Worst-case scenario thinking and Fukushima radiation

A-Radioactive-Nightmare copy

This isn’t a map of radiation, it’s a map of wave estimated hight after the Tohuku Tsunami. So why is there so much outrage and fear around Fukushima radiation, even when there is evidence to suggest it’s not as bad as we fear? To answer this, I invited psychologists Anselma Hartley and Joachim Krueger to contribute this guest post.  Anselma received her Ph.D. from Brown University in 2013 and is currently on the job market. She researches social cognition and the assessment of personality change. You can find her on Twitter: @anselmahartley. Joachim is a professor of psychology at Brown University, a social psychologist, and author of the Psychology Today blog One Among Many.

Let’s talk Confirmation Bias
Why do some people hold fast to apocalyptic ideas, like Fukushima radiation, even when the best available evidence suggests that the world is not about to end? Confirmation bias is the term psychologists use to describe the behavior of testing an idea by searching for evidence that supports it. This tendency to confirm pre-existing beliefs creates and maintains false perceptions of reality because people fail to acknowledge information to the contrary, even when readily available. The strongest type of confirmation bias arises from a motivation or a need to see the world as we want to see it. Here, confirmatory information is purposely sought out and any information challenging our preconceived notions is ignored, discounted, or dismissed.

Confirmation bias can play a role in the angry reactions to scientific evidence regarding the scope and effects of the Fukushima accident. Although evidence suggests that radiation emanating from Fukushima will not reach a catastrophic level on an ocean or global scale, many people remain convinced that the risks to human and ocean health are enormous. A person with deep concerns about environmental impacts of radiation will likely seek out evidence to confirm the belief that the radiation from Fukushima has spread in high levels to the American West Coast and beyond, contaminating fisheries, and killing off species in the Pacific Ocean. This person may unknowingly exhibit confirmation bias by focusing on information in the media consistent with these ideas and discounting information that would challenge them.

What are the psychological sources of confirmation bias?
One source of confirmation bias is defensive; to protect the psychological self. As humans, we are motivated to protect the integrity and perceived value of who we think we are (Steele, 1988). When we encounter information that threatens a self-relevant belief, we experience a state of a discomfort (termed cognitive dissonance) arising from the discrepancy between what we think defines us and, what the world is appearing to tell us. To resolve this discrepancy, we either actively seek out confirmatory information in the first place, or dismiss or re-interpret challenging information (Hart et al., 2009).

A second source is the tendency to base beliefs about the risks and benefits of an event on our cultural worldview. Kahan and colleagues (2008), for example, found that when they presented research participants with balanced information about the benefits/risks of nanotechnology, participants were polarized: People with a conservative, individualistic outlook noted the benefits of the technology and came away with a more favorable attitude, whereas people with a more liberal, egalitarian outlook focused on risks and hazards; their attitudes become more unfavorable. Given these findings, it is reasonable to speculate that perceptions of risk in the area of nuclear energy are highest among those of us whose core values are liberal and egalitarian.

Who is susceptible?
Most of us fall prey to the confirmation bias at some point. It is human nature to analyze new information in light of our core beliefs and favor inferences that are in accordance with these beliefs. Those of us with liberal or conservative political leanings likely do this when choosing the candidate we will vote for in an upcoming presidential campaign, regardless of the candidates’ campaign ads or campaign spending (Garramore et al., 1990; Kaid, 2004; Levitt, 1994).

Consuming information on the internet and traditional media may not be enough to form accurate beliefs. The media tends to favor negative, violent, and sensational information (Lowry et al., 2003; Marsh, 1991). News is often equated with bad news. Focusing on the negative fosters a mindset characterized by overestimating risk, and a readiness to perceive the self as a victim (Doob & Macdonald, 1979). If a person’s ideological leanings stress the negative, the apocalyptic, or the conspiratorial, this media bias and the psychological confirmation bias converge (or “conspire”) to produce and maintain a grim outlook.

How do I prevent confirmation bias?
Not surprisingly, researchers recommend carefully selecting sources. Is your information coming from a social media site of questionable credibility, or is it coming from a reputable media source or perhaps directly from the scientific literature? A focus on credible and competent sources of information can help keep the effect of prior beliefs at bay, and open our minds to alternative points of view.

