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This short diary is a quick update to some "breaking news" from earlier this week, namely an earlier report about a study from the lunatic fringe of respectable science.

The particular diary mentioned above was published before the paper was actually released and was based on a press release by the researchers. Today, the paper officially went public, and already the criticism has begun to rain in.

For example, the blogs at Scientific American have already hit on this paper with a critique that is not very flattering:

"Researchers Trumpet Another Flawed Fukushima Death Study"

The quotes in this diary are taken from this paper.

The author of the Scientific American blog article is not unfamiliar with the work of the two researchers who coauthored the paper:

In June I wrote about a claim that babies in the U.S. were dying as a direct result of Fukushima radiation. A close look at the accusation revealed that the data used by the authors to make the argument showed no such thing. ... The authors appeared to start from a conclusion babies are dying because of Fukushima radiation and work backwards, torturing the data to fit their claims.

Is Amnesty International aware of this? Torture is no laughing matter. Well, OK, it can be when its only data that are being tortured. Then we can laugh at the results.

So what is the recent brouhaha about?

Now the authors have published a revised study in the International Journal of Health Services. A press release published to herald the article warns, 14,000 U.S. Deaths Tied to Fukushima Fallout.

That's quite a claim, and if it can be credibly defended, then it is a wonder why such an article is being published in such an obscure journal.

So what is the evidence? Well, they don't so much as provide evidence as complain about the lack of evidence from the US EPA. As the Scientific American article put it:

In other words, the EPA didn't find evidence for the plume that our entire argument depends on, so clearly we can't trust the agency's data.

That's a nice start to a convincing argument. Please excuse the sarcasm.

So where do the claims in the press release come from? (emphasis mine)

Yet even if there isn't evidence for a plume, where do all the dead people come from? Here, from the abstract, is the chain of reasoning: U.S. health officials report weekly deaths by age in 122 cities, about 25 to 35 percent of the national total. Deaths rose 4.46 percent from 2010 to 2011 in the 14 weeks after the arrival of Japanese fallout, compared with a 2.34 percent increase in the prior 14 weeks. Projecting these figures for the entire United States yields 13,983 total deaths. In sum: Sloppy statistics killed 14,000 people.

How sloppy, you might ask? Well, consider the following:

No attempt is made at providing systematic error estimates, or error estimates of any kind. No attempt is made to catalog any biases that may have crept into the analysis, though a cursory look finds biases a-plenty (the authors are anti-nuclear activists unaffiliated with any research institution). The analysis assumes that the plume arrived on U.S. shores, spread everywhere, instantly, and started killing people immediately. It assumes that the excess deaths after March 20 are a real signal, not just a statistical aberration, and that every one of them is due to Fukushima radiation.

Yes, magic plumes are quite a convenient story-telling device for spreading fear through poor statistical reasoning. They were also used after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 by researchers funded by lawyers involved in a class-action lawsuit against the owner of the plant. The "research" findings were thrown out of court, and the work itself provides yet another example of sloppy science that has not withstood the test of time.

Beyond story-telling, however, such magic plumes never stand up to close scrutiny, because ... well ... they're magic ... that is, not real. They're like goblins, fairies, pixie dust, and compassionate conservatism. They make for a good story, and that's about it.

The final word:

The publication of such sloppy, agenda-driven work is a shame.

I agree, and I encourage anyone reading this diary to check out the article on the Scientific American website.

There will be enough real scientific data to be responsibly analyzed by credible researchers in the aftermath of this natural disaster in Japan without the need for seriously flawed papers by amateurs, such as the paper referenced here, which only serve to drive a predetermined agenda.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (15+ / 0-)

    Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.
    -- Albert Einstein

    by bryfry on Tue Dec 20, 2011 at 09:45:24 PM PST

  •  There were a good number of skeptical commenters (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bryfry, Cedwyn

    in yesterday's diary, of which you were one.

    I am glad you followed up on this item.

    •  on the up side (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sandino, Cedwyn, erush1345

      I think we have a nice demonstration of how peer review works.

      Nice example of science doing what science should be doing:  using the organzation of the community to establish rigorously what constitutes solid evidence and what doesn't.

      (of course, this isn't to say mob mentality doesn't also exist out there sometimes.)

  •  yeah--that study looked ridiculous-- (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Empty Vessel, CatM, Cedwyn

    and the diarist--while certainly well-meaning--has been doing this sort of thing pretty regularly.

    Damn  thing's bad enough without making stuff up.  We don't have a clue what the REAL damage is...but it's certainly not 14,000 lives across the Pacific.

