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Unlike real engineers, social engineers avoid math

Unlike real engineers, social engineers avoid math

Opponents of nuclear power plants were cheered by the results of a recent study suggesting that, with public health in mind, more of these marvels that turn out cheap, clean energy ought to be shut down.

Closing a nuclear reactor in California [in 1989] has prevented an estimated 4,319 cases of cancer in the past 20 years, according to a new study released Thursday. Researchers studied the population of the state capitol [sic] of Sacramento, an area with more than 1.4 million people living within 25 miles of the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant.

Put aside the study’s methodology that I suspect an epidemiologist will soon debunk.  Instead, let’s take the authors at their word and focus on their three operative numbers: 4,319; 20, and 1.4 million.

The equation they form is more accurately expressed as 216 people per year who did not get cancer.

That’s it: 216.  Out of 1.4 million.  The annual cancer incident rate was thus reduced .0015 percent—15 ten-thousandths of one percent.  A statistical irrelevance.

And since everyone diagnosed with cancer doesn’t actually die of cancer, the mortality rate is even lower than the incident rate.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, comes this news from Great Britain:

Each year, an official estimate is made of the “excess winter mortality” — that is, the number of people dying of cold-related illnesses. Last winter was relatively mild, and still 24,000 perished. The indications are that this winter, which has dragged on so long and with such brutality, will claim 30,000 lives, making it one of the biggest killers in the country. And still, no one seems upset.

One reason so many Brits are dying of cold is the nation’s reaction to the 2,000 heat-related deaths during the 2003 summer heat wave.

The government’s chief scientific officer, Sir David King, later declared that climate change was “more serious even than the threat of terrorism” in terms of the number of lives that could be lost….

Since Sir David’s exhortations, some 250,000 Brits have died from the cold, and 10,000 from the heat.

So let’s recap.  Over 20 years, about 4,000 people may not have gotten cancer thanks to the closing of a power plant in California.  In Great Britain over that same period, about half a million people—nearly one percent of the population—have perished from the cold.

Both nuclear energy and “climate change” are concerned with power.  The former actually generates it.  The latter is about who holds it.


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In desperate attempts to control others the Left often throws out the Death Tarot Card to justify their political motives. Reading the cards they’ve put on the table, the Left then does its absurd and meaningless fortune-telling.

There are genetic causes of prostate, breast and ovarian cancer that are much more likely to do an individual harm than any extremely safe containment of nuclear fuel.

And don’t forget that there are other factors that likely contribute to cancer causation on an everyday basis: birth control pills, abortions, cell phones and…smoking pot to name a few.

    SoCA Conservative Mom in reply to Sally Paradise. | March 30, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    OT: One day I’d really like to see the rate of cancer among illegal/illicit drug users. Although, I suppose many don’t get cancer, they don’t live long enough. With movements to legalize every drug under the sun, I do wonder what the affect will be on health care costs in the long run. The Nanny State is trying to limit food intake, because of health care costs, seems ludicrous to ban sugary and salty foods, but permit someone to shoot heroin or smoke crack.

Their claim also assumes that in 20 years we have not made any advancement in cancer treatment/prevention; no public awareness campaigns to live healthier have done anything at all, and EVERY one of those 4,319 saved lives is due solely to the closing of a power plant.

If none of our other cancer-fighting tactics are doing anything to help, then I propose we cease and desist with all of them.

Ditto to the previous comments posted. I looked at the linked article and noticed blacks, whites, Asians, and native Americans omitted. Probably just typical racist, Marxist reporting.

What a ridiculous “study”. Let’s trot out the old cliche “Correlation does not prove causation” here. What proof is there that Rancho Seco released radiation into the atmosphere in any amount that exceeds normal background radiation? Even if there was a release, where is the epidemiological evidence that a similar exposure to radiation has caused illness?

And you’ve got this winner of a non-sequitur:

“The most statistically significant reductions were in breast and thyroid cancers in women, two cancers that appeared more frequently in survivors of the nuclear bombs attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII.”

