[ExI] How dangerous is radiation?

John Clark johnkclark at gmail.com
Sun Jul 6 16:36:47 UTC 2014

On Sun, Jul 6, 2014 at 6:20 AM, Anders Sandberg <anders at aleph.se> wrote:

> There are *lots* of potential confounders in Johns examples - the Rocky
> Mountains may have more radiation but might have less mold toxins.

Maybe, although I have no evidence that mold toxins are such a major source
of cancer that they overwhelm radiation as a cause of cancer.

> Radiologist is a fairly high prestige occupation, lowering cancer rate
> because of social status.

The comparison was made between radiologist and other doctors; are
radiologist more prestigious than heart surgeons or neurologists or
physicians with other specialties?

> Shipworkers on nuclear ships no doubt both got training and likely were a
> selected group.

The sample size was very large and the comparison was made with other
shipyard workers who just didn't happen to work on nuclear ships. Can you
think of a better control group that should have been used? And I think
it's interesting that the high radiation workers live longer than the low
radiation workers (although the low radiation workers still lived longer
than the zero radiation workers).

> > Were the people in the Taiwanese buildings average people or different?

Again the sample size was very large and the control group were other
Taiwanese people of a similar age who didn't live in those buildings, I
know of no reason the people in those buildings were special. And we're not
talking about some little quirk subtly shifting the statistics, this effect
is HUGE! The LNT theory predicts 302 deaths but the actual number was 7. If
this were about any other subject evidence this strong would be more than
enough to kill a theory, but the LNT theory is based on radiation danger
and fear is a powerful emotion that can not always be stopped by logic.

> Linear no threshold models are practical because they are simple

Simple it may be but it's not practical if it's not true and I am not aware
of any evidence that small amounts of radiation given over a long period of
time increases the cancer rate or the death rate in general; in fact all
the available evidence points in exactly the opposite direction.

> since there could well be big individual variations in ideal exposure,
> easily swamped by individual exposure variation.

Possible yes but easily? What are the chances that 10,000 people who have
nothing obviously in common (except that they are all Taiwanese) are
ENORMOUSLY more resistant to cancer than the average Taiwanese?

> > When you look at actual data for windstorms and many other perils it is
> incredibly noisy: the amount of damage is more or less evenly distributed
> between 0 and some upper limit that tends to curve up as a parabola until
> you reach saturation. I expect the same thing for radiation risk: the
> hazard (radiation exposure) is converted into a random outcome (health) in
> a fairly nonlinear way, and even people with big exposures can come out
> scotfree.

But why doesn't it ever come out the other way? Why can't anybody find
studies where small amounts of radiation received over a long amount of
time produced more cancers than the LNT theory predicts, why is it always
less, a lot less? And yes a tornado can destroy a house and leave the one
next door undamaged, but if none of the houses receive any damage then I'd
have to conclude that everybody couldn't be that lucky and the tornado just
wasn't very big. And what am I to conclude if the tornado actually
strengthened the roof of a house?

  John K Clark
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