People who do not want to believe or acknowledge Edward Calabrese’s interpretation of the historical documents associated with the BEAR I Genetics Committee report have dismissed its influence. They claim it is just one paper of many and that numerous studies that have been conducted in the years since the report was issued have tested and confirmed the results.
Dr. Marcia McNutt, the Editor-in-Chief of Science Magazine, expressed that point as follows in her reply to Dr. Jerry Cuttler’s request to issue a retraction of the copy of the report that Science published at the end of June 1956.
Does this Science paper still have the “pervasive influence” claimed in the article by Calabrese? We consulted an independent expert whose positions indicate that s/he has no extreme positions on this matter, one way or another. His/her considered view is that the 1956 Science paper was one of hundreds of papers over the past half century on this broad topic, and certainly the use of the LNT model by almost all the regulatory agencies, world wide, is now based on a lot more than the NRC report and Dr. Mueller’s [sic] work. For example, if you take a look at the series of NRC “BEIR” reports, in the more recent ones there is no particular emphasis on Muller’s work, with the arguments now more based on endpoints that more directly relate to radiation-induced cancer.
I have come across numerous documents that either point back to the BEAR I report or make statements indicating that the author fully accepted the lack of a safe dose before beginning whatever additional work they were documenting. By my way of thinking, acceptance of prior assertions without testing or confirmation from independent sources is more faith than science. It can be tricky to ensure that separate sources of similar statements are, in fact, independent and not just part of an echo chamber effect.
Unfortunately, I’ve never earned the description of meticulous. My notes get scattered around, I “dog ear” book pages, and sometimes underline or highlight key passages, but I don’t do a great job of compiling my notes into an organized record. Even the electronic copies of papers I have stored on my computer are not always well-titled or easily found through searches.
It occurred to me that Atomic Insights readers might be able to help provide adequate documentation to show just how influential the BEAR I report — and the promotional effort associated with that report — continues to be in firmly establishing the “no safe dose” assumption as an article of faith that has never actually been tested. Please provide links and/or complete citations including page numbers.
I’d also be interested in references that show how the defenders of the assumption have stepped in to interfere with the completion of any effort designed — like the DOE’s Low Dose Radiation program — to prove or disprove the assumption.
Thank you in advance for any assistance you can provide.
Update: Instead of producing a continuing series of posts as references are discovered, they will be added to this post with some useful quotes and descriptions of information available in that reference. One reason for spending so much time on this issue is the rapidly approaching September 8 deadline for comments on a petition to the NRC for proposed rulemaking titled Linear No-Threshold Model and Standards for Protection Against Radiation.
Fabrikant, Jacob I. Risk Estimation and Decision Making: The health effects on populations of exposure to low levels of ionizing radiation, Pediatric Dentistry Volume 3, Special Issue 2, 1982 pp 400-413
Description of document: Summary of BEIR III by Jacob I. Fabrikant, MD, PhD. He describes himself “close to the ongoing scientific deliberations of agreement and disagreement as they have developed over the past 10 years.” Of note, it includes an interesting quote in the section titled “What are the important biological effects of low level radiation?” That section is just above two sections titled “What is known about the important health effects of low-level radiation?” and “What is not known about the important health effects of low-level radiation?” This quote is interesting to someone who studies language and lexicon development.
Furthermore, we believe that any exposure to radiation, even at low levels of dose, carries some risk of such deleterious effects. And as the dose of radiation increases above very low levels, the risk of these deleterious health effects increases in exposed human populations. It is these latter observations that have been central to the public concern about the potential health effects of low-level radiation, and to the task of estimating risks and of establishing standards for protection of the health of exposed populations. Indeed, all reports of expert advisory committees on radiation are in close agreement on the broad and substantive issues of such health effects. p. 402
(Emphasis added. “We believe,” when juxtaposed with “What we know…” and “What we don’t know…” implies faith, not science.)
Here is another useful quote:
Second, the epidemiological surveys of exposed populations are highly uncertain in regard to the forms of the dose-response relationships for radiation-induced cancer in man. This is especially the case for low-level radiation. Therefore, it has been necessary to estimate human cancer risk from low radiation doses primarily from observations of relatively high doses, frequently greater than 100 rads. Estimates of the cancer risk at low doses appears to depend more on what is assumed about the mathematical form of the dose-response function than on the available epidemiological data. However, it is not known whether the excess cancer risk observed at high-dose levels also applies to low-dose levels.
There is also a discussion on pages 404-405about the controversy within the committee regarding the assumption of increased risks at doses below the existing occupational limit of 50 mSv/year. That controversy was covered in articles in Nature, Science and the New York Times.