WHAT? Even in the worst case scenario, how is a radioactive leak from a nuclear power plant comparable to the open air detonation of a plutonium or uranium fission bomb?

casualobserver | March 30, 2013 at 9:40 am

I’ve always considered the term ‘social science’ to be misleading for the use of the word ‘science.’ So much human behavior is still not fully predicted by pure analysis and reasoning. Trends may be evident, but not firm cause and effect for every situation. And in this study I highly suspect that any cause and effect to the theoretical incidences of cancer is weak at the very best, regardless of the significance of the statistics/numbers themselves, as the Joel Engel points out. After all, it’s easy to prove those who live around facilities, work in them, etc., all have abnormally low survival rates, right? Right???

It’s all feel-good horse hooey. The famous Lyndon Johnson advertisement with the little girl, dandelions, and a nuclear explosion would be just as effective at satisfying those who oppose nuclear power.

If you really want to bury yourself in fantastical anti-nuclear rhetoric, just look for anything written by Dr. Helen Caldicott. She’s also a huge fan of loosely associated factoids, conjecture, and catastrophic ‘certainties’ (or uncertainties, rather) that have never occurred after two generations of nuclear power.

Oh, and look at the Wikipedia entry for Rancho Seco. Most of the site has been inspected by the NRC and approved for use as a recreation area. According to this report, on site residual contamination does not exceed 25 millirems of annual exposure. The average annual background exposure is 300 millirems. So, assuming that the whole population of Sacramento occupied the Rancho Seco site, they would receive an 8% increase in radiation exposure in one year.

I don’t have any study to prove it, but I’d be willing to bet that the natural variation in background radiation would easily be more than 25 millirems. You could very well stand on an undisturbed piece of land and receive more exposure than you did at the Rancho Seco site; I’d imagine high elevation has much more of an effect.

The linked article is highly irresponsible for not exploring any of the issues I’ve identified.

    Ragspierre in reply to halflight. | March 30, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Well, and we know that many coal-fueled power plants emit a LOT more radiation than ever came out of a U.S. nuclear plant.

    But, hey… The Luddites and Druids of the Collective really don’t like people, modernity, or reason.

    SoCA Conservative Mom in reply to halflight. | March 30, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Take a look at San Onofre, it sits on a state beach. I always have a look at the bumper stickers on the cars in the lots (we often go to the state park, because the beaches are less crowded than in Carlsbad, although trekking down the trails to the beach can be treacherous.) I chuckle that most of the bumper stickers are from Libs and many are Greenies, but that doesn’t stop them from enjoying the beach steps away from the Big Bad Nuc Plant.

    Full Disclosure: My husband works at San Onofre, so we are partial to keeping the plant open. He tells me that there are almost daily protests to shut the plant down. Not to mention being “probed” by people who are much too nosy about plant operations and security.

Because this is article is dissing the study based on numbers, I have to point out that the % of overall population is irrelevant. The relevant % is the cancer delta / total number of cancer diagnoses.

4k deaths is not completely insignificant. Yet, it seems that the true progressive point of view could be better expressed by weighting those who died according to their preference group status: economic class, sexuality, complexion, facial features (high cheekbones), union membership, etc..

I’m glad somebody knows how to prevent cancer. That particular trick seems to have so far eluded our best medical minds. Perhaps these people should present their paper at the next available cancer conference. I am sure it would get the attention it deserves.

True story: “Question to London plumber: ‘Why do British keep putting their water pipes OUTSIDE their homes?’ Answer from London plumber: ‘It’s easier to get at the pipes when they freeze’

Midwest Rhino | March 30, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Math is hard … it’s more important that I feel good about my answers … don’t judge me man.

More inconvenient numbers:

“With just one single exception, the attack on congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011, every public shooting since at least 1950 in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry guns.”

So 20 kids are killed in a “helpless victim zone”. But the cry comes out from crazy Joe Biden, meeting with liberals in private, that “WE” are demanding even more helpless victim zones.

Arming adults prevents these mass shootings almost every time, while disarming them attracts crazed shooters. These statistics don’t lie. Why do you hate the children Goofball Joe?

LukeHandCool | March 30, 2013 at 1:22 pm

If you look at the miniscule effects from Chernobyl, especially in contrast to initial fears, I’d bet the 216 per year figure is wildly exaggerated.

    casualobserver in reply to LukeHandCool. | March 30, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    It’s a purely hypothetical number most likely created by making a number of assumptions that link local radiation measurements (close to a plant) to results from other (unrelated) radiation exposure, say in a lab test. I’d be willing to bet that you could just as easily fabricate….I mean ‘calculate’ an even greater cancer toll from naturally occuring radiation of all types (UV anyone?), making the same unsupported connections of lab results to atmospheric measurements. It doesn’t need to be causative. It just needs to follow a simple formula: Radiation = bad (tests); nuclear power generation involves (emits?? maybe) radiation; therefore nuclear power and lab results should be joined and your worst fears publicized.