To combat confirmation bias further, you may decide to strategically consider news from diverse sources with known biases or ideological leanings. Deliberately increasing exposure to views that conflict with prior beliefs can promote a more careful consideration of, and appreciation for, other perspectives. Even if this consider-the-alternative strategy does not change your attitude, it provides a more balanced understanding of the issues at stake and it will make it less likely that a debate is cast in personal terms.

Finally, it is possible to diminish confirmation bias by asking a person (or oneself) to justify a preferred point of view with relevant evidence and logical coherence. In other words, ask yourself why you hold a given perspective, and review the evidence you gathered to come to that point of view. Indeed, when we know we will be held accountable for the views we express, we tend to be more circumspect when gathering and interpreting information (Jonas et al., 2001).

So what’s the point?
Following these recommendations could not only help us avoid confirmation bias, but would have the added benefits of aiding us in becoming more tolerant of multiple and varied points of view, better articulating our own beliefs, and making us better informed consumers and critics of media and news outlets.

While critical debate and discussion can advance the public’s understanding of a topic, emotional appeals and defensive antagonism can hinder it. Further deliberation and examination of the facts before we speak or write can help us avoid responding with emotion and malice.

Work cited and additional readings

Doob, A. N., & Macdonald, G. E. (1979). Television viewing and fear of victimization: Is the relationship causal? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 170-179.

Garramone, G. M., Atkin, C. K., Pinkleton, B. E., & Cole, R. T. (1990). Effects of negative political advertising on the political process. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 34, 299-311.

Hart, W., Albarracín, D., Eagly, A. H., Brechan, I., Lindberg, M. J., & Merrill, L. (2009). Feeling validated versus being correct: a meta-analysis of selective exposure to information. Psychological bulletin, 135, 555-588.

Jonas, E., Schulz-Hardt, S., Frey, D., & Thelen, N. (2001). Confirmation bias in sequential information search after preliminary decisions: an expansion of dissonance theoretical research on selective exposure to information. Journal of personality and social psychology, 80, 557-571.

Kahan, D. M., Braman, D., Slovic, P., Gastil, J., & Cohen, G. (2008). Cultural cognition of the risks and benefits of nanotechnology. Nature Nanotechnology,4, 87-90.

Kaid, L. L. (2004). Political advertising. Handbook of political communication research, 155-202.

Levitt, S. D. (1994). Using repeat challengers to estimate the effect of campaign spending on election outcomes in the US House. Journal of Political Economy, 102, 777-798.

Lowry, D. T., Nio, T. C. J., & Leitner, D. W. (2003). Setting the public fear agenda: A longitudinal analysis of network TV crime reporting, public perceptions of crime, and FBI crime statistics. Journal of Communication,53, 61-73.

Marsh, H. L. (1991). A comparative analysis of crime coverage in newspapers in the United States and other countries from 1960–1989: A review of the literature. Journal of Criminal Justice, 19, 67-79.

Steele, C. M. (1988). The psychology of self-affirmation: Sustaining the integrity of the self. Advances in experimental social psychology, 21, 261-302.

RR Helm (31 Posts)

I am a PhD candidate studying jellyfish development and evolution at Brown University. I've participated in numerous research expeditions, studying jellies all over the world, from Africa to the abyss. I am currently studying the beautiful mauve stinger jellies, found in the Mediterranean, and the ghostly Atlantic stinging nettles found on the US east coast.





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50 comments on “Worst-case scenario thinking and Fukushima radiation
  1. I HAVE CONVINCING PROOF THAT THE RADIOACTIVE PLUME FROM FUKUSHIMA CAUSED MY 24 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER TO DEVELOP AUTISM AND SHINGLES WHEN SHE TURNED AGE 3.

    I READ ABOUT IT ON THE INTERNET.

  2. All of the points in your article are valid but they leave out another key aspect of why people believe crazy things about Fukushima. Because they were lied to repeatedly by industry and governmental bodies. Don’t forget that TEPCO and the GoJ denied any meltdowns for almost three months while fully aware of the three meltdowns in the first days. This creates a dynamic and trains people not to believe any authoritative pronouncement. So there is an interactive dynamic as well as a predisposition.

