Methods used to create the “no safe dose” myth about radiation supports immediate transition to a better model
In 1960, there was growing public concern about the potential health effects of atomic radiation. It was well known that low intensity ionizing radiation had always been a part of our natural environment. It was also well known that mankind had developed ways to produce and control ionizing radiation to great benefit in diagnostic medicine and in treatment of certain kinds of cancer and other health problems.
However, humans had also developed incredibly powerful explosives that could destroy whole cities with a single device. The great majority of the world’s population was rather blasé about those weapons; most knew something about them, but they continued to go about their daily lives without much thought about the existence of The Bomb.
This 1960 documentary provides a reasonably accurate snapshot of public knowledge and attitudes about radiation in 1960, roughly 3 years before the Limited Test Ban Treaty was ratified.
Life and Radiation, Hugh O’Connor, provided by the National Film Board of Canada
For a narrow slice of the population, The Bomb was far too important a development to ignore.
Some were excited enough about the science and engineering challenges associated with creating ever larger or more precise explosions to select a career involving that enterprise. Some were deeply concerned about the geopolitical implications of The Bomb and issues surrounding its control and ownership. Some were drafted into positions that required them to be involved in nuclear weapons development and testing. Some were concerned about the implications of widespread distribution of radioactive materials that had never before been found on Earth.
Even though there were only a handful of power stations around the world that produced electricity through the use of atomic fission as a heat source, there were also a growing number of people who clearly understood that the intensely powerful heat unleashed in atomic fission could be readily controlled and harnessed to perform the same tasks that had long been performed by burning materials like coal and oil.
Not surprisingly, a portion of the people who thought about using atomic fission as a power source were excited and positive about developing ever increasing ways to use the heat as a beneficial product that could improve the lives of everyone on the planet. Also not surprisingly, the people whose livelihoods, capital resources, or political power were deeply enmeshed in the industrial activities associated with discovering, extracting, transporting, marketing, refining and using materials like coal and oil were wary of the implications of having to share what had been their nearly exclusive market for more than a century.
People who were thrilled about the future wanted to learn more about radiation and its effects so they could help the push the risks down and the benefits up.
Those who were worried about competition were more motivated to create and propagate a myth that we already knew that radiation was too dangerous to use very often or for very many purposes.
It’s possible that there was some awareness somewhere, but I’ve been unable to find evidence that anyone recognized what some leaders in the hydrocarbon economy had done to take preemptive action to limit the growth of nuclear power.
It seems that few, if any, recognized that some of what they were being told about radiation and nuclear energy was part of a purposeful campaign to create fear. Here is an incomplete list of what people in 1960 did not know or understand. Many items on the list still need to become more widely known.
They did not know that the Rockefeller Foundation, which had earned worldwide respect for its generous support of science and scientists, was dependent on income from its vast holdings of corporate stocks in companies that had once been part of the Standard Oil empire. In the 1950s and 60s, fully 70% of its annual income and ability to provide grants came from coal and oil related stock dividends or bond interest payments.
They did not know that a significant fraction of the world’s leading geneticists had received research funding or career support fellowships from Rockefeller Foundation money.
They did not know that the Rockefeller Foundation had rescued Herman Muller out of poverty and obscurity when he was 55 years old and at great risk of losing his job. Representatives of the RF personally communicated with the President of the University of Indiana and also provided a generous grant in order to obtain Muller’s appointment as a professor in 1945. That intervention came after an unsuccessful effort to find work after his boss at Amherst College told him that his wartime position as a biology teacher for liberal arts undergraduates would not be renewed for the 1945 fall semester.
They did not know that that it was quite likely – thought not yet proven by hard evidence – that the RF had played an important role in selecting Herman Muller as the recipient of the 1946 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. That award helped to both ensure fiscal stability for the widely-traveled and controversial geneticist and to establish his credibility as the world’s leading expert in the genetic effects of atomic radiation.
They didn’t know that Lewis Strauss, the highly visible and controversial chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, had been a Rockefeller family financial advisor during the period between his service as one of the first AEC commissioners and his 1953 appointment as the Chairman of the AEC. They didn’t know that Strauss had made generous contributions to Eisenhower’s presidential campaign with the unproven, but likely, goal of being his key advisor on atomic energy matters.
