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"Breaking news, my radiation levels have quadrupled" -- well we have some good news for you, Dr. Gupta. Contrary to your claims, peer-reviewed research indicates you're safe.  (Source: CNN.com)

A study conducted in Ramsar, Iran, a place where natural background radiation levels were even higher, showed people had no scientifically notable adverse affects.  (Source: High Background Radiation Areas of Ramsar, Iran)

This appears a cut-and-dry case of sensationalism on the part of several major media corporations. The unfortunate victim is nuclear power, as the public is growing misinformed by these high-profile, but factually inaccurate pieces.  (Source: Google Images)
Peer reviewed research indicates there's no significant health risk of current radiation levels

Yesterday we posted an editorial on an MSNBC article describing the quake "risk" facing U.S. nuclear plants.  In our piece we discuss factual accuracy issues in that article and its overall sensational tone in failing to immediately address the supporting study's key conclusion -- that we're at extremely little risk.

I.  CNN Claims Tokyo Residents May be in Danger

This morning CNN.com aired a similar story entitled "Gupta: 'My radiation levels quadrupled'".  The video featured none other that CNN.com's respected chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta Ph.D.  

In it he discusses how he's been tracking his radiation level during his time in Tokyo, Japan with a pocket dosimeter, following the minor leakage of radiation from a damaged Tokyo power plant in the Fukushima district.

In the video he begins by conservatively stating, "Interestingly, my levels quadrupled over the last 36 hours that I've been wearing this. Which in and of itself may sound concerning, but to put it in a little bit of context, it's actually not that much higher than the levels you would get with background radiation.  It is higher for sure, and that makes sense given that if you're measuring the air outside here in Tokyo official reports say its twenty times higher in terms of radiation levels that in normally is."

CNN.com's John King continues to try to prod Dr. Gupta to try to speculate that residents are at risk.  He states, "Your caution and perspective is very valuable.  Let me ask this way -- if you've quadrupled in the last 36 hours, if it takes a couple of weeks, a couple of months to get this containment effort under control at this complex and there's a release of consistent levels of what we've seen over the past couple days, what happens then.  You mentioned you are exposed to radiation you would get in a year in a matter... what happens if, people are exposed for... 7 more months.  Does it then become a risk?"

Now this was a curious assertion.  No one knows how long it will take to control the release, but seven months certainly seems like it would require a negligently slow effort.  And is it correct to be speculating on perspective scenarios when you could be covering the actual story that's occurring?

Dr. Gupta's responds there could be some risk under the scenario while going on to qualify the differences between long-term exposure and short-term exposure.  He also mentions possible routes of contamination such via food and drinking water.  And before he can put any more context or disclaimers on those numbers, Mr. King cuts him off.

II. The Real Risk?  Likely None, Says Peer-Reviewed Research

So what is the real risk?  Nowhere in the interview did they actually give a precise figure.  And that's because the medical community isn't sure if there is one, if they're following peer-reviewed research. 

Consider if John King's wild scenario did play out, the Tokyo population could be exposed to approximately 8.6 mSv per year.  To put this in context, people in Yangjiang, China receive 3.51 mSv per year naturally; in Guarpan, Brazil, 5.5 mSv naturally; in Kerala, India 3.8 mSv naturally; and in Ramsar, Iran 10.2 mSv naturally [source].  

A study [abstract] [full text] in the peer-reviewed journal Health Physics examined the population of Ramsar, Iran.  

It concluded, "Specifically, inhabitants of high background radiation areas had about 56% the average number of induced chromosomal abnormalities of normal background radiation area inhabitants following this exposure. This suggests that adaptive response might be induced by chronic exposure to natural background radiation as opposed to acute exposure to higher (tens of mGy) levels of radiation in the laboratory. There were no differences in laboratory tests of the immune systems, and no noted differences in hematological alterations between these two groups of people."

In other words, people exposed, in the real world to radiation levels higher than John King's worse case scenario were no unhealthier than people in the U.S. or elsewhere.

To be fair, John King essentially goaded Dr. Gupta into stating a risk, postulating increasingly extreme scenarios.  And Dr. Gupta likely tried to postulate a response based on certain animal tests that suggested that low-level radiation exposure could have some adverse effect.  But there's been no comprehensive study in the real world that's showed similar effects in humans.

By contrast to CNN.com's sensationalism, ABC's Hawaii affiliate had a refreshing, scientifically sound piece entitled "Everyone Receives Background Radiation."  In that piece they write:

"Somewhere around 5,000 millirems per year for several years would be dangerous," said [Toufiq Siddiqi, with Global Environment & Energy in the 21sr Century].

Leaked radiation at the Japanese nuclear power plants has been reported below that level, so far.

So not all news articles are sensationalizing the story, apparently -- just a number of them.

CNN.com should beware using factually inaccurate fear mongering to support page views.  Making scientific claims in the media that are contradicted by peer-reviewed research is questionable.  About the only good thing is that the site later changed the title of the link on its homepage to the slightly less sensational "Gupta: Explaining radiation levels" -- but his conclusions are still flawed, according to peer-reviewed research.