      • I disagree. This is not a great point; as far as I can tell, it is a myth.

        Tepco have not always been particularly good at communicating, but I strongly dispute that they have been actively untruthful. This is simply another string in the bow for scaremongers to shout down inconvenient evidence.

        However, I am willing to be persuaded that I am wrong – using actual Tepco statements with original dates that were subsequently revealed to be known to be untrue at the time of their issue.

        I am actually less willing to defend the Government of Japan, but again I think evidence for any direct untruthfulness is weak.

        If you want to put up someone who definitely and recklessly avowed an untruth from a presumed position of authority, I nominate Greg Jaczko of the NRC for wrongly insisting on non-existent problems with the spent fuel pool at Unit 4.

        • JOFFAN, how about this one. TEPCO knew that there had been three full meltdowns during the first week but denied that this was true and offered misinformation, such as claims that 2% of fuel may gave melted in this or that reactor. More than two months later in late May 2011 they publicly admitted that there had been three full meltdowns. Would this qualify for you as them being actively or not actively truthful?

          • No, Bo, I told you the rules. Casually repeating other people’s mischaracterization of what Tepco said definitely does not count.

          • I would add that infantilizing comments like that about “knowing your rules” is below the level of dialogue most of these posts have taken.

          • The article you cite talks about Tepco confirming a more serious level of meltdown than previously established in Reactor #1 in May. It does not support your claim that Tepco denied a meltdown earlier; in fact it shows that Tepco had already talked about meltdowns before that article, validating the counter argument.

            The article is written for drama rather than strict accuracy.

            This is why I specified how you could influence my opinion. There’s nothing infantile about setting the terms of debate, although there might be in attempting to misrepresent my statements.

            My daughter really is a historian. I do not think she would agree that you can ignore primary sources in the way you seem to feel is acceptable.

          • JOFFAN, following your game, will you please show me one piece of evidence that TEPCO admitted that there were meltdowns during the first week when they knew if fact there were meltdowns. Show me one piece of evidence that they admitted this during the first two months. Or just dismiss this post as not worthy of you.

          • How about you back up your own claim properly instead of trying to assume Tepco “guilty until proven innocent”? Tepco reported their observations, their evidence and their (limited) conclusions regularly, but you want to make some big deal out of them not saying exactly what you wanted.

            Should we hold you to the same standard, when your only explicit cite has shown that your initial claim of “almost three months” was undeniably false?

        • Joffan, your defense of TEPCO is rather bizarre. Your “rules” mean nothing here, and you have offered no credentials to indicate you know what you’re talking about.

          Here is a TEPCO press release dated May 1, 2011 about improving the ‘working environment’ at unit-1 -
          http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11050109-e.html

          Notice the minimization of reactor status inherent in the statement “Also, we need to install a circulating cooling system to improve the status of the reactor to a more stable cooled condition.”

          “More stable” is a word indicating that while things could be better, a certain level of stability is already present. You will find pretty much the same mischaracterization for all the melted/blown up reactors in the regularly issued by the TEPCO press office from the beginning of the disaster.

          Here is a pdf TEPCO release dated May 15, 2011 reporting the total meltdown and melt-through at unit-1 -
          http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/betu11_e/images/110515e10.pdf

          Note the graphic on page 3 establishing the fact that by just 16 hours after the earthquake-initiated scram there was no fuel above the core support plate. The condition is labeled “Void.”

          There was a nifty animation of a core melt in GE’s Mark I reactors TEPCO used in training pre-quake/tsunami that clearly illustrates the course of a meltdown from large-break LOCA – 16 hours. It was generated from meltdown experiments at Oak Ridge last century. TEPCO knew from day-1 to day-3 the reactors were melted/melting, as all three operating reactors were deprived of coolant/heat exchange. For which there is no other result. It was several months again before TEPCO admitted that units 2 and 3 also suffered total meltdowns/melt-throughs.