They didn’t know that Strauss had worked diligently during his first term on the Atomic Energy Commission to halt nascent power reactor development, discount future power reactor development potential, attempt to corner the world’s uranium market, and invest enormous financial and technical resources into the development of the hydrogen bomb.
They didn’t know that following Strauss’s dismissal of the health effects of weapons fallout after the Castle Bravo event the press became very interested in accusing the AEC of underplaying the risks of radiation exposure. Taking advantage of the attention Strauss quietly contacted his friends on the Rockefeller Foundation Board of Trustees and asked them to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to produce an “independent” study on the Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation.
They didn’t know that Strauss probably played a role in the selection of the members of the Genetics Committee, in Warren Weaver’s assignment as the chairman of that committee, and in the purposeful exclusion of several geneticists who were known skeptics about Muller’s often asserted position that all radiation posed a risk of genetic mutation and that most genetic mutations have harmful effects.
They didn’t know that Strauss might have purposely been seeking to elevate Muller’s status by very publicly banning him from presenting a paper at First International Conference on Atomic Energy in Geneva held during August 1955. As a former shoe salesman, investment banker and lay religious leader, it is highly likely that Strauss had a good understanding of marketing techniques and the associated value of created martyrdom in enhancing the role of a critic with a minority opinion.
They were not aware of the numerous instances that Edward Calabrese has uncovered in which Muller and other geneticists manipulated evidence to create the default assumption that all radiation doses carry a risk of harm and that the risk increases linearly with increasing dose.
They didn’t know that Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, was a member of the RF Board of Trustees or that he was involved in the creation of a communications plan for widely promoting the Genetics Committee section of the report produced by the NAS BEAR 1 committee.
Using the information that was either unavailable or unknown in 1960, combined with modern knowledge of the genetic effects produced by ionizing radiation, it’s clear to me that the LNT is an inaccurate fraud. A couple of generations of scientists and statisticians have accepted it as reasonably predictive without too much effort to challenge it. They logically assumed that its science was sound and also recognized that it was nearly impossible to disprove its validity.
Aside: I’ve come to have some degree of admiration for the cleverness associated with creating a theory that is both acceptably frightening and exceedingly difficult and costly to disprove. Until Edward Lewis, another RF-linked scientist, extended the idea of genetic damage to the potential of causing leukemia with his 1957 paper, Muller and his geneticist colleagues were limited to predicting harm to progeny sometime in the distant future. End Aside.
Many of my professional associates who are specialists in radiation biology have been working for decades to show that the LNT is wrong. Their efforts have been stymied by people who stubbornly believe that it is the default position that must be conclusively disproven before a different model can be used as the basis for radiation protection regulations.
It seems to me that there is sufficient evidence of motivated misinformation associated with the birth of the LNT to allow honest scientists to overthrow the accepted position. It’s time to restate the null hypothesis from one that assumes increasing harm in a straight line starting at zero dose into one that more realistically assumes there is no harm until the point at which harm can be conclusively detected.
“motivated to create an propagate a myth”
Always proof-read to see if you anything out. [sic]
Rod – Just so I understand, you are hypothesizing that the Rockefeller Foundation (through ostensible nuclear power advocate) Lewis Strauss fostered the creation of the LNT theory in order to cripple or stop civilian nuclear power development presumably to protect Rockefeller petroleum interests?
This is similar to the hypothesis that the Carnegie Foundation sponsored the Flexner Report to re-orient the medical profession in order to favor particular financial interests.
Rod you say “Aside: I’ve come to have some degree of admiration for the cleverness associated with creating a theory that is both acceptably frightening and exceedingly difficult and costly to disprove.”
I suggest that posing the LNT hypothesis as a theory required the cleverness you attribute to its acceptance by both the scientific community and the general public..
I don’t believe the original 1956 LNT report was fraud, or that anything Muller did was fraud. It was bias. However since then, LNT is shown to be false. The actual biological behaviours and many mechanisms involved in toxicity and, especially, carcinogenicity are far better understood today. Holding to the ancient bad science of LNT, proven to be false, is fraud. The fraud comes from today’s regulatory authorities, not from Muller, Rockefellers, or their proxies.