    Midwest Rhino in reply to LukeHandCool. | March 30, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    funny you mention that, I was just reading about radiation homesis, a questionable idea that small doses of radiation are actually beneficial.

    But one quote that arose was that 100,000 wanted pregnancies were aborted because of FEAR of the effects from Chernobyl.

    The fear being spread through our society by the left not only acts as political stimulant, but causes real harm to people when used in high doses.

    Fears of starting a business in the face of a hostile government are legit, and also cause economic hardship, which equals higher death rates. Expensive electricity should also be directly related to higher mortality, especially among the poor.

      Ragspierre in reply to Midwest Rhino. | March 30, 2013 at 2:39 pm

      “…a questionable idea that small doses of radiation are actually beneficial”

      Actually, they are unavoidable. We live in an irradiated, germ-filled environment. And we always have. We are made to.

        Midwest Rhino in reply to Ragspierre. | March 30, 2013 at 3:18 pm

        yeah, but the theory is that higher than normal exposure, but not TOO high, seems to have some benefit. Theory is the body then repairs itself stronger than the original, like muscles that tear and heal in exercise, or resistance is built to disease. But it is not conclusive.

        But the real issue is FEAR (with ignorance) as a weapon. Remember, the sequester “killed” meat inspectors, border guards, and air traffic controllers.

        The anti-science fear reporting on Fukushima was legendary. Germany closed 8 of 17 reactors in response, and burned more coal instead. Damned if you do .. damned if you don’t … by the angry left at least.

          Ragspierre in reply to Midwest Rhino. | March 30, 2013 at 4:46 pm

          So true!

          Anybody flying a lot…but especially airline crew members…get MORE radiation.

          But radiation…like “asbestos”…comes in various forms. Some are totally harmless. It DOES NOT MATTER to the junk science of the Collective. It is ALLLLLLLLllllll useful to put the hoo-doo on the ignorant…!!!!

byondpolitics | March 30, 2013 at 2:54 pm

I’m afraid you have a bit of confusion in your statistics.

First, the relevant number is the full 4,319 and not 216. A cancer patient doesn’t really care if he got cancer this year or last; the same problem has to be addressed either way.

Next, the issue isn’t to compare those numbers with the full population but rather with the number of cases of cancer in general. If you can’t do the statistics, the best thing is to consider extremes. Out of the 1.4 million people, If all 1.4 million people would normally get cancer over those 20 years, but now only 1,395,681 do, well then you are right, that’s not significant. On the other hand, if only 4,500 people would have gotten cancer and now only 181 do — well that’s pretty significant. We don’t all get cancer.

It might be interesting to see how many diseases can be linked to other sources of energy… nuclear power is extraordinarily clean and safe (until, of course, it’s not).

Finally, good climate scientists aren’t concerned about “global warning,” that’s a myth. The issue is rapid climate change and the enhanced variability that it brings.

    casualobserver in reply to byondpolitics. | March 30, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    While I agree with parts of your argument from the standpoint of a pure mathematical analysis, you miss one key factor. For any of it to be a valid conclusion, versus an observation, there must be a powerful correlation. I haven’t (won’t?) take the time to review the study in every detail, but it’s a safe bet there really isn’t a strong/high degree of certainty (mathematical/statistical confidence) in the linking of the assumed cause (plant) and any results. Unless, of course, there was even more finagling to produce an unnatural certainty, too. You mention a key point in suggesting the impact from other sources of energy. I look at it this way: What evidence is there the study actually finds (with confidence) first order factors in the local environment for all cancers? Although I am not in the field, someone I know who is constantly reminds me that medical research differs from other science/engineering mostly in the difficulty in finding first principles, and then relying on them to explain outcomes. For example with cancer especially, there are often factors which combine to produce the outcome with certainty. It’s the reason why the ‘second hand smoke’ claim has been so controversial and eventually debunked. Indirect exposure to cigarette smoke combines with other environmental and physiological factors that might bring the same results when otherwise combined (and not with second hand smoke). It’s all about direct cause and correlation with confidence, etc.