          • Joy, it’s convenient for those who wish to maximise the drama to attack Tepco’s truthfulness (and indeed attack anyone else who steps in with inconvenient data).

            I don’t see what you’re getting at in the first press release. I think it’s one of those cases where you have read the words and they mean something more to you than they actually say. I call this problem “overinterpretation”. Nothing in that text says that Tepco are denying a meltdown.

            Your second reference shows the results of an analysis, modelling rather than measurement, but nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t say that Tepco have held it back in particular.

            I’ll let you explain yourself further, because I don’t see where this is going and I don’t want to guess.

          • Joffan, I am not maximizing anything. Merely pointing you to material you demanded that TEPCO has been less than forthcoming about the conditions at Daiichi from the beginning. You said (and I quote) -

            “…I am willing to be persuaded that I am wrong – using actual TEPCO statements with original dates that were subsequently revealed to be known to be untrue at the time of their issue.”

            I gave you those. There is plenty more, most authorities – including IAEA and the Japanese Diet – have more than once mentioned the dearth of reliable data from TEPCO over the course of this disaster. It’s not new news. Unless you wish to now claim that TEPCO doesn’t know anything about nukes or Daiichi, it’s hard to believe they’ve been up-front and honest.

            People who know about reactors and meltdown dynamics have known all along they melted. What happened at Daiichi is no big technological mystery. How dangerous the airborne plumes were/are, and how dangerous the waterborne plumes are/will be are legitimate questions without concrete answers because there’s a lot of space between TEPCO’s minimizations and the apocalypse crowd’s overreactions. It’s not one or the other, but it is something that needs monitoring, not blanket dismissals.

          • Joy, you did not give me any Tepco statements that showed any kind of untruthfulness. Rather, you expressed your own unhappiness with them without actually presenting the evidence that they were known to be wrong at the time.

            I am fully aware of the goalpost-shifting here. We go from “Tepco lied all the time” to “Tepco didn’t instantly issue detailed reports that covered every possibility with exactly the right nuance in a foreign language (English)”.

            You seem to be willing to call them liars even when they were still gathering the evidence and working the models to establish the most likely situation. I am not willing to do that.

          • Joffan, I am nobody and I knew they were melting from the moment I heard they’d lost the EDGs. It’s not rocket science – simply not that hard if you know what the technology’s “fatal flaw” [h/t Greg Jaczko] happens to be. In such circumstances, the fatal flaw is fatal. Always. There’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.

            If I knew they were melting, I can pretty much guarantee that TEPCO knew it. And GE, since their engineers and techs were there to run when the earthquake happened and the walls of unit-1 cracked and deformed (taking some big-a** piping with them) and the rad alarms went off. That’s all in the Diet’s investigatory report too.

            How long did it take for YOU to know they’d melted? And who told you about it?

          • And just a by the way, the NRC and their Op-Center consults at DoE’s various facilities also knew it. Right away. Have you ever cared to go through the first weeks’ FOIA releases from NRC? They’re quite fascinating.

  3. Pingback: Fukushima Update | Worst-case scenario thinking and Fukushima radiation

  4. Deep Sea News continues to focus on the wildest, silliest, most unsubstantiated fearmongering, and discounting the true concerns about continuing discharge of contaminated water – ground, direct discharge, and stormwater runoff.

    New word – they call it “calm-mongering”.

    Any analysis based on a study conducted before this past summer, when the groundwater flow was revealed, assumes radioactivity only from the meltdowns and explosions of March 2011. Scientists are just beginning to monitor and model the continuous groundwater, and added stormwater related, mixed, undetermined flows.

    Environmental epidemiology – especially radioactivity in the marine environment – is complicated, and there is a very small dataset on which to conduct this analysis. But mocking the easily mocked undermines these scientists’ credibility for – as they say – confirmation bias. (Btw, confirmation bias is really fun to look at, as are other biases – start with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias )

    • Hi Kim–I’ve decided to re-instate your comment, despite it’s removal by the admin, because I’d like to reply.

