Friday, December 7, 2007

Helen Caldicott confronts her critics without resorting to reason

Blogging has drawn my attention to the role thought disorders play in shaping debates in democratic society. In my general blog, bartoncii, have to a considerable extent focused on thinking errors in such diverse areas of debate. I have noted that neither left nor right-wingers have managed to escape the problem. Right wingers have propensities to engage in thinking errors related to liberals, democrats, the war in Iraq, and global warming. Left-wingers are more likely to commit thinking errors in criticism of Israel, and nuclear power.

Bartoncii includes reviews of the thinking errors of individuals such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly selectively uses information, and takes state other people's statements out of context. Limbaugh goes even further, simply making things up when he lacks supportive material for his beliefs. O'Reilly becomes unhindged when he encounters opposition on his program, and he has frequently ordered that guests microphones be shut off, when they openly disagree with him. When O'Reilly is unable to control a guest, for example, Geraldo Rivera, he explodes with rage. The behvior of both Limbaugh and O'Reilly, as well as their thinking error style is consistent with certain psychopathologies that have received considerable attention in psychiatric literature. I will not elaborate here further. Rather I would like to focus on a very different figure, Helen Caldicott, because she is such an obvious and easy target.

Caldicott's opposition to nuclear power is, of course, notorious among bloggers who believe that nuclear power is the best hope for controling CO2 emissions. In the last few months I have read several blog posts on Caldicott, and added one of my own in bartoncii. All target Caldicott's factual errors. A recent post on Physical Insights drew my attention to a debate between Caldicott and several scientsits that was triggered by an article by Caldicott published by the Los Angelas Times ten years ago, "Nuclear Power Won't Fix Our 'Greenhouse'." In the article Caldicott wrote:

"During and since the recent visit to Washington by Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin, two myths have been promulgated by the Clinton administration: that the U.S. cares about human rights in China, and that the $60-billion sale of about 50 nuclear reactors to China would help to alleviate global warming. Let us deal with the first myth. If President Clinton and his guests at the dinner given to honor Jiang were in any way concerned about human rights, then Westinghouse, GE and the other nuclear reactor companies would be forced to abstain from their profit-making agenda and address the medical, biological and genetic ramifications of selling nuclear power to China. These are the firms that for months lobbied Congress and the White House for this deal, which was approved and consummated during Jiang's visit. Nuclear power creates massive quantities of radioactive isotopes, which are classified as nuclear waste. Among these materials are strontium 90, which remains radioactive for 600 years and concentrates in the food chain. Like other isotopes, it is tasteless, odorless and invisible. It acts like calcium in the human body, where it enters bone and lactating breast. It is a potent carcinogen, causing bone cancer and/or leukemia and probably breast cancer. Another byproduct of the nuclear energy process is cesium 137. It, too, remains radioactive for 600 years, concentrating in the food chain and in human muscle, where it can induce rare, extremely malignant muscle cancers called sarcomas. Last but not least is the isotope plutonium, which is so carcinogenic that, hypothetically, one pound evenly distributed could cause cancer in every person on Earth. Plutonium has a radioactive life of half a million years. It enters the body through the lung, where it is known to cause cancer. It mimics iron in the body. Hence it migrates to the bone, where it can induce bone cancer or leukemia, or to the liver, causing liver cancer; and it crosses the placenta into the embryo, where, like the drug thalidomide, it can cause gross birth deformities. Finally, it has a predilection for the testicles, thus inducing genetic mutations in humans and other animals that are passed from generation to generation for the rest of time. Meanwhile, the plutonium itself lives on to enter testicle after testicle, lung after lung, liver after liver for the rest of time as well. Children are 10 to 20 times more susceptible to the carcinogenic effects of radiation than are adults. It is estimated that nuclear power by the year 2000 will have generated 1,139 tons of plutonium, whereas weapons will have contributed 250 tons in the same period. Repressive regimes come and go, but nothing matches the extraordinary abuse of the random, compulsory genetic engineering implicit in American business' nuclear deal with China, which will condemn untold generations of humans and animals to cancer and genetic diseases. As for the second myth that nuclear power is the answer to global warming: A Friends of the Earth study showed that a nuclear power plant must operate for 18 years before realizing one net calorie of energy. This is because of the amount of fossil fuel used in the manufacture and construction of the reactor and in the mining of the uranium, the milling and enriching of the uranium and the fabrication of the fuel rods. This calculation does not include transport and storage of radioactive waste or decommissioning the reactor. So nuclear power contributes both to global warning and, massively, to the global burden of manmade radioactivity. Nuclear reactor manufacturers must be forced to desist from their push to export nuclear power. If the American people have decisively decided that no new reactors will be built in this country, the same criteria must be applied to China, Indonesia and the former Eastern Bloc countries that are being persuaded by the U.S. nuclear industry that nuclear power is the answer to their energy dreams."