    Also, I find your statement about “global warming” to be really odd. If it is true, why then is there still so much attention – and therefore so many funds – dedicated to temperature studies and re-corroborating models predicting heating? I keep hearing across the spectrum of scientists and politicians that warming theory has “scientific consensus”, yadda yadda yadda. Are you saying it no longer does?

Good points, Joel, but you need to check your arithmetic. 216 is 0.015% of 1.4 million. (Yes, I’m someplace in that realm of “engineers, mathematicians, geeks, etc.”)

Joel– The more I look into this study, the more it stinks. The study was indeed published by Biomedicine International. Sounds impressive, right?

Well not really. It’s a journal published by the Tabriz University of Medical Sciences.

For those not up on their geography, Tabriz is in Iran. IRAN. Why is a (supposedly) scientific study by two Americans being published by a provincial medical school in Iran???

Here is the website of one of the authors:

“Physician * Author * Activist” Uh-oh.

She’s a graduate of Western Michigan University with degrees in Biology and Chemistry. For those who don’t know the pecking order of Michigan academia, Western is not at the top– in fact, in the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings of national universities, Western, at 189, is tied for second to last of those ranked.

She then went on to medical school at Wayne State University, which of the three medical schools in Michigan, is ranked. . . last.

So much for her academic accomplishments. How she ended up as adjunct professor of environmental science at Western Michigan may provide some insight as to the university’s national ranking.

The links on her page show her political commitments, and not surprisingly, they are far, far left.

The other author, Joseph J. Mangano, has a Masters of Public Health and an MBA. He’s the Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project. Sounds heavy duty, right?

I found this gem of an article about Mr. Mangano in the New York Times archive:

“Mr. Mangano runs the Radiation and Public Health Project Inc., a shoestring organization with offices mostly on his kitchen table, that has spent the last 18 years questioning the safety of nuclear power.”

Oh, great. Well, maybe he’s just thrifty.

You might ask, “What’s the reputation of the Radiation and Public Health Project Inc.? According to the Times:

“The group’s work is, to say the very least, controversial. Though members of the group have published a handful of articles in peer-reviewed journals, including Archives of Environmental Health, their credibility with the scientific establishment hovers near zero. Detractors say they obsess over amounts of radiation that are insignificant compared with the dose humans receive each day from cosmic rays, soil and other natural sources. (ed. I’m a freakin’ lawyer and I could spot that one.)

And their few government contracts have left a short trail of dissatisfied local officials sharply critical of their methods, their scientific objectivity and their results.

‘What they do is what’s popularly referred to as junk science,’ said Dr. Joshua Lipsman, the health commissioner in Westchester County, home of the embattled Indian Point nuclear power plant and, according to the Radiation and Public Health Project, children with the highest strontium 90 readings in the region. ‘We found a number of scientific errors both in measurement and process in their proposals.'”

That doesn’t sound good.

What is Mr. Mangano’s response to the criticism? Again, the Times:

“He is not surprised to meet resistance from the military-industrial-energy-pharmaceutical-governmental complex.”

You know it’s really bad when it’s a lefty and the New York Times gets snarky.

Aaannnd who is behind this august scientific operation?

“The Radiation and Public Health Project keeps trying, and with the help of its friends, including left-leaning celebrities like Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon, it is surviving.”

Perfect. Just perfect.

In conclusion, this “scientific study” is a piece of hack work by two unqualified zealots with zero reputation in the American scientific community, published by a two-bit Iranian medical journal.

And it’s being publicized by Healthline, a popular medical information website.

What the HELL?

    Dimsdale in reply to halflight. | March 31, 2013 at 10:37 am

    It will become “consensus” when some political organizations start throwing enough money at it, a la AGW.

      halflight in reply to Dimsdale. | March 31, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      Not when the hackery is evident to anyone who bothers to look. I’ve already posted comments on the Healthline and Yahoo Facebook pages setting forth my objections.

[…] Unlike real engineers, social engineers avoid math Opponents of nuclear power plants were cheered by the results of a recent study suggesting that, with public health in mind, more of these marvels that turn out cheap, clean energy ought to be shut down. […]