      Conformation bias, as the article states, is something that can impact everyone. This article isn’t meant to “mock” any particular group, but to highlight the psychological and social issues accompanying the Fukushima disaster. I feel fear-mongering on the part of those concerned about the continuing impact of Fukushima (see the header image) has hindered this conversation. This invited post is meant to serve as a bridge past that.

      I agree that Fukushima is a complicated issues. However, speculation of what may happen in Japan falls outside the scope of our current scientific discourse. If new data become available that support your claims, we will report it.

      Until then, I feel we must all be respectful of each other, and recognize that this is a conversation between people who share much in common. We are all here because we love and respect the ocean. We all hope for good health. None of us want to see this world harmed by human mistakes.

      The insulting (prescriptive) text you wrote at the beginning of this comment, and the largely off-topic content, is what got it removed. If you wish to continue participating in this discussion, I ask that you please refrain from prescriptive attacks.

  5. I was raised to beleive nuclear reactors were safe because they had a concrete containment vessel.
    Now the vessels have been breached and are leaking radioactive water and I am asked to beleive they are still safe.

    Someone is lying. It can’t be safe and it can’t be good, so why report it? So they don’t report it and people speculate and are accuses of confirmation bias.

    I woulde have to argue the authorities are propagandizing this event and it is actually much more serious than they are willing to publicly admit.

    The authorities will lie, they have no choice, they gain nothing by telling the truth and much by lying. They have always lied, it is part of being the ruling class. I choose not to beleive them, you can call it confirmation bias or common sense, but either way its the best course to understand what is really going on in the world.

    With so many great venues available in the world, why hold the Olypmics in a country near a set of leaky radioactive reactors with melted cores, other than for propaganda value?

    Its a propaganda war and we are all the victims

    • The lack of trustworthy information can be as bad as the lack of any information. And criminalizing the release of ‘unauthorized’ information does nothing to inspire further trust. Later attempts to characterize the distrustful as “irrational” (etc., etc.) are rather suspicious as well.

      What do psychologists call it when people keep stubbornly trusting the pronouncements of known liars?

  6. Could someone send me a copy of the reply by Kimberly Davis. I did not get here soon enough to read it to decide if it was “off topic” or not. I would hate to think Deep Sea News is suffering from confirmation bias.

    • Hi Chris–It was removed by admin because it largely breaks the rule of being off topic, and also borders on personal (prescriptive) attacks. I’ve reinstated it in the hopes that we can move past these types of comments, into more thoughtful and respectful discussion.

  7. Thank you RR Helm. You certainly have earned my respect by doing so. I agree that all of us are here because of our love of the ocean. Personally I try to form my own conclusions about topics of concern by searching out and collating information from sources on all sides of the subject. You cannot attempt to form what you feel are unbiased conclusions without the entire equation. I hope for the best outcome, of course, but my desire for that cannot be clouded by what I want to hear. It can only be achieved by what I need to hear.

  8. Citing only studies using 2011 data to demonstrate that nothing has happened since 2011 shows some kind of bias, possibly confirmation bias.

    But citing only studies using 2011 data to discount risk, and undermine the call for further studies, is irresponsible.

    The link I provided to Wikipedia on bias can be useful for introspection and reflection.

    Study design and data collection method is key. More interesting reading: http://www.anthropic-principle.com/?q=anthropic_principle/primer

    “…Knowledge about limitations of your data collection process affects what inferences you can draw from the data…”

  9. I would be very grateful for a link to current, or just post-July 2013, monitoring, of anything but cesium. Especially plutonium and Strontium 90.

    Some university on the West Coast promises to monitor for a year…..WHOI is crowdfunding….

    The TEPCO monitoring link keeps moving around – http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/index-e.html – can you provide something more current?

    Do you think the national security secrecy law Japan passed in December might discourage such information? Here’s a link to that crazy outfit, the Economist…http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21590975-conservative-government-passes-tough-new-secrecy-law-secreted-away

    • Hi Kimberly– First, thank you for this comment. In my opinion you have clearly done a lot of digging on this topic, and I feel like you’ve generated a great opportunity to have a solid conversation.