There are numerous thinking errors here. First Caldicott asserts a dichotomy between the profit-making agenda of Westinghouse, GE and the other nuclear reactor companies, and the medical, biological and genetic ramifications of selling nuclear power to China. Caldicott then goes on to describe various radioactive bi-products of nuclear fission and tell us what sort of nasty things these isotopes do to the human body. Yet she failes to establish a causal link between the existence of nasty stuff in reactors, and any medical, biological and genetic ramifications. Caldicott offers us not the slighest hint of what the link is between plutonium and Chinese testicles, lungs, and livers which she alleges it will enter. More over she alleges that this will happen sequentially. Professor Otto G. Raabe, the then President of the Health Physics Society notes that Dr. Caldicott is particularly confused about plutonium which she describes as if it were a living infectious agent. He further points to a monumental medical flaw in Caldicott's thinking, there is no vector between plutonium trapped inside reactors and reactor fuel pellits, and Chinese bodies. "The people of China or the world will not be subjected to dangerous releases of plutonium," Professor Raabe concludes.

Caldicott responded to Raabe's criticism with an attack on the professionalism of Health Physicist. Caldicott asks, Should I defend myself against attack by the current President of the Health Physics Society . . .", a clear argument against the source of argument rather than its substance. Caldicott later acknowledges the truth of "a fact that was well-researched by health physicists, and states "much of the this material." from her book Nuclear Madness. "I gleaned from the Journal of Health Physics." Thus for Coldicott Health Physics is authoritative when she agrees with information for health physicist, but not when she disagrees with them.

Michael C. Baker, of Los Alamos, noted that Caldicott claims to be concerned about public health but the clean use of nuclear energy could prevent the thousands of deaths caused by the burning of fossil fuels every year in this country alone. She claims the release of Cesium, Plutonium, and Strontium, will cause thousands if not billions of painful deaths, but doesn't explain how these elements would be released.

Caldicott responded to Baker, Should I defend myself against attack by members of the nuclear industry from Los Alamos where new and better nuclear bombs are currently being designed for use in third world countries now that the Cold War is over? Why is this evil thinking and action countenanced by you people when such weapons would invoke the incineration and vapourisation of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings?

Again we have Caldicott attacking persons and institutions, without showing us what is wrong with the argument. She alleges that new bombs are being designed in Los Alamos for use in third world countries. Even if this was true, how does the very fact prove that Baker is wrong? Caldicott simply employes an extended ad hominem fallacy to dispute Baker's criticism.

Professor Bernard L. Cohen, a Physicist at the University of Pittsburg criticized Coldicott's alligation that nuclear power does nothing to cut CO2 emissions. According to Cohen, Coldicott misrepresent her sourse, "it is not supported, as she implies, by the Friends of the Earth (FOE) study she cites." Cohen also notes that Coldicott also stacks the deck by ignoring important facts, her claim "is belied by the fact that France, which derives 70% of its electricity from nuclear power, has far lower per capita carbon dioxide releases than any other industrialized nation."

Caldicott responded to Cohen:
Should I defend myself when in the 1970s 3 uranium diffusion plants used 6700 megawatts of coal produced electricity per year- the equivalent of almost 7 large nuclear reactors to enrich uranium for this country - all done at tax payers expense. As you also know, these enrichment plants are the single largest point source of CFC114 gas to the environment, a material that is both a potent global warmer and also an effective destroyer of the ozone layer. Is there therefore any doubt to this day that uranium enrichment, which remains hidden from public view and debate adds, enormously to global warming

Here the focuse of the attack is on the alleged wong doing of the nuclear industry. Caldicott conpounds this logical error by failing to distinguish between military and civilian nuclear programs. She referrs to the three Uranium enrichment facilities during the 1970's, yet as she was aware one was being shut down, and a second had already been closed. Her account of electricity use described peak coldwar operations during the 1970's, when most Uranium enrichment activity was directed towards weapons production. Logicians call attributing to a part the characterists of the whole, the fallacy of composition. Caldicutt does not tell her readers that most of the U235 the taxpayers were purchasing electricity for in the 1970's went into nuclear weapons. The amount of electricity used for cold war weapons production has nothing to do with the amount of CO2, emitted in the process of nuclear generation of electric power. Thus Caldicutt once again answers an argument with a fallacious argument.

Caldicutt uses other fallacious arguments in answering her critics. She claims that "low doses of radiation, are 6 to 8 times more dangerous than originally estimated." But this this does not butress her weak argument which fails to link radioactive materials in a reactor with the bodies of potential radiation victums. She refers to a book she had written on the medical effects of radiiactive materials found in reactors, again without establishing a link between the reactor and the body of of the supposed potential victims. Caldicott mentions research on cancer caused by fallout from nuclear testing, yet another instance of the fallacy of composition.

Caldicott asks, "Should I defend myself when you people know better than anyone else that the radioactivity of certain nuclides lasts for eternities, . . ." Yet large amounts of these long lasting radioisotopes exist in both the earth and the sea. Furthermore, the public in 1997 as well as 2007 was much more likely to be exposed to long lasting radioisotopes from the burning of coal, than from the operation of nuclear power plants. Professor Cohen called attention to other coal burning byproducts, "these wastes include cancer-causing
chemicals like cadmium, arsenic, beryllium, etc which will last forever, not decaying away naturally as do the nuclear power wastes of which 99% are gone after a few hundred years." Caldicott ignored the problem posed by longlasting, toxic products of coal burning.

Caldicott final defense is repition of her previous failure to conect a supposed hazard with its alleged victims. "Should I defