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BIO-MEDICAL "UN-KNOWLEDGE" AND NUCLEAR POLLUTION:
A COMMON-SENSE PROPOSAL

By John W. Gofman, M.D., Ph.D.
On the occasion of the Right Livelihood Award,
Stockholm, December 9, 1992.



 

 

          Bio-medical "un-knowledge?" What do we mean by such a term?

          During my lifetime in bio-medical research, one major conclusion I've reached is that it is very hard to prove anything about anything. There are sampling errors, confounding variables, and necessary equipment not yet invented. The path to understanding is only darkly lit;   the stones which are strewn along the way are numerous;   and sometimes they are first seen when we stumble over them.

          Acquiring truth about health and biology is difficult at best, and acquiring falsehoods about health and biology seems to be inordinately easy. Just consider the legions of peer-reviewed professional journals which have carried "evidence" favoring various pharmaceutical, dietary, surgical, or physical therapies for almost every problem -- and the number of disappointments when the initial glowing reports are undermined by subsequent reports suggesting no health benefit at all. It happens again and again.

          "Bio-medical un-knowledge" is an abbreviation for all the findings which are the opposite of what is true about health and disease.

 

1    *   An Eager Market for Un-Knowledge

          At a younger age, I would have assumed, "No one wants bio-medical un-knowledge." But experience suggests that there is a market eager for medical un-knowledge in the field of health consequences from various pollutants. There are financially and politically powerful interests who assume they have a lot to lose if research finds that their pollutants are deadly. And sometimes their assumption is even correct.

Durable and Dangerous

          Bio-medical un-knowledge is especially durable -- and hence supremely dangerous for humanity -- whenever the opportunities for generation of real knowledge are few. In the study of ionizing radiation and its production of cancer, thyroid disease, in-utero injury to mental function, and inheritable genetic diseases, the occasions for obtaining valid epidemiologic data from human exposures are (fortunately) few and far between. Two outstanding examples are the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and the nuclear power accident at Chernobyl in 1986. If these radiation databases are mishandled, the result can be a hundred or more years of so-called textbook wisdom which is nothing more than un-knowledge.

 

2    *   A "Wish-List" versus a Warning

          Nuclear energy, the "peaceful" or the "military" atom, represents a dearly beloved project of governments in the United States, Britain, Russia, France, Germany, and Japan -- also India, China, Pakistan, Iran, and other nations. Nuclear energy is fiercely defended by governments, even as the parties in office change. They recognize that their fierce defense is not aided if the public considers radiation to be harmful -- harmful even at low doses. It is fair to surmise that nuclear promoters have a wish-list for the outcome of radiation research which includes the following "findings."

The Wish-List

          ONE. Best of all would be a finding that a little extra radiation improves human health. This speculation has a name:   Radiation hormesis. Some of its most avid proponents are already writing about the need to treat society in general for Radiation-Deficiency Disease.

          TWO. In case hormesis cannot be sold to the public, the next best outcome would be evidence supporting a threshold-dose of radiation below which no harm at all occurs. The "safe dose - no risk" claim has become exceedingly common after the Chernobyl accident. For example, the Department of Energy (USA), in its 1987 report on the probable health consequences from Chernobyl, experiments with its "Zero-Risk Model." The report states that, if all radiation doses below a half-rad are harmless, then Chernobyl creates "zero risk" for some 500 million people exposed by its fallout. When an abbreviated version of the report received worldwide distribution in December 1988, via the peer-reviewed journal Science, the assertion that Chernobyl may induce ZERO extra cancers was repeated ten times in six pages. The pages included no mention of the powerful evidence and logic which argue against the paper's threshold speculation.

          THREE. If hormesis and thresholds are not successfully sold to the general public, the next best "product" is the familiar claim that a dose of radiation is far less harmful if it is received slowly over time, than if the same dose is received all at once. Since 1980, the claim is "2 to 10 times less harmful." This speculation is invoked to divide the observed cancers from the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings by numbers up to 10, in predictions about injury by the slow doses from Chernobyl.

The Warning

          As a scientist, I have always taken these wishes and speculations seriously. I have spent years testing them with the existing evidence and with logic. I, too, would prefer for radiation to be harmless. Who would not?

