doses may cause so much damage that it the DNA is not repairable and instead the cell will go into growth arrest and decide to die.

    Now any dose of a DNA damaging reagent, could cause a mutation that doesn’t get repaired and which (by chance) causes it to become abnormal and on the path to a tumour cell. This is part of the reason why people get cancer despite being non-smokers etc. Obviously the bigger the dose the more likely you are to hit a cancer gene. So in low doses you’ll have an interplay between the chance of hitting somewhere important and the fact that repair enzymes can mop up the damage. So statistically some people will receive cancer causing mutations from low doses but it’s probably stuck in the noise while more people could be receiving an overall benefit from activating repair pathways. Obviously as the dose increases the chance of hitting somewhere important increases, but determining where any net “benefit” could become net harm is difficult because of the noise in the system.

  28. bobalot
    March 22nd, 2011 at 20:22 | #28

    TerjeP (say tay-a) :

    or attempting to derail yet another thread

    I was intending to post a single comment. I thought it was interesting and ironic that Andrew Bolt was currently making the same case against others which was currently being made against him here. It is all the ridiculous accusations that are leveled at me subsequent to that which have derailed the thread. I’d be quite happy for the discussion to get back on it’s rails. However it seems that I manage to evoke strong emotions for some reason.

    No. You started with the stupid assertion that both situations were equivalent (which you still haven’t provided any actual support for) and then continued to defend this position with mountain loads of waffle (Your post above provides a perfect example).

    Now you are thumping your chest and crying you have been wronged even though it is an obvious troll.

  29. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 22nd, 2011 at 21:47 | #29

    So statistically some people will receive cancer causing mutations from low doses but it’s probably stuck in the noise while more people could be receiving an overall benefit from activating repair pathways.

    Mike – I profess no specialist knowledge but it would seem to make sense that the relationship is non linear. And that is certainly what I have been lead to believe. However that is quite different to saying that low levels are beneficial. Do you have a well founded reason to believe it “could” be beneficial?

  30. SJ
    March 22nd, 2011 at 21:58 | #30

    bobalot says:

    This however doesn’t stop you from posting useless waffle or attempting to derail yet another thread with “look over there! there’s somebody who does the exact same thing!”.

    Terje says:

    I’d be quite happy for the discussion to get back on it’s rails.

    Terje says:

    Mike – I profess no specialist knowledge but it would seem to make sense that the relationship is non linear. And that is certainly what I have been lead to believe. However that is quite different to saying that low levels are beneficial. Do you have a well founded reason to believe it “could” be beneficial?

    Look, just bugger off, Terje. It’s obvious you’re just trolling.

    You aren’t even as smart as Bolt, Devine, etc. They know that they’re lying, but at least they know that their paycheck depends on it. You don’t even have that excuse.

  31. SJ
    March 22nd, 2011 at 22:02 | #31

    Poor, poor, whining Terje. You’re a troll, exactly as bobalot said.

    I was intending to post a single comment. I thought it was interesting and ironic that Andrew Bolt was currently making the same case against others which was currently being made against him here. It is all the ridiculous accusations that are leveled at me subsequent to that which have derailed the thread. I’d be quite happy for the discussion to get back on it’s rails. However it seems that I manage to evoke strong emotions for some reason.

    You reckon anyone actually believes stuff like this?

  32. Alice
    March 22nd, 2011 at 22:05 | #32

    So now – am I to take it that students who are incorrect in science exams at school are now correct and students who are correct in science are in reality merely politically correct.

    God help our educaton system with losers like Bolt, Bethell and Coulter around…

    All these inexpert experts must just have a failure complex.

  33. Alice
    March 22nd, 2011 at 22:15 | #33

    As regards the nuclear debate on whats happening in Japan – I can assure you all there was a medi shutdown about the middle of last week. A simple blog search on all the normal terms produced very little real information but what really sealed it for me was the fact that twitter no longer came up as link (and there are numerous twitters from Japan and outside on this mess)’and the media and internet somehow hurtled back to a full frontal on gaddafi.

    The facts will come out, the levels of radiation will come out in the end but meanwhile we are all sitting here and we dont really know what happened. The spent fuel rods – were they blown up in the explosions? Whats causing the fires that cant eb out out in a day, two, three, four, five six etc

    We dont know half of it and the internet has cooled distinctly and suddenly even if the reactors have not.

  34. Mel
    March 22nd, 2011 at 22:37 | #34

    From the peer reviewed literature:

    “Inhabited areas with high levels of natural radiation are found in different areas around the world including Yangjiang, China; Kerala, India; Guarapari, Brazil and Ramsar, Iran. Ramsar in northern Iran is among the world’s well-known areas with highest levels of natural radiation. ”

    “. Based on the findings obtained by studies on the health effect of high levels of natural radiation in Ramsar, as well as other HLNRAs, no consistent detrimental effect has been detected so far. However, more research is needed to clarify if the regulatory authorities should set limiting regulations to protect the inhabitants against elevated levels of natural radiation. ”

    http://www.ecolo.org/documents/documents_in_english/RamsarHLNRAPaper.doc

    As the above report notes, in some parts of the world people including children and pregnant women receive ten or more times the annual radiation exposure permitted by OHS regs each year of their lives without apparent ill-effect.