The media is certainly profiting off of drumming up public fervor with wild nuclear scare stories.  Unfortunately, many of these stories appear to be utterly factually inaccurate.



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RE: This sucks.
By Frumious1 on 3/17/2011 3:54:04 PM , Rating: -1
The ironic thing is that one of the most sensationalist "news" posters around is posting a sensationalist editorial on how CNN and others are sensationalizing the news coming out of Japan.

Physician, heal thyself.

Thanks, Jason... always a pleasure to read such "quality" content. But I suppose even a stopped sensationalist clock is right twice a day.


RE: This sucks.
By JasonMick (blog) on 3/17/2011 4:30:16 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
The ironic thing is that....


I'm sorry you disagreed with one or more of my past articles.

If you have a problem with my coverage, I urge you to point it out.

I never claim to be perfect. Everyone makes mistakes.

My point in writing this (and the previous piece) was not to attack CNN or MSNBC. Rather, it was to help them be less disingenuous and more factual.

Anyways, your comment is rather off topic here, so if you have an issue with THIS article, please share it... if not, please eagerly await trying to discover when and/if you feel I made a future factual error. I'll look forward to hearing from you someday!


RE: This sucks.
By jamesjwb on 3/17/11, Rating: -1
RE: This sucks.
By jamesjwb on 3/17/11, Rating: 0
RE: This sucks.
By JasonMick (blog) on 3/17/2011 4:59:17 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
your wikileaks coverage is a biased disgrace. There, pointed out for you.


What precisely do you think was biased about Wikileaks coverage?

I don't know about the people who wrote the stories I'm critiquing w.r.t. the nuclear stuff, but I'm quite OPEN to criticism.

I think a lot of people got offended because I revealed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange called on hackers to be anarchists in a seminal 90s book on hacking.

But that's 100 percent factual. And I think it was definitely worth noting, and I was I believe the first to dig it up. If anything, I'd argue that's quality journalism.

Just because you don't like the facts, doesn't mean they aren't important and real.

That said, let's leave it at this -- next time I write on Wikileaks (which again, probably won't be for a month or so), please point out if I make a mistake a politely suggest correction. I would appreciate that and be happy to talk to you then!

You're way off topic, though btw, so back to the discussion...


RE: This sucks.
By SKiddywinks on 3/17/2011 8:42:30 PM , Rating: 2
Personally, it was more the constant use of the term "cyber-espionage", which was entirely non-factual.

Plus, while his calls in the 90s for anarchy and the like are something to consider when Assange says anything, I don't think you can hold them against him 10-20 years later as if he is still saying similar things. If he calls for anarchy now, fair enough, but 10 years is a long time and kind of irrelevant unless he is doing the same now. Kudos for finding it out, but it wasn't incredibly important imo.

But I apologise for continuing the off topic; the last two editorials have been excellent and I have linked to them many times while posting in threads where people seem to be thinking it could be the end of the world as we know it w.r.t Fukushima.

People just love a good disaster. It must be the excitement. I love a good disaster to, to be fair, but purely because I find it enjoyable to sit back and listen to the uninformed masses, before telling them all to STFU and get a clue. And then posting links like this and others I have found on my travels.


RE: This sucks.
By Azethoth on 3/18/2011 12:43:20 AM , Rating: 5
Just the facts sir. What we need to know is what to do during the coming radioactive mutant zombiepocalypse. Maybe an article on how to prepare. Which movies / video games should we use? Are 28 Days Later fast zombies likely? Are headshots enough or do we need to practice Deadspace dismemberment? If the zombies pick up mutant powers, do we need to avoid radiation or embrace it so we can match their powers? If the Zombies mostly grunt and groan in Japanese how do we understand them? Is there an app for that?


RE: This sucks.
By homerdog on 3/24/2011 10:03:41 AM , Rating: 2
Jason, your history at DT leaves me very puzzled. Almost over night I went from unilaterally disagreeing with or avoiding everything you wrote to.. well, the opposite of that. And this happened right around the time of masher's departure. *conspiracy theory goes here*

Anyhow nice article.


RE: This sucks.
By W00dmann on 3/18/11, Rating: -1
RE: This sucks.
By W00dmann on 3/19/11, Rating: -1
RE: This sucks.
By JHBoricua on 3/20/2011 11:28:34 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Ever notice how Mick rates me down, but never responds to debate me? Shows he knows his limitations in this life.
What was that you said about ego?


RE: This sucks.
By phantom505 on 3/20/2011 11:46:11 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah we get it. If it's FUD you agree with then it's ok. If it is FUD you don't agree with it is not.

Bottom line is you rarely bother inserting fact when it goes against your point and you just rant about it instead.

Everything you write is an editorial. Sadly the "news" won't admit it. Go watch BBC or Al-Jazeera (OMFG Muzzelums!), or any number of other foreign outlets if you want to know what is going on anymore.


RE: This sucks.
By Celestion on 3/20/2011 1:56:13 AM , Rating: 1
You have an iPenis Nano.


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