          But unfortunately, evidence and logic do not support the wish-list. On the contrary, evidence and logic require me to issue a grave warning:   Low-dose ionizing radiation may well be the most important single cause of cancer, birth defects, and genetic disorders. Therefore, we do not want to add more radiation to our unavoidable doses from nature.

 

3    *   Arrival at the Key Question

          Surely, it was not by accident that governments sponsoring nuclear energy programs also became the major (or virtually only) sponsors of research ostensibly dedicated to discovering the truth about health hazards from radiation exposure. In similar fashion, we surmise that the tobacco industry would like to capture control of all the research on health hazards from smoking.

          The conflict of interest should be self-evident, whenever governments (or other entities) are put in charge of the research which could interfere with the very project which they are promoting. Yet in 1963, when the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and its sponsor, the Atomic Energy Commission (USA), asked me to establish a new laboratory to study health effects of radiation, I was persuaded to do so -- by pious statements from both, that no one would dare even to consider any attempt to "manage" the results of the studies.

          By 1970, my colleague, Dr. Arthur Tamplin, and I concluded and publicly stated that the "permissible" extra radiation dose for the United States population, if reached, would cause approximately 32,000 extra cases of fatal cancer each year in the USA. Such a "permissible" dose would amount to premeditated random murder of 32,000 individuals. (And evidence from subsequent years indicates that our 1970 estimate was too low.)

          At that time, the plan was to build about 800 nuclear plants in the USA by the year 2000, and they would, collectively, be allowed to deliver this "permissible" extra dose of radiation. Although Dr. Tamplin and I did not oppose nuclear power when we began our work, the health data caused us to advocate a 5-year moratorium in constructing any new plants, in order to allow time for public debate and some real thinking about the plan.

          Our work was treated like a serious heresy.

          The reflex reaction of both the Livermore Laboratory and the Atomic Energy Commission was to go into orbit immediately with non-scientific denunciations. The dedication of the Laboratory and the Commission to nuclear energy -- at any cost -- was exemplified when I was asked by a very high official there, "What makes you think that 32,000 deaths per year are too many?" Dr. Tamplin and I lost government funding for our research, and we left the lab.

The Question Which Demands an Answer

          After returning full-time to my professorship at the University of California, I have been thinking about the implications for humanity of the conflict-of-interest problem. How can humanity have even the remotest chance of protecting its own health, when an agent of poisoning the population is also the sponsor of virtually all the health research concerning the pollutant?

 

4    *   Some Basic Rules of Believable Bio-Medical Research

          The key to believable bio-medical research is obedience to the Rules of Research, some of which are listed below. It follows that we can solve our problem if we figure out and establish a mechanism to ensure that the Rules of Research receive real implementation, not mere "lip-service."

          Although we may focus here on nuclear pollution from Chernobyl, the principles involved are applicable to legions of other pollutants, such as dioxin, pesticides, mercury, and lead.

          It is fortunate, indeed, that we do not have disasters with the scope of Chernobyl very often, as yet. The tragedy of this disaster for those overtly and covertly affected is great. This tragedy will be compounded manyfold if we squander the opportunity to learn everything possible about the health and ecological consequences.

A Trustworthy Database:   A Sacred Obligation of Humanity

          A database from a major accident such as Chernobyl becomes a precious and irreplaceable health-resource for humanity. It seems reasonable to assert that humans have a sacred obligation to produce a database which meets the most rigorous standards for believability. By database, we mean the original raw data on radiation exposure-estimates and on the health status of participants in the database.

          If the database itself is false -- either from careless work or from intentional bias -- it poisons every conclusion which emerges from it. A false database causes innocent analysts of such data to fill the medical journals and textbooks with un-knowledge. It renders all its users into agents of possibly deadly mis-information.

          If research on Chernobyl's radiation consequences is either poorly designed, or biased, or both, the false conclusions will nevertheless enter the textbooks. If the results exaggerate the true health hazards, it will be a real disservice to humanity. If the results underestimate the true health hazards, the mis-information will be literally deadly.

          Suppose the new textbook wisdom says that "Chernobyl studies showed that no health hazards can be found if radiation doses are low and received gradually." True or false, such a claim throughout the professional literature would endure, and would result in great increases in "permissible doses" and unnecessary and preventable human exposures to radiation (environmentally, occupationally, medically).

