The Science of Hype

So you see, this big ass earthquake and tsunami hit Japan a while back.  You may have seen something about it on the news.  They’ve lost a few people (8,000 plus dead.  12,000 plus missing), knocked down a few buildings (Waterfront Honshu doesn’t exist) and caused some interruption with the electric power (burning nuclear fuel rods).

All sarcasm aside, the quake/tsunami combo in Honshu, Japan has been devastating to the world on so many levels.  The loss of life, the loss of property, the environmental impact of a near nuclear meltdown are all devastating.  My heart goes out to those victims, just as it did for the Christmas Day Tsunami.

But this isn’t a post about how awful that is.  This is a post about how awful the hype has been.  And how science has been abused, misused and totally ignored by the media, our leaders and ourselves.

Because of the Nuclear Power Plant meltdown, the magic word…  RADIATION… has been thrown about quite a bit lately.  It’s a scary word, radiation.  It conjures up all sorts of horrific images.  It’s deadly, it’s an environmental disaster, it’s…  well…  a lot of it is hype.

Radiation is vital to our lives, and to ignore that simple fact is silly.  I saw someone on television swearing they were going to find a place with no radiation.  Good luck with that.

Radiation is all around us every day.  There are plenty of benign forms, completely harmless.  These are things like television, radio, and light.  WAIT! you science know-it-all’s yell.  Those aren’t IONIZING RADIATION so they are harmless.  We’re talking about ionizing radiation when we listen to the HYPE!

Okay.  Ditch the Bananas.  Bananas contain a specific isotope of Potassium (40K) that decays and releases gamma rays.  Very dangerous.  In fact, eating one banana exposes you to more ionizing radiation than leaving within 50 miles of a working nuclear reactor for a year.  Spooky!  Bet you don’t eat bananas again.

Even worse, for all you anti-nuclear power people.  Do you know which is more “dangerous,” living within 50 miles of a coal power plant or living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant?  The answer is “neither” but for you radiation hypoligists out their, a coal power plant releases a little over 3 times as much ionizing radiation as a nuclear power plant.  Excepting tsunami hit ones, of course.

Now all of these things I’ve mentioned exposes someone to MINIMAL radiation.  Safe.  Less radiation than one gets from the Sun!  (Bet our radiation-phobe didn’t think of that, he has to hide from the sun too.)  To put it all in perspective, check out this chart from Randell Munroe the author of xkcd. (Thanks to Phil “Bad Astronomy” Plaitt for the heads up.)   Notice the very first thing?  Sleeping with someone gives you radiation!  Use that in abstinence class!

Here’s a few things to consider before you buy the hype.  The nuclear reactor in Japan SURVIVED the earthquake.  It didn’t survive the Tsunami.  (Actually, it even survived the tsunami, but the cooling equipment didn’t.  And that lead to the problems)  There is no way for the plant in Japan to dump fall out on the West Coast.  There is NO NEED to start taking iodine.  Sailors on US Navy ships nearby received a much higher dose of radiation than anyone in Alaska will, and they are not sick.  The worldwide danger is almost zero.

Unless you want to believe this fraud:

Fraudulent Map of Nuclear Fallout

Fraudulent Map of Nuclear Fallout

I guess my point is… chill out.  This is a horrible, terrible situation.  Lies and hype won’t make it any better.