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:
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.