          If the textbook wisdom is false, the extra radiation exposures will inflict misery on hundreds of millions of people over time, in the form of early deaths, unnecessary cancers, mental handicaps, deformities, and genetic diseases (which include heart disease, diabetes mellitus, schizophrenia, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and many, many additional disorders).

Nine Essential Rules of Inquiry in Medical Sciences

          To help prevent production of false databases and false "findings," either through bias or scientific error, medical science has developed some basic Rules of Research. Adherence to these rules is essential for conducting scientifically credible studies of Chernobyl's radiation consequences. For comparing exposed and non-exposed groups in epidemiological studies, some basic rules are abbreviated below

           *  - FIRST RULE:   Comparable Groups. An essential condition for determination of radiation effect on persons is assurance that exposed and non-exposed groups of persons would have the same rate of disease and disorders in the absence of radiation.

           *  - SECOND RULE:   A Real Difference in Dose. If disease-rate is being compared in two groups, it is essential to achieve a reasonable certainty that the compared groups have appreciably different accumulated doses. If the compared groups truly received nearly the same total amount of radiation, it is pre-destined before the study even begins that analysts will find "no provable difference in disease-rates between the groups."

           *  - THIRD RULE:   A Sufficiently Big Difference in Dose. The dose-differences between compared groups must be large enough to allow for statistically conclusive findings despite the random variations in numbers and in population samples. Analysts can cope with the random fluctuations of small numbers both by assuring sufficiently large dose-differences between compared groups, and by assuring large numbers of people in each group.

           *  - FOURTH RULE:   Careful Reconstruction of Dose. Obviously, false conclusions will be reached if supposedly non-exposed people in a database really received appreciable doses, and supposedly high-dose people received lower doses than the database indicates. The non-uniform nature of the Chernobyl exposures makes this scientific pitfall into a real possibility, unless careful and objective dose-reconstruction is substituted for assumptions. Fortunately, there are several techniques of biological dosimetry which can reduce uncertainty about dose, even decades after the dose first occurred.

           *  - FIFTH RULE:   "Blinding" of Dose-Analysts. In a valid study of health response to a particular radiation dose, the analysts who estimate doses must have no idea of the medical status of the individual or group on which they are working. The health status and dose-related data must never be present in the same file. In other words, dose-analysts must do their work "blind," in order to protect the database from a wish-list about the relationship between dose and health.

           *  - SIXTH RULE:   "Blinding" of Diagnostic Analysts. In order to achieve scientific credibility, studies must show proof of precautions against bias not only in the dose-input, but also in the health-response input. In a valid Chernobyl study, the principle of blinding must extend to all the analysts, physicians, and technicians who diagnose the health status of persons in the study. They must not know whether a person's radiation dose was high or low, and they must be denied information (such as place of residence) which would allow them to form a personal opinion about the likely dose. Crucial is the requirement that teams of "special experts" have no ability to alter diagnoses later -- unblinded.

           *  - SEVENTH RULE:   No Changes of Input after Any Results Are Known. One of the fundamental rules in an on-going study is that no one is allowed to make retroactive alterations, deletions, or additions to input-data after any of the health-response results are known. If there is an opportunity for health results to influence a study's revised input, there is clearly an opportunity to falsify the real cause-effect relationships (if any) between dose and response. A study becomes properly suspect if retroactive changes have been made in diagnosis or dose, if cases have been shuffled into new groupings (cohorts), if any data or cases have been suddenly dropped from the study, or new cases suddenly added "as needed" from some reserve.

           *  - EIGHTH RULE:   No Excessive Subdivision of Data. It lies in the nature of numbers that even the largest databases can be rendered inconclusive and misleading if analysts keep the data subdivided into too many categories or subsets. Therefore, subdivision must be watched with a degree of suspicion.
          Inconclusive Results:   If analysts hope that a study will find no provable effects even if they are real, this result can be arranged by creating a "small numbers problem," which will prevent almost all results from passing the test of statistical significance.
          Misleading Results:   Preservation of excessive subdivision also increases the frequency of finding a few effects at random which do pass the test of statistical significance but which are nevertheless unreal (false).

           *  - NINTH RULE:   No Pre-judgments. Prejudgments are seldom compatible with objective inquiry.

 

5    *   Some Examples of Rule-Breaking in Radiation Research

          The problem of rule-breaking in radiation research is both real and consequential, as we will illustrate with some recent examples.