    •  Joieau isn't well-meaning (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bryfry

      She thinks her brother was assassinated by the nuclear mafia:
      http://www.dailykos.com/...

      She thinks Chernobyl brought down the USSR:
      http://www.dailykos.com/...

      She wants people to think about Fukushima when they see "sneaker-foots" washing up after the tsunami:
      http://www.dailykos.com/...

      It's sad that people on dailyKos make such a receptive audience for her unhinged propaganda efforts.  No claim is too stupid for her to make and get recs for.

      Global warming is the inconvenient truth, nuclear power is the inconvenient alternative.

      by eigenlambda on Wed Dec 21, 2011 at 09:57:42 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ah yes, the "nuclear mafia" (0+ / 1-)
        Recommended by:
        Hidden by:
        cville townie

        Well, at least she's no longer calling them "guidos" like she used to (see examples:  here, here, and here).

        Yeah, Joy is a real class act.

        Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.
        -- Albert Einstein

        by bryfry on Wed Dec 21, 2011 at 10:32:33 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Guido (0+ / 0-)

          http://www.urbandictionary.com/...

          guido     17575 up, 2195 down
          A sad pathetic excuse for a male; not necessarily of Italian descent, but most likely; usually native to the New York/New Jersey Tri-State area.
          guido     3023 up, 590 down
          The Guido is an entirely American phenomena, with its epicenter in the New York/ New Jersey metropolitan area. Although most of its examples are of Italian-American descent, manytimes other non-descript Caucasians will follow suit in an attempt to achieve an identity- in fact any identity. The Guido is highly recognizable by his attention to muscular development, status symbols, and regional dialect. Guidos are fortunate in that they usually tend to be loyal to their heritage and cultures.

          "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

          by indycam on Thu Dec 22, 2011 at 11:02:24 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks (0+ / 0-)

            But I was already aware that the word is an ethnic slur, particularly when used in reference to alleged criminal activity.

            Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.
            -- Albert Einstein

            by bryfry on Thu Dec 22, 2011 at 12:23:40 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Its not about the ethnicity . (0+ / 0-)

              "not necessarily Italian of descent"
              "entirely American phenomena"

              "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

              by indycam on Thu Dec 22, 2011 at 01:51:37 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Agreed. It's about the slur (0+ / 0-)

                It's pretty clear that Joy was not talking about Italian-Americans, and she was not talking about anyone from the Jersey shore. Even when that is the context in which the word is used, many people, especially many Italian-Americans, are deeply offended.

                Joy used the word, however, in reference to unflattering ethnic stereotypes with which to paint people she does not like, which is even more offensive, in my opinion, but hey, if you want to defend ethnic slurs, that's up to you. I can't do anything to stop you, no matter how low you want to go.

                Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.
                -- Albert Einstein

                by bryfry on Thu Dec 22, 2011 at 02:28:36 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  You might very well not understand , (0+ / 0-)

                  but you will maybe see that the name "Guido" is associated with a behavior . A particular set of styles and behaviors that does not link to an ethnicity . Not all Italians are Guidos , not all Guidos are Italians .

                  Are you a native to the New York/New Jersey Tri-State area ? You sure act like you are .

                   

                  "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

                  by indycam on Thu Dec 22, 2011 at 05:34:55 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Please explain (0+ / 0-)

                    Joy's use of the term "Guido factor." Thanks.

                    If you want to defend ethnic slurs, that's up to you. I can't do anything to stop you.

                    Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.
                    -- Albert Einstein

                    by bryfry on Thu Dec 22, 2011 at 08:09:46 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

  •  feel like the gangs all here from that first diary (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    zqxj, Mindful Nature, CatM, Cedwyn, erush1345

    Thanks for the link, I read the damn thing today and posted a short comment in the original diary.  They were citing newspaper reports for some of their data in the first part of the paper.

    It was about as crappy a data analysis as I have seen.  If it was one of my students, I'd fail 'me.

    "Empty vessels make the loudest sound, they have the least wit and are the greatest blabbers" Plato

    by Empty Vessel on Tue Dec 20, 2011 at 10:29:21 PM PST

  •  also--- (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    zqxj, Mindful Nature, murrayewv, Cedwyn, BPARTR

    if 14,000 American deaths were caused in that short time frame, I'd expect Japan to be basically empty.  not to make light of a true horror--but seriously.

    That said, I DO expect that there will be deaths in Japan over the next several years that will be directly attributable to this--and the track record doesn't suggest these will be accurately reported.  

    But I"d much rather see real studies rather than activist-driven political propaganda to get the truth out.