What was the reason behind the bias?
Have you read any of the numerous papers that Ed Calabrese has published documenting historical evidence of scientific misconduct and correspondence among the scientists involved in the BEAR proving they knew they were exaggerating the negative effects and overstating their confidence in predicting effects in dose regimes where there was no supporting evidence for their assertions?
I think your theory is plausible. I would also offer an alternative hypothesis – That Muller and the RF were trying to accentuate the threat of nuclear war. Muller himself was at least what used to be called a “fellow traveller” with the Communists. I believe he actually lived for a time in the USSR. The RF and many of the other charitable foundations (Ford, Pew, McArthur, Carnegie etc.) had a strong Leftist bent. Several of these foundations were created by men who were actually very conservative and were infiltrated once their benefactor passed on. If a nuclear war was too terrible to contemplate, we would have to make some sort of accomodation with the USSR, probably some form of world governance. This organization could have been infiltrated and compromised as were the charitable foundations.
My hypothesis does not explain Lewis Strauss’ promotion of Muller if he indeed do so.
Your hypothesis also supposes that the desire for world government may be a stronger motive for effective propaganda development and propagation than a simple desire to protect an extremely valuable market from being lost to an upstart competitor.
That might be true, but it is unlikely to attract the same level of financial resources. The RF Board of Trustees in 1956 was a very Establishment group of people. There might have been a few “lefties” among them, but there were also many capitalists who were keenly aware of the profit motive.
There is no doubt that Muller was thoroughly immersed in Communist thought and action. One of the reasons his financial condition in 1945 was so fragile was that he had participated in the production and distribution of an underground student newspaper at the University of Texas during the late 20s & early 30s. That publication was openly supportive of Communist Party thought. When his participation became known to the University leadership, he was asked to find another job. Fortunately, he had been awarded a fellowship to teach in Germany. He departed Texas in 1932, left Germany in 1933 and took a position at a Soviet research facility. He remained there until 1937, when he had to escape after becoming embroiled in the Lysenko genetics calamity. He then worked in Scotland, served in the Spanish Civil War, and returned to the States in the early 1940s. He was virtually unemployable in his profession in the US by that time, but his patrons at the RF found him that biology teacher position in undergraduate courses at Amherst College.
By 1945, he was tired of being poor, had a much younger second wife and a two year old daughter with health problems. His hagiographer (Elof Axel Carlson) described his rather desperate search for a job and even described how he broached the subject of becoming a businessman in a conversation with his wife. The prospect apparently horrified her; she loved her husband, knew he was a talented researcher and also knew that a man who had spent more than 30 years breeding flies and staring at them through a microscope had few skills that would be useful in the business world.
And I add “Where are all of the people today that spent several minutes looking at their feet in the shoe sizing X-Ray machines in the 50’s?” Every year I was taken by my mother to the department store with my three younger siblings when school started for new shoes. Each of the three that were not in front of the shoe salesman were taking turns looking at are feet. we had to clock over ten minutes apeace. With that much of a dose, even though classified as an “Extremity” today and allowed a higher dose than the ridiculously low dose for whole body, there has to be some observable effects for those, like I and my siblings.
Where are the studies supporting all of the lower extremity cancer and the genital cancer of these people? Where is the cancer I should have for the much greater than a once in a lifetime dose I received while making an emergency, at sea – on patrol, repair to SG Level instrumentation inside the Submarine Reactor compartment ~50 years ago?
Note: Muller has had many high powered defenders of his reputation over the years.
Carl Sagan once provided the New York Times with a passionate defense of Muller’s embrace of Marxism as well as his version of eugenics. That letter to the editor includes the following sentence expressing Sagan’s admiration for Muller.
“In any case, the courage of Muller in defying the Soviet regime is beyond question.”
That defense, published 20 years after Muller’s 1967 death, provides a hint of the effort that has been invested to maintain his credibility over the years.
Another bit of evidence is the Science Magazine article from Oct 18, 2011 titled “Attack on Radiation Geneticists Triggers Furor” http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2011/10/attack-radiation-geneticists-triggers-furor
Here are the opening paragraphs from that article.