      You are correct that WHOI affiliated scientists are now putting together a crowdfund to monitor radiation off the west coast. I’m so happy Ken Buesseler has taken the initiative on this. As I’m sure you’re aware, there is no government run monitoring program. Should there be? I don’t have a professional answer. I did find this article quite helpful though http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20131124/NEWS/311240336

      Here are two articles, both of these I realize are before your requested timeline, but I do wonder if they are continuing their monitoring programs:

      Concentration of Strontium-90 at Selected Hot Spots in Japan

      Radiostrontium in the Western North Pacific: Characteristics, Behavior, and the Fukushima Impact

      As for The Economist article–yeah, really concerning! The article certainly makes it sound like this new law will hinder Japanese communication regarding Fukushima radiation. I hadn’t seen this, thank you for sharing.

      • Patched over from another page – please look carefully at the graphics in “section” (cross-section, not in “plan”) for the groundwater interface.

        <<>>

        • Alex, my references are based on way too much time spent seeking credible information since TEPCO’s “revelations” of the groundwater seep in late July. I have experience in stormwater/groundwater; persistent toxins in water such as PCBs; and strangely, above-ground storage tanks. Some I have saved as a pdf.; some have (oddly) disappeared since I first found them this summer. You may wish to review:

          Geological Quarterly, 2003, 47 (4): 381–388
          Groundwater conditions along the seawater/freshwater interface on a volcanic island and a depositional area in Japan

          http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/2013/countermeasures160913.pdf esp. slides 13, 21, and 25 (pretty expensive for something of small concern)

          TEPCO monitoring: http://radioactivity.nsr.go.jp/en/contents/8000/7887/24/Sea_Area_Monitoring(20140121).pdf – I cannot find out what the diagonal strike-through line means on Sr90.

  10. In hopes that I won’t bend any author noses or run afoul of moderation, there is a point to be made about researches undertaken – or not undertaken – for the pre-expressed purpose of “proving” in some way that Fukushima is of no concern. Tautology writ large.

    If the industry at issue were not so well known to be prone to Big Lies, it would be much easier for the public to believe what they and their scientific supporters have to say about certified “disaster” levels of contamination. Alas, that is not the case.

    People need not be frantic about extinction in order to suspect they’re not being properly informed. That’ll take constant monitoring, because the releases are constant (and increasing). Oceanographers are the ones to do that job. They don’t get to do it if everybody buys the line that there’s nothing to monitor. Think about that.

    • Joy–No bent noses! And thanks for joining our little conversation! :D I think you’re right. The whole point of confirmation bias is that all the information is *out there*, and people are *choosing* not to pay attention. Not the same as information being withheld! We can’t control what individuals in other countries choose to do with their information, but we can collect our own.

      Commenter KIMBERLY DAVIS above made a great reference to the citizen scientist project to monitor radiation on the US west coast. If you’re interested, I recommend you check it out! Really cool project! http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=83397&tid=3622&cid=184949&c=2

      • Thank you for the link to Buesseler’s project, RR. I am far from California and have no ‘extra’ pocket change, but my equipment enjoys regular workouts monitoring for what is of concern in my neck of the woods. Citizen monitoring of beaches and waters offshore on the west coast is occurring already, and the “Kelp Watch” project [link below] is cranking up as we speak.

        http://newscenter.lbl.gov/science-shorts/2014/01/13/berkeley-lab-and-cal-state-long-beach-researchers-launch-‘kelp-watch’-to-determine-extent-of-fukushima-contamination/

        Unfortunately, the tautology is strong there as well. Hopefully that will change as the work gets underway. We do not need insulting comparisons to primordial background levels as a way to minimize excess exposures that Fukushima’s contaminants may cause. Most people concerned enough to care already understand that exposures are cumulative, never “less than” background but always in addition to.

        Citizens should not have to pay out of pocket for the necessary monitoring of coastal waters and ocean food supply. That is properly the task of agencies of government that already enjoy ample funding from We the People, and they need to get busy channeling sufficient funds to the people who can best do the work. We can and must insist. I am meeting with representatives and activists today.

        Thanks for your reply.