    I would also like to ask those here who claim any level of radiation emissions are a grave concern why they aren’t agitating to have the radioactive Paralana hot springs in South Australia sealed under lead and concrete? These springs pump radioactive gases into the atmosphere at rates vastly greater than that permitted by Australian OHS guidelines and are carried hither and yon by the prevailing winds, no doubt contaminating Adelaide from time to time.

  35. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 22nd, 2011 at 22:47 | #35

    As regards the nuclear debate on whats happening in Japan – I can assure you all there was a medi shutdown about the middle of last week.

    Alice – Who is in on this conspiracy?

  36. Alice
    March 22nd, 2011 at 22:58 | #36

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)
    Terje

    When the only person trolling conspiracies (of the denialist type) and denying so much here eg AGW, Bolts lies etc (repeatedly) is you.

    I may well ask you who else is in on this conspiracy.

  37. March 22nd, 2011 at 23:13 | #37

    Hi TerjeP

    Radiation damage isn’t my area of expertise either and I’m not trying to imply that a low dose of radiation is beneficial and I certainly wouldn’t irradiate myself without good cause. I’ve just finished reading the Pharyngula post on the topic, linked by John above and I think PZ has described it well. “radiation is bad for you, cellular defense mechanisms are good for you.” If you are really interested in this stuff I would recommend trying to dig out some scientific review articles, quite a few journals are open access these days.

    What I think one can say that is that there is a very small (ie: greater than 0) chance of acquiring an “oncogenic” (cancer promoting) mutation from a low level of any environmental mutagen, or from a mistake during DNA replication when cells divide. Normally however the mutation won’t be harmful, or your repair pathways will catch it and fix it. If this effect, when generalised to a population, was so small that you couldn’t detect it, you’d say there was no health risk above that of being alive. Ie: Any negative effect is in the noise*.
    Thinking about the idea, I can conceive how stimulating repair pathways with a low dose of a mutagen *could* be beneficial. 1) Prior mutations that had gone unnoticed could be fixed and/or 2) Greater surveillance for mutations could push more partially damaged cells into programmed cell death instead of continuing to divide and accumulate mutations. But this doesn’t mean a positive effect will predominate.

    *Extra science geek caveat: I can see the sense of using a conservative “linear no threshold” model for determining “safe” doses of radiation (see PZ’s post). While any negative effect for the general population might be lost in the noise, subgroups of the population may react differently and what could be beneficial for some may be detrimental for others.

  38. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 22nd, 2011 at 23:46 | #38

    Alice – I don’t deny AGW.

  39. John H.
    March 23rd, 2011 at 03:10 | #39

    There is a huge difference between radiation from an external source and radiation from radioactive particles lodged in tissues. In the former case low dose for short periods activates repair processes like heat shock proteins and ku proteins. A cell can maintain this for a limited period of time but in so doing it enters into a different mode of function which impedes its more typical physiological function. If sustained it can lead to a cell senescent state, which can be a precursor to programmed cell death. In the latter case there is sustained radiating effect on nearby tissues potentially for many years which will almost certainly eventually overwhelm the cells defensive capabilities and lead to a micro inflammatory environment which some studies indicate is an ideal state of cancer formation. Contrary to popular opinion, there is nothing unusual about cancerous cells in the body. All of us are carrying cancerous cells. It is a probability function, in the right micro-environment and with the right set of mutations these cells can then go on to form tumours. So while studies may indicate a short term benefit from low dose radiation exposure, sustained long term exposure by radioactive particles lodged in tissues is a very bad idea.

    While everyone thinks of nuclear DNA damage the more worrying aspect could mitochondrial DNA damage. This DNA is MUCH more susceptible to damage and current evidence suggests it has poor if any reparative capacity. The loss of mitochondrial function is serious(it is now perceived as a key issue in aging and yes there are strategies to help preserve mitochondrial function), it can doom a cell to necrosis, a form of cell death that is inflammatory in nature. More worryingly, loss of mitochondrial function is an intriguing feature of many cancer cell lines. This is a major challenge because without mitochondrial function cells cannot die by apoptosis, programmed cell death, which is not inflammatory as necrosis. Moreso the loss of mitochondrial function can set the stage for the cell becoming cancerous because mitochondria are key agents in initiating cell death.

    It is ludicrous and desperate to argue that a little radiation is a good idea. If you want to initiate cell repair processes in a much safer fashion than get some exercise, go hungry occasionally, and put in a hard day’s work. If the likes of Bolt and Coulter are intending to use such arguments as a buttress against this nuclear incident they are being desperately stupid.

  40. jakerman
    March 23rd, 2011 at 07:45 | #40

    Hormesis

    The possibility that low doses of radiation may have beneficial effects (a phenomenon often referred to as “hormesis”) has been the subject of considerable debate. Evidence for hormetic effects was reviewed, with emphasis on material published since the 1990 BEIR V study on the health effects of exposure to low levels of ionizing radiation. Although examples of apparent stimulatory or protective effects can be found in cellular and animal biology, the preponderance of available experimental information does not support the contention that low levels of ionizing radiation have a beneficial effect. The mechanism of any such possible effect remains obscure. At this time, the assumption that any stimulatory hormetic effects from low doses of ionizing radiation will have a significant health benefit to humans that exceeds potential detrimental effects from radiation exposure at the same dose is unwarranted.

    http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11340&page=315

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