Later in the article is the following quote, which describes part of the reflexive response to defend Muller’s scientific reputation–and, by extension, his still influential “no safe dose” assertion.
As part of my research on this topic, I attempted to contact Mr. Swartz. Unfortunately, I learned through his literary agent that he had suffered a stroke and was no longer able to engage in discussions on the topic.
So Mark, you think that looking at doses in the 10000, 20000, 30000, 40000 mSv range, which Muller did, and then concluding from this dose range, that “low doses” of radiation are still harmful, is bias?
How is 10000 mSv a “low dose”?
How is this not a fraud?
The problem delves into trans science. It is rather irrelevant what model is correct for low dose radiation is as we should ideally only regulate on proven harm not hypothetical harm. At low doses any potential model is unprovable as the magnitude of any potential harm is less than the background noise in a statistical data set.
Personally I think there is a problem with how regulators have approached radiation protection in the concept of ALARP. It would make more sense to link acceptable radiation limits at a point with a suitable margin below proven harm.
The problem with ALARA is that each year it advancements make it possible to detect lower doses and new methods are devised to reduce the dose workers receive. Thes cost money and make the old equipment obsolete. Then INPO and the NRC grades each plant on the total dose received. This is not a Pass/Fail on meeting the minimum requirements as there is NO MINIMUM, The Minimum is ALARA!! The grade system places each plant into a Quartile. The top Quartile has no problem, The second highest knows the need to improve, The third highest or second lowest knows they have major problems to resolve, the Lowest Quartile knows their job is in jeopardy. And I knoW three plant managers that are no longer managers because they could not extract them self from the Lowest Quartile. Thus BIG money is spent trying to achieve an impossible goal – there will always be 25% of the plants in the lowest quartile.
It should be easy enough to do a scientific experiment to prove LNT is not correct.
Take 2000 mice. Half of them in the control group, half in the experiment group. Same living quarters, male/female distribution, food, etc. Give the experiment group 1 mSv/day of x-rays or something. Let both groups live out their normal lives. Register when each mouse dies. Make a graph. Compare the two graphs.
How hard can it be?
BEIR VII states in the body of the report that no conclusions can be reached at radiation levels less than that for which measurable effects have been noticed, 100 units but I disremember which units.
However, somebody else wrote the executive summary which compares LNT with a nonlinear model using a wrong statistical method, the old Fisher-Nyman-Pearson “rejection of the null hypothesis”. So with LNT as the null hypothesis, the available data did not reject it at the 95% certainty level.
The unbiased statistical method is the Bayes’ Factor test which treats both hypotheses equally to see which better explains the available solid cancer data. Using even AIC as the criterion suffices to see that the nonlinear hypothesis, a quadratic formula as I recall, is far superior to LNT.
There is an even better hypotheses, one with backing in cell biology, with a slight hormetic effect. See Wade Allison’s “Radiation and Reason” or his Oxford University web pages.
There is also the Calabrese & O’Connor 2014 article in Radiation Research v. 182 which gently lays LNT in its grave.
There is an interesting section on low dose radiation risk in Weinberg’s autobiography. Essentially his view was at low doses there are too many variables whose affect on cancer rates are as or greater significance that to prove a model on dose response is largely impossible. It therefore in his terminology is “trans-science” in that it is a question that can’t be proven by science.
The question of radiological protection should therefore in my opinion not be based on theory rather observed quantities which could be one of the following:
– Point at which radiological harm is proven from observation
– A level above maximum background (1 standard deviation) radiation where a significant part of the human population (say 1million people) currently live.
– A level where predicted risk using current models would be significant vs the background noise in cancer rates. I.e. the point where you would be expected to see radiation harm in a data set and not be masked by all other cancer risks.
The last one on the list isn’t based on an observation per say but would be a sensible step in the right direction vs current approach of trying to achieve ever lower levels of radiation. It would also possibly be easier to implement as it wouldn’t require a significant departure from current radiological approaches.
The LNT model isn’t all bad from a regulatory perspective, however the mistake has been not to set a sensible minimum level based on observation where radiation levels can be ignored.
In my mind the mistake was to create systems where the goal is always to reduce radiation levels irrespective of how low they are already, going against any sensible assessment of risk and taking radiation risk in isolation of all other risks. Basing any regulatory health protection levels which are not confirmed by scientific observation in my mind is inappropriate.