    •  Why would you expect (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      erush1345, bryfry, eigenlambda

      studies will find deaths attributable to Fukushima when most  objective scientists (i.e. those actually trained in epidemiology, radiation health physics or related fields who are not primarily employed by industry groups with vested interests on the one side or by activist organizations organizations with axes to grind on the other) are saying any increase in cancer rates, if they occur at all, will likely be statistically swamped by the primary, that is non-nuclear, risks?

      •  Non-nuclear environmental effects (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        erush1345, bryfry

        The Japanese power companies have been racing to recommission a series of mothballed coal, oil and natural-gas power stations to provide enough electricity for the nation as their reactor fleet is gradually shut down for inspection, refuelling and delayed relicencing. Those fossil-carbon stations will be belching toxic fumes and radioactive material all over Japan for the next few months so you can expect a big hit on the general health of the Japanese people over the coming years.

      •  Non-nuclear environmental effects (0+ / 0-)

        The Japanese power companies have been racing to recommission a series of mothballed coal, oil and natural-gas power stations to provide enough electricity for the nation as their reactor fleet is gradually shut down for inspection, refuelling and delayed relicencing. Those fossil-carbon stations will be belching toxic fumes and radioactive material all over Japan for the next few months so you can expect a big hit on the general health of the Japanese people over the coming years.

  •  Vapid hit piece (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JVolvo, ovals49, Pluto, Wheever

    Someone should read the paper, instead of smears from a magazine whose ad revenue comes from the military-industrial complex.  Oh wait, it is not from the magazine, just from a blog, and their innuendo matches the propaganda hit piece put out by the plutonium lobby (NEI).  They say the authors claim correlation and fail to prove causation, where the authors actually ask whether there is a correlation, and as scientists, naturally avoid questions of causation altogether.  If anyone here wants to look at the actual work, instead of industry propaganda, here is a link to the paper.  You can be sure the nuktopians who fear and fight any bad PR for the plutonium cartel haven't bothered to read that actual work, and are just talking their talking points from their handlers.

    •  Gee. The last time there was a "death anomoly" (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sandino, blueness

      ...like this was when there were 16,500 excess deaths recorded in the U.S. in the 17 weeks following the Chernobyl accident in 1986.

      I'm sure neither event had anything to do with environmental factors related to the for-profit energy sector.


      Give a man a gun and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank and he can rob the world. Nationalize the bastards.

      by Pluto on Wed Dec 21, 2011 at 03:24:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You don't know that (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BPARTR, bryfry

        Seriously, have your he key all the data between those tow times to show that this sort of variation is odd...the authors didn't...I'm guessing you didn't...so how can you say that the last there was a death anomaly like this was Chernobyl?

        You can't...and that is the heart of why the recent paper is crap.  They didn't establish How much year to year variation is normal, so we have no idea if the variation between 2010 and 2011 is a little, a lot, or a nightmare of 14000 deaths.

        Bad science is bad science, even when you like the results.

        "Empty vessels make the loudest sound, they have the least wit and are the greatest blabbers" Plato

        by Empty Vessel on Wed Dec 21, 2011 at 06:54:45 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  You don't publish a paper to ask something (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bryfry

      Well, by and large.  That's a common CT gambit.  People get banned on DK for "asking" like that.

      But nobody's buying flowers from the flower lady.

      by Rich in PA on Wed Dec 21, 2011 at 03:44:58 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  But the study is meaningless (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cedwyn, BPARTR

      Without knowing if any of those excess deaths were related to radiation poisoning or whether you consider whether death trends show similar jumps that are not around the time of natural disasters. Most distant fallout related deaths ate not likely to be so soon or detectable within such a short window. Deaths related to small repeated exposure to radiation often take years or decades to show up, which is why proponents of nuclear energy get away with misleading many people that it is safe.

      Just because you recognize nuclear fallout is likely harmful and correctly recognize that others have an agenda to discredit this paper does not mean you can disregard whether the authors have an agenda and whether the premise of the study is flawed (it is).

      We Won't Let Republicans Replace Medicare with GOP Vouchercare!

      by CatM on Wed Dec 21, 2011 at 04:15:50 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Nuclear disasters not natural disasters *nt* (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sandino, Cedwyn

        We Won't Let Republicans Replace Medicare with GOP Vouchercare!

        by CatM on Wed Dec 21, 2011 at 04:16:59 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  You miss the point (0+ / 0-)

        radiation poisoning is not the issue. The correlation is between a general attack on immune function, possibly due to fallout from Fukushima, and the marginal increase in symptoms in diverse diseases. This severity increase is observed as increased mortality among the already sick.  The fact that identical length periods of 2011 before and after the arrival of the fallout were compared and showed a statistically significant increase in mortality suggests that something changed between these two periods, but it will never be possible to prove what it was, or what the cause was.  Arguments using the strawman of confusing correlation with causality are reminiscent of the same arguments made against studies of cancer risks from smoking.  They are tailored to confuse laymen, since a real scientist knows the question of causality is basically off the table for experimentalists.