          The Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF, in Hiroshima) is sponsored by the United States Department of Energy and the Japanese Ministry of Health to update and manage the Hiroshima-Nagasaki database of atomic-bomb survivors. In 1986, RERF virtually replaced the existing database which had been in existence for over 21 years. New doses were assigned to the survivors, many of the study's participants were suspended, and then the residual participants were shuffled into new groupings or cohorts.

Violation of Rule 7, in the Atomic-Bomb Survivor Study

          These maneuvers with the previous A-Bomb Study database completely break Rule Seven, against retroactive alteration of a study's input at a time when the new input could be influenced by the original results. Such behavior has the potential for making the revised results fit a preference or a pre-judgment.

          We complained to Dr. Itsuzo Shigematsu, who is the Chairman of RERF, about this massive alteration of the study's input after much of its output is known. His reply, published in our 1990 book, closes by saying, "Your concern about bias does not appear to be justified. We shall, however, be sure to consider the necessity, and if so, the feasibility of dual analyses of our data [altered and non-altered input] ... Thank you very much for your thoughtful remarks on a subject that is of great importance to both of us."

          RERF has a policy of changing also the new, 1986 database. The new database is called "the basis for any future amendments to the A-bomb survivor dosimetry that may be desirable." Desirable for whom?   Perpetual, retroactive alteration is the policy. Such changes in the 1986 database are already underway.

          Has violation of Rule Seven made a difference?   Comparisons tell the story.

          RERF has cooperated with us in providing the "unshuffled" data (the legitimate database) as well as the "shuffled" data (what we regard as an illegitimate database) for observations through 1985. Are the results more favorable to nuclear pollution when Rule Seven is broken than when it is obeyed?   On two key issues, the answer is yes. graph comparisons between unaltered and altered 
databases of Variation of Cancer Rate with Radiation Dose

          FIRST:   Radiation-Induced Cancer. We use the legitimate database (unaltered input) to analyse the shape of the curve for cancer-induction in relation to radiation dose. The analysis, with every step visible from raw data to conclusion, is in our 1990 book. Then we compare our results with those of Colin Muirhead and Barbara Butland, analysts from Britain's National Radiological Protection Board, who use the "shuffled" database (Health Physics 57, Dec. 1989, 1035-6). The difference is like night versus day. The "shuffled deck" suggests that low-dose radiation is less harmful per dose-unit than high-dose radiation. The "unshuffled deck" suggests the opposite result, namely that low-dose radiation is more harmful per dose-unit than high-dose radiation. The retroactively altered database can be construed as consistent with threshold speculations, whereas the unaltered database argues strongly against any "safe dose." graph comparisons between unaltered and altered 
databases of Severe Mental Retardation:   Creation of False Thresholds

          SECOND:   Radiation-Induced Mental Retardation. Serious impairment of mental function results from appreciable radiation doses received by a fetus in the 8th to 26th weeks of pregnancy. Our analysis of the legitimate, unaltered database does not indicate a basis for suggesting a threshold or "safe dose" for this effect. So at first we were puzzled to see RERF analysts suggesting at every opportunity that the A-Bomb Study indicates a possible threshold. Again, almost all the disparity is explained by their use of the retroactively altered database, with the key cases of mental retardation moved from one dose-category to another. The details are in our 1994 book.

 

          With respect to both cancer and mental retardation, the retroactively altered database is far more favorable to nuclear pollution. The responsibility rests very heavily on the database "shufflers" to prove that no bias was introduced by their violation of Rule Seven -- particularly in view of the non-neutrality of the sponsors of the database alterations. And why should we tolerate rule-violation at all, in matters so important for human health?

          It is appalling that all of us have allowed such a massive assault upon one of the world's most important bio-medical databases.

Violation of Rules 2, 3, and 4:   The 1991 Study of Chernobyl

          By 1989, claims about multiple health problems in Belarus and Ukraine were reaching the press, and were attributed to radiation exposure from the Chernobyl accident. At the request of the Soviet central government, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) organized a study. The IAEA is a branch of the United Nations directly charged with trying to make nuclear energy acceptably safe worldwide. Leadership of the Chernobyl study was conferred upon Dr. Itsuzo Shigematsu, also the chairman of RERF.

          The results of the IAEA study were announced with massive publicity in May 1991:   The international experts said they could find no health disorders which could be attributed to radiation.

          This study of Chernobyl consequences was fatally flawed by clear violations of Rules Two, Three, and Four. For example, the study fails completely with respect to ensuring a real and sufficiently big dose-difference between compared groups.

          The IAEA study sampled seven "contaminated" and six "control" settlements (presumed less contaminated). The number of participants was small. Moreover, according to data in the IAEA's own report, the IAEA's chosen "exposed" group received organ-doses which may have been only a half a rem higher than the organ-doses received by the so-called controls -- if any higher at all.

          A search for provable health-differences between such groups is doomed before it begins. Comparison of such groups could have guaranteed in advance the IAEA's conclusion that "There were significant non-radiation-related health disorders in the populations of both surveyed contaminated and control settlements studied under the Project, but no health disorders that could be attributed directly to the radiation exposure." Meanwhile, no comparison was made between "control" villages and villages which received larger doses (doses exceeded 20 rems in many villages).

          Rule Four was violated too. Small dose-differences like the ones chosen by the IAEA clearly demand validation by the most careful dose-reconstruction, but it was not done. During several days when the Chernobyl-4 reactor was burning graphite, short-lived and intensely radioactive nuclides were released in a temperature-dependent manner. One result is that regions which later show the same levels of cesium-137 deposition may really have received very different total doses of radiation. In the absence of careful biological dosimetry, it would even be possible to reverse the true doses of two compared groups -- with the presumed higher group actually having the lower dose.

          The IAEA's fatally flawed study simply does not merit treatment as a scientifically valid inquiry into the early health effects from the Chernobyl accident.

Violation of Rule 9, the Rule against Prejudgments

          In 1989, prior to arrival of the IAEA's international experts to study Chernobyl, another branch of the United Nations -- the World Health Organization (WHO) -- sent in an international team of radiation experts to give an opinion about the health problems.

          Now, the Chernobyl experience represents a unique set of circumstances for radiation exposure -- including both external and internal exposures, both rapid and slow exposures (which will continue for a century and longer), plus high exposure of the thyroid gland, a gland which influences many organs elsewhere in the body. And the exposure affects children as well as adults, and both sexes. No such population has ever been studied before.

          Would the WHO scientists be entitled to declare, in advance of any careful study, what effects this combination of exposures cannot have during the first three years of exposure ... and to disparage the local scientists for refusal to adopt the prejudgments which they were offered?

          The 1989 WHO report concluded, among other things, that "... scientists [in Belarus and Ukraine] who are not well-versed in radiation effects have attributed various biological and health effects to radiation exposure. These changes cannot be attributed to radiation exposure ... and are much more likely to be due to psychological factors and stress" (as quoted in the IAEA's 1991 report, page 1).

          The WHO statement appears to be a gross violation of Rule Nine against pre-judgments. A scientifically valid basis for the WHO pre-judgments was and is simply non-existent.

          We have documented many additional examples of pre-judgment in radiation research in our 1981, 1990, and 1994 books [1]. Almost invariably, pre-judgments are favorable to nuclear pollution.


[1] 1981, Radiation and Human Health (908 pages). 1990, Radiation-Induced Cancer from Low-Dose Exposure:   An Independent Analysis (480 pages). 1994, Chernobyl Accident:   Radiation Consequences for This and Future Generations (estimated, 575 pages). The three books are distributed by the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility, Post Office Box 421993, San Francisco, California 94142-1993, USA. A Japanese edition of the 1981 book was published in Tokyo in 1991, and Russian-language editions of the 1990 and 1994 books are in preparation. The 1994 book includes a chapter on the Rules of Research and the proposal which is honored here by the Right Livelihood Award.

 

6    *   Achieving the Height of Foolishness

          The effort by nuclear-committed governments to keep control over every significant radiation database continues.

          For instance, the central Chernobyl database is already under construction by the International Program on the Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident (IPHECA). Arrangements have been signed with the governments of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine to permit this. The main sponsors of the IPHECA study are the governments of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and Russia. So once again, we mention reliance on the tobacco industry to handle research on the hazards of smoking. The sponsors of IPHECA will conduct the Chernobyl study through the World Health Organization.

          In addition, international arrangements were made in 1992 to construct a database on radiation health effects for the very contaminated Russian region near Chelyabinsk, a center for nuclear weapons production. Accidental and deliberate releases of radiation were exceedingly high there, especially in the 1950s. And who has acquired a central role in creating the Chelyabinsk database?   RERF -- the foundation sponsored by the Department of Energy (USA) and the Japanese Ministry of Health to control the Hiroshima-Nagasaki database ... and its retroactive alterations.

          As for the databases on military and civilian nuclear workers and veterans, they have long been under the non-supervised control of governments.

          It is unacceptable -- and unnecessary -- that key radiation studies be conducted under circumstances which can either totally compromise the studies or which can permit their use to produce un-knowledge. This warning in no way impugns the motives or work of some of the scientists who analyze such data. As we stated at the outset, if the Rules of Research are violated in handling a database, no analysis of such data can escape the poison. But the first obligation of every objective scientist is to question the believability of raw data before he or she uses them, and at the very least, to discuss the issue whenever questionable databases are used.

Foolish ... or Negligent?

          Politely, we call the current situation in radiation health-research "unacceptable." We would think society had achieved the height of foolishness if it allowed the tobacco industry to control all databases on the hazards of smoking. But we have done something comparable with radiation health-research.

          If future generations could speak to us now, they might call the current situation worse than the height of foolishness. They might accuse us of criminal negligence.

 

7    *   The Nature of One Common-Sense Proposal

          If the key to believable bio-medical research is obedience to the Rules of Research, it follows that we must propose and establish a mechanism to ensure scrupulous compliance with those rules. Our proposal begins with the Chernobyl database, advances to other radiation databases, and embraces databases on other major pollutants.

          We propose that a team of independent "watchdog" scientists be established to work inside IPHECA's Chernobyl study, with the authority to check that every Rule of Research is obeyed, to "blow the whistle" publicly if there are questionable practices, and to publish their own views as an integral part of every IPHECA document. The "watchdog authority" cannot be temporary. Although preparation of the database is most intense at the beginning of a project, input is necessarily added to the database for many, many decades, as the health of participants is followed-up. Moreover, the 1986 handling of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki database demonstrates that the most massive rule-violation may occur in a long-term study at any time.

The Attitude among Research Workers

          If there is no cover-up intended in the international Chernobyl study, and if only the most objective, careful work is wanted, on what grounds can IPHECA resist the presence of an independent "watchdog authority"?   Would its presence demoralize IPHECA's own scientists, by inferring that they might participate in a cover-up?

          Nonsense. We do not think that most radiation scientists are scoundrels. However, it would be naive to deny that many people do compromise high principles and do participate in cover-ups in order to please their sources of employment. We think humans are ashamed of such compromises, and would much prefer to be honest and to do impeccable work.

          Under our proposal, everyone can win. The "watchdog authority" liberates all the IPHECA workers so that they can readily resist humiliating pressures, follow their best principles, and obey every Rule of Research. If their sponsors are displeased with this behavior, the IPHECA workers can safely respond, "But otherwise, a watchdog would have blown the whistle on this project." Although IPHECA scientists may publicly oppose the "watchdog" proposal, we are confident that most of them will privately welcome it.

Is This Just Common Sense?

          We call the "watchdog authority" a common-sense proposal because it amounts to establishing a system which rewards and honors truth-telling, instead of punishing it by loss of employment -- which happens so often now in every field, from science to manufacturing to journalism. My colleague in this award, Alla Yaroshinskaya, knows much about the recent treatment of whistle-blowers in Ukraine.

          It is common sense for society to figure out how to reward the kind of behavior it wants instead of rewarding bad behavior. The Right Livelihood Award deserves praise for recognizing this principle in what it honors. Yakob von Uexkull summarized the situation elegantly when he wrote:   "If our most important needs today are not new technological fixes but new social values and institutions ... then these priorities need to be reflected in what our society honors and supports." [2]

          Because it is common sense to have independent "watchdog authorities," many people may assume that they already exist for research on various pollutants. But the fact is that they do not yet exist for even ONE pollutant.

          The "watchdog" remedy requires no technological breakthroughs. It requires, however, insistence that it be done, and the insistence will have to come from ordinary people -- the "grassroots" of society. Again, I agree with Jakob von Uexkull and Paul Ekins, that ordinary people are the source of solutions. Indeed, I think they are the ONLY source, because we so rarely see justice initiated from the top ... on any issue.