In short we need to use a ‘worth worrying about’ threshold somewhat below the level where there is actual evidence of harm.
There was a time when the NRC was studying declaring certain levels of radiation dose as “below regulatory concern (BRC).” I wish they hadn’t caved in to political resistance from the antinuclear lobbies/political leaders.
For those who insist that the Republican Party has historically been pro-nuclear, the withdrawal of BRC policy statement occurred during the Bush I Administration.
And of course, the Bush family is known for its oil connections.
Do you know what they were intending to set the limits at? If this could be revisited then a great deal of sense could be brought to radiological protection
Pretty sure it was really low, like 10 mrem/yr.
Applied to low level waste.
Long time ago I tried to analyze the LNT and its consequences.
Later I found something else.
Although humoristic – still relevant: http://wp.me/p1RKWc-14I
Muller is definately a suspect.
He never did studies below about 10000 mSv or so total dose.
Now, I think I’m safe in saying, that even the most staunch nuclear advocate will agree, that that is not a “low dose”.
The dose rate (which is more important than total dose) was also high: greater than 500 mSv/hour. This is an extreme dose rate that would overwhelm any biological defences and repair mechanisms.
Obviously when such parameters are chosen, health effects will be seen, on fruit flies or other animals. And the overwhelming radiation dose will definately appear linear.
Muller could easily (much easier in fact) have done studies on lower rates and doses. For example such studies have been done, here’s a decent overview that mentions a case with about 22 mSv/h. Not exactly a low dose rate yet, But no negative effect is seen, at low doses there is even a positive health effect.
Muller wasn’t stupid, so he must have looked at this as well and subsequently decided not to include real low dose. It didn’t fit his thesis and his work, so it was best left out. Nobel price caliber, indeed.
The 1958 UNSCEAR report listed a paper which found some striking results showing massive radiation hormesis.
This should be a relatively cheap and simple experiment to replicate. The only reason it would’t have received a grant is if nobody wanted to draw attention to this narrative-destroying fact.
Cyril, Engineer-poet, The problem with presenting experimental evidence against LNT is getting it recognized. There are perhaps 1000+ peer-reviewed published papers that show this. The problem is the the people in charge of organizations like ICRP, NCRP, etc simply ignore these papers in their recommendations. They do not respond to criticism. They are the progeny of the original Muller-inspired anti-nukes concerned with all-out nuclear war. These are self-perpetuating bodies. Leaders will not condemn the mistakes of those who appointed them. Check x-lnt.org for examples. Radiationeffects.org has many papers.
Thanks. Yeah that would be a great test to replicate.
.8 r of gamma is 7 mSv. That actually sounds like a high dose rate. Amazing that the mice would still have a higher life expectancy at those doses.
Not just the dose rate but the striking increase in lifespans.
Rats aren’t humans, of course. Trying to replicate the results in e.g. rhesus macaques (normal lifespan ~25 years) would be a much longer and more expensive affair, though you could get some results much sooner by examining proxies for aging such as strength, telomere length and other physiological data.
Beagle dogs are suitable for accellerated testing. They’re more prone to cancer than humans.
There have been tests with gamma irradiations on beagles, these tests did not show a higher cancer rate even for the higher dose rates. Unfortunately the tests were not done with low level radiation – the lowest exposure group (apart from the controls) was 3 mSv/day. These showed a few percent reduction in life expectancy. The higher dose groups showed further reductions in life expectancy, mainly blood related diseases. This pretty much disproves that chronic radiation (even >>10 mSv/day) causes cancer since the dogs are more prone to cancer than humans and did not show an increase.
The data trend with the groups suggests that there is no or hormetic effect at the 1-2 mSv/day level, but unfortunately this wasn’t actually tested as the lowest group was 3 mSv/day.
This test should be repeated with a 1 mSv/day exposure and a background control.
The amount of HLW produced (including used fuel when this is considered as waste) during nuclear production is small; a typical large reactor (1 GWe) produces about 25-30 tonnes of used fuel per year. About 400,000 tonnes of used fuel has been discharged from reactors worldwide, with about one-third having been reprocessed.
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