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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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Hilarious
By SunTzu on 3/17/2011 4:03:54 PM , Rating: -1
I find it so incredibly hilarious to see Jason complaining about other journalists ethics, the guy that spends his every waking moment hating and editorialising on the dreaded terrorist organization known as Wikileaks, and the horribly womanhating rapist leader it has.




RE: Hilarious
By JasonMick (blog) on 3/17/2011 4:25:50 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
spends his every waking moment hating and editorialising


You must not think I'm awake very often, seeing as I've written a limited number of pieces on Wikileaks/its founder Julian Assange. Perhaps 1 or 2 a month, at most, I'd say.

quote:
the horribly womanhating r@pist leader it has.


Wow that's a pretty wild conclusion you've offered up. I'm glad I've never said anything like that. Honestly I think the charges against Assange in Sweden seem fishy given the accuser's CIA ties. But honestly you or I don't know enough about the real situation to comment. What I DO say is leave it to the Swedish authorities to sort out.

Now I hAVE mentioned in the past is that Julian Assange has proclaimed that hackers should act as anarchists, in past works he wrote/contributed to. This is a FACT, plain and simple. Read Suylette Dreyfus's The Underground if you fail to understand that.

Ultimately I'm not judging whether Wikileaks or what it's done is good or bad. But I do offer up factual backed commentary on why certain actions might be harmful, helpful, or questionable, and/or possible motivations for those actions (backed, again, by facts).

Sorry that made you so eager to insult and discredit me.


RE: Hilarious
By PReiger99 on 3/17/2011 7:27:50 PM , Rating: 2
So when people question you about your (absurd) claim that Wikileaks is a terrorist organization involved in cyber espionage, claims you have made and failed to support with the slightest evidence (one of your article even had pictures of talibans (presumably Al-Qaida) aside it), you brandish this old "he claimed hackers should be anarchists not hawks" quote like a man warding off a vampire with a cross.

Red herring?


RE: Hilarious
By dBoze on 3/17/2011 7:33:19 PM , Rating: 2
"Dr." != PhD necessarily. Gupta is a medical doctor (MD).


RE: Hilarious
By JasonMick (blog) on 3/17/2011 7:58:24 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
So when people question you about your (absurd) claim that Wikileaks is a terrorist organization involved in cyber espionage,


They are involved with cyberespionage.

That's what it's called when you encourage individuals to steal documents from national governments.

Particularly when 95 percent of your documents are stolen from a SPECIFIC country's national government (e.g. the U.S.).

I don't recall saying Wikileaks was a terrorist org.

I did mention that Taliban leaders thanked the site for its publications and said they were going to try to use it. That was originally reported by Newsweek.

Unfortunately I lack the resources to go over to Afghanistan and validate their statement myself.

I can believe Newsweek's claim, though. The Taliban have computers. They aren't (all) illiterate. And the leaked documents embarrass the U.S. Why wouldn't they try to use them, at least as a propaganda tool?

So they said that and I put a pic of the Taliban fighters. It seemed appropriate to put on an article about the Taliban's response to the leaks.

quote:
you brandish this old "he claimed hackers should be anarchists not hawks" quote like a man warding off a vampire with a cross.


Old? I believe the book was published in 1997, just a few years before he founded Wikileaks. I doubt he would write that unless he believed it then.

It seems if there's any red herring here, it's your assertions...


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