        •  Except they have proven causality (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          susanala, Cedwyn, erush1345

          Between smoking and cancer. There are too many possible confounding factors to give this study any relevancy, not to mention it is about the weakest study protocol there is. Few scientists and statisticians would consider this study to have credence. And it has nothing to do with whether one supports or opposes nuclear power. It is simply too bog of a stretch with no scientific evidence to support any suspicion of anything more than coincidence.

          We Won't Let Republicans Replace Medicare with GOP Vouchercare!

          by CatM on Wed Dec 21, 2011 at 05:04:03 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  'Natural disaster in Japan' (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JVolvo, Pluto

    What wonderful phrasing.  This diarist can't even bring him/herself to say the word meltdown, or admit that the melt-throughs and explosions that caused this fallout was a manmade disaster.

    Nothing like getting 'factual' analysis from one of the most irrational, slavishly loyal plutonium worshippers on the site. Maybe we should put together a greatest hits, where we could look for correlation between 1) industry talking points and 2) reality as it has been widely observed, and see which is closer to the comment/diary history.

  •  As a medical writer/editor (8+ / 0-)

    I am sorry to say I see many articles that torture data. In fact, Pharma companies pay physician researchers and institutions big money to torture facts. Then, they pay greedy medical publishers of for profit medical publications lots of money to write about those tortured facts in publications sent freely to medical professionals of all kinds. Sometimes, the story is placed as a "value add" where it is published as an unsponsored journalistic effort in exchange for the Pharma company signing a huge contract and the editorial director who refuses to run the article risks being replaced with someone who will. I quit my last two jobs in part because the salespeople let big Pharma control the content, and I was being forced to promote questionable, massaged data that I worried would lead to harm for patients.

    Other times it is ignorance or agenda. I recently edited two articles by a doctor making a case for routine supplementation of certain vitamins in the elderly. She cherrypicked data to support the case and misrepresented studies that were inconclusive by highlighting nonsignificant trends. Fortunately, she was not dishonest--just not good at writing and I fixed the articles so that they accurately reflected the conclusions of the studies and added well regarded studies that reached different conclusions to provide balance, and she thanked me for significantly improving the paper (some doctors just get angry when you do that or even suggest they do it).

     I saw a former FDA official talk about this practice last march, of Pharma sponsored studies touting nonsignificant trends favoring their drug. If a finding is not significant, then the trend does not mean anything for clinical practice.

    Finally, the head of ESMO once told me journalists were also at fault, routinely using headlines like "breakthrough" and "miracle" and acting like a single study should be the basis for major practice changes when confirmatory studies had yet to be performed. The MSM also touts anecdotal stories that convince people a drug is great or harmful but fail to provide balance. The whole furor over avastin in breast cancer is being driven by the MSM and advocacy groups and the Drugmaker. The scientific community largely agrees that the data show it does more harm than good--treating one woman successfully requires exposing an even larger number to lifethreayening risks, but in the media you will just hear about that one woman's miraculous cure.

    I am very disillusioned and skeptical about most scientific literature, especially when sponsored or conducted by a party with any stake in its outcome.

    Excuse typos. I am on an iPhone.

    We Won't Let Republicans Replace Medicare with GOP Vouchercare!

    by CatM on Wed Dec 21, 2011 at 03:57:42 AM PST

    •  I can't speak much for Pharma (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      CatM, eigenlambda

      I used to know a couple of people who worked for pharmaceutical companies as technical editors -- mostly cleaning up the broken English of researchers for whom English is not a first language. However, I've gathered that even the native English speakers working in this field have such poor written communication skills that they often need the help of professional editors before their articles are ready to be submitted for publication.

      That's about as close as I've ever come to Pharma.

      By the way, I don't want to give the impression that I'm picking on the pharmaceutical industry. I've encountered many scientists and engineers, in all sorts of fields, who couldn't write worth a damn.

      Nevertheless, I understand your complaints about how the scientific literature and the mainstream media interact in a way that is not in the best interest of the public. It reminds me of this comic strip from a couple years ago:

      The Science News Cycle

      I think that it's obvious to anyone who has any sense whatsoever that the entire purpose of the paper mentioned in this diary is to provide a press release.

      Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.
      -- Albert Einstein

      by bryfry on Wed Dec 21, 2011 at 09:38:38 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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