[2] From the Foreword to A New World Order:   Grassroots Movements for Global Change, by Paul Ekins (London:   Routledge), 1992.

 

8    *   What Steps?   What Funding for "Watchdogs"?

           *  - STEP ONE:   We urgently need to encourage people in Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and elsewhere in the world, to learn what the Rules of Research are all about, why these rules are not just an academic issue, and how the rules connect directly with a top concern of non-academic people everywhere:   Health. For themselves, their children, and their grandchildren. The public, press, and other professions will not demand compliance with these rules unless they are aware of them and aware of the potential mega-misery consequences of not insisting on massive compliance. Thanks to the Right Livelihood Award, we will be able to help in this effort, which is fundamental to an international call for "watchdoggery."

           *  - STEP TWO:   We need to establish the principle that any database under accumulation -- for example, the IPHECA database concerning Chernobyl -- automatically requires an independent and enduring "watchdog authority."

          The assignment of a "watchdog" team is to help prevent error and bias by ensuring compliance with the Rules of Research. The assignment is definitely not to dictate a uniform analysis of the data. That would be the opposite of good science. The purpose of "watchdogging" is to ensure that the database itself can be trusted, and that dissent is not punished and not silenced. So, the sponsor of a database -- IPHECA, for instance -- would be required to include commentary and analyses from the "watchdog authority" in each of its publications.

          In order to carry out the assignment, "watchdog authorities" must have full, immediate, and ongoing (for decades) access to protocols, tapes, documents, laboratory results, vital statistics -- all the information about how the input to the database is generated. Input includes the medical and health observations, the ecological observations, the laboratory procedures and tests, the dose estimates and methods of dose-reconstruction, and the histories of exposure as told by persons in various regions. All these are parts of the database.

           *  - STEP THREE:   After "watchdog authorities" are in place, people at the grassroots must stay vigilant, decade after decade, to ensure that the independent experts do not become just sheep who wear a "watchdog" costume. One must remain realistic about human corruptibility.

Who Would Participate?

          For the IPHECA study, we suggest that the "watchdogging" should be done mostly by independent scientists and other workers from Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia, but participation need not be strictly limited by nationality.

          Who would want to be a member of such a "watchdog" team?   We predict that many, many fine people would apply -- because "watchdogging" will be an honored and rewarded occupation. "Watchdog" work will not be secret -- it will be a proudly public service on behalf of the Rules of Research, a service just making honorable behavior easier for everyone.

          The first countries to insist on independent "watchdog authorities" will set the new "gold standard" for reliable bio-medical research -- and they will attract more international research-work. "Watchdogs" can take great pride in bringing this honor to their countries.

          Obviously, with respect to the central Chernobyl database, neither governments nor IPHECA can have anything to do with selecting members of the independent "watchdog authority," and they must not hold veto-power either. Likewise, the "watchdog authority" would have no veto-power over IPHECA's selection of its own workers.

          In addition to the on-site "watchdogs," there can exist an international "watchdog guidance council" of scientists and others who can assist the "watchdog" effort, especially in the early phases, and can help protect it from probable efforts to undermine it. We have already ascertained that many excellent scientists are interested in participating in such an endeavor.

Who Is Able to Fund "Watchdoggery"?

          The question arises immediately, "Who will finance the 'watchdog authority' and pay to put it into operation right now?"

          It is clear that the dollar-cost of a "watchdog authority" over decades will not be trivial, per database. However, the cost will be only a modest fraction of the cost of the governmentally-sponsored study-teams. We should compare any reasonable cost with the cost of hundreds of millions of lives which could be impaired from un-knowledge. Beside direct economic costs, there are issues of decency and genuine human rights --separate topics for another day.

          So who will pay for "watchdoggery"?

          Our answer may not be the only one possible. So with humility, we suggest that it would be appropriate and highly reasonable that funding for independent "watchdog authorities" should come from the same budget which supports the governmentally-sponsored investigators. The work of the "watchdogs" is at least as important to ordinary taxpayers as is the work of the governmentally-sponsored teams. Ultimately, ordinary taxpayers pay the $200-million (US Dollars) which the governments sponsoring IPHECA are planning for the Chernobyl study's initial period.