        • >>Citizens should not have to pay out of pocket for the necessary monitoring of coastal waters and ocean food supply.<<

          The question there is "necessary." Public health monitoring is based on science, evidence, and the hard math of assessed risk; if some people want more monitoring than is merited by the evidence or expert assessments, they may have to ante up.

          People fear a lot of things, not always rationally. The issue isn't binary, radiation monitoring vs. no radiation monitoring. There are many public health concerns that money could be spent on. Here's just one: More than 4,000 Californians came down with coccidioidomycosis (valley fever) in 2012 from breathing in fungus in dusty soil; most suffer only mild flu-like symptoms, but some suffer long-term and debilitating infections. I'd certainly like to know if that was in my neighborhood. Or hantavirus. Or red imported fire ants.

          How much testing should be done? How much money should be spent? If I had $10,000 to spend on public health, I'd probably have more impact fighting valley fever with soil testing and N95 mask distribution than testing seawater for trace levels of radiation. Probably — but I'd rely on experts in the field for their advice.

          • Jeffronicus, you cannot legitimately characterize monitoring of radionuclides from Daiichi’s large, ongoing and ever increasing ocean releases as “unnecessary” or as the result of “irrational fear” based on anything we objectively know at this point in time about the disaster at Daiichi. Though your attempt to do so is certainly in line with the ‘confirmation bias’ demonstrated in this lead article.

            You could argue all sorts of opinions on this, but not established facts. Because to have established facts it would be necessary to conduct regular monitoring. Then we could argue about whether or not chronic low-level internal radiation exposure is harmful at the known levels. Lord knows scientists argue about that all the time. Dueling ‘experts’ can be entertaining, but arguing unknowns is pointless.

            You cannot argue that Daiichi’s radioactive contamination won’t reach US shores, won’t impact sea life, and can’t present a public health issue for American citizens who may be exposed through their diets/livelihoods. Because that is not known.

  11. You have to admitt that it is getting worse, you cant defend Fukushima when it keeps dumping into the ocean.Epigenetic inheritance from even small amounts of Isotopes from Fukushima which there are many and many not spoken about that will be long term in their affects on humans for HUNDREDS OF YEARS…

    • Randall–I’d love to know what the epigenetic inheritance of these substances might be! I think this is a really interesting idea. What impact does radiation have on epigenetics? I don’t know if there are many good studies out there on this topic now, but I’d certainly support someone doing one. Sounds like a cool topic :)

      • I think if you research for instance uranium, depleted uranium 98% by product of used uranium, DULLARM you will find your answer, also DU same thing, Best documents are ones that used DU in wars like Iraq….same thing thats bleeding out of Fukushima…….

  12. While I join the world in my respect for Dr. Buessler, my reference to WHOI’s crowdfunding was meant to be ironic.

  13. Hi–I was just wondering where this map actually came from. How did people start to think it represented radiation levels?

    • Hi Archy–The map was first generated via modelers at NOAA estimating the maximum wave heights of the tsunami. It was then featured on VCReporter as being radiation.

  14. Interesting article. You right well, but in your opening statement you claimed that “even when the best available evidence suggests that the world is not about to end?”

    Then you jumped right into the psychoanalysis of a massive group of people around the globe, including many internationally renowned scientists.

    And as others have pointed out: there isn’t terribly much in the way of “best evidence” suggesting that it’s no big deal, either.

    Last, why does the catastrophe-at-hand need to be apocalyptic in order to warrant a response? There are wide-ranging (and generally negative) impacts to most life at any nuclear radiation dose rate. Is it really ‘abnormal’ to expect accurate information in light of the ‘known knowns’ of this event, which are not many, 3 years after the worst industrial accident in history?

    • Interesting thoughts, and I think you’re right that people have a right to know what is going on. This article was not aimed at those interested in exploring legitimate concerns. Instead, it is a response to the many many over-the-top angry comments we get on a daily basis.

      I believe these reactions are so out of line that they actually harm the conversation. They polarize it into those who have concerns (including the people who claim the world is ending) and those who are less concerned (including those who might deny people the right to valuable evidence). In my opinion, both extremes should be ignored and there should be a discussion between those in the middle. And conformation bias is something that I, and I hope others I’m conversing with, keep in mind.

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