          If $10 million of the IPHECA budget were deducted and transferred to an independent "watchdog authority," we surmise that taxpayers might rejoice. Of course, we will not seek any funding for ourselves from this proposal.

A Simple Test of Sincerity

          Why are the nuclear-committed governments so ready to conduct health studies concerning Chernobyl?   And also Chelyabinsk?   And why do they continue to govern the studies at Hiroshima-Nagasaki?   Of course, their claim is that they are doing it only for the benefit of all humanity. At the grassroots, ordinary people may judge the sincerity of the claim by how the governments respond to the "watchdog" proposal.

          Will the nuclear-committed governments be willing to transfer the necessary funds to independent "watchdog authorities"?

          An international call for independent "watchdoggery" is the first step. We hope calling will suffice. We can imagine an additional source of persuasion, too. The people of Belarus or Ukraine or Russia may understand that scientifically questionable practices within the Chernobyl and Chelyabinsk international studies could cause harm to their health ... and also could badly damage their opportunities to establish their countries as reliable centers of excellence and uncompromising objectivity in international research.

          So, when the governments of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia permit IPHECA, RERF, and others to study their citizens in radiation health-research, the ordinary people of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia have strong reasons for insisting that the studies must comply with every Rule of Research and must meet the highest possible standards of scientific credibility. The ultimate persuasion in favor of introducing independent "watchdog authorities" might be non-cooperation or dis-invitation from the people of those republics to IPHECA and comparable international groups, if such groups fail to accept and fund independent "watchdog authorities."

 

9    *   The "Law" of Concentrated Benefit versus Diffuse Harm

          Beside nuclear pollution, there are thousands of chemical pollutants. After Earth Day in 1970, with the enthusiasm and celebration of Earth, it even seemed that ordinary people might prevail in protecting themselves and other forms of life against poisoning by pollution. But we did not take into account a fundamental law:

          "Concentrated benefit and diffuse injury always operate to assist the polluter."

          Polluters know that a small, determined group, working energetically for its own special interests, can impose -- via government or via direct force -- an injustice upon a vastly larger group, provided that the larger group believes that the injury is either "hypothetical," or real-but-small. This is the axiom of concentrated benefit versus diffuse injury.

          The polluters -- by which we mean owners and employes from top to bottom in a polluting industry -- believe in a huge gain for themselves from lenient "permissible doses" and continued pollution. So, using the axiom of concentrated benefit and diffuse injury to their own advantage, they tell members of the public that personal risk from each pollutant is unproven or trivial. Experience shows that spokespersons, scientific and other, are available to defend almost every pollutant. We wonder if there are any exceptions.

Attention to the Aggregate

          Even when a particular injury or injustice truly is small, the aggregate abuse can reach tragic proportions after the axiom of concentrated benefit has operated on behalf of various narrow interests again ... and again ... and again.

          We often wonder at the vast abuse which the general public has tolerated in modern times:   Tyrannies, wars, starvation, genocides, intimidation by well-armed international and local bullies, corrupted democracies, corrupted markets, massive thefts via inflation, and gross pollution, to name a few. If the acceptance of such unnecessary abuse is explained to a significant extent by the "law" of concentrated benefit versus diffuse injury (and we suggest that it is), then we had better take this "law" realistically into account in all our plans to avert or repeal abuse.

The Easy and the Difficult

          Common-sense proposals -- like independent "watchdog authorities" -- are the easy part. The hard part is reaching a critical mass of international support sufficient to establish and sustain mechanisms which will cope with the thrust of "concentrated benefit" in all sorts of areas. Since human nature is not going to change its range and distribution, we have to become realistic about controlling its darker aspects.

          The concept of independent "watchdoggery" is such a control, needed to offset a great conflict of interest in certain types of research.

          The proposal will meet with dedicated opposition beneath the surface, thanks to "concentrated benefit." Even its supporters will call it very difficult to achieve. And they will be correct, because the public is told loudly and often that most injuries from pollution are "just hypothetical -- an exceedingly "diffuse harm."

          Some years ago, an interviewer suggested to me that it is too difficult for grassroots people to solve big problems. He thought it was futile. I still answer now, as I answered then:

Of course it will be difficult to solve the big problems of humanity. But can you, or I, or anyone justify directing all our efforts toward solving trivial problems ... just because the ones we all really need to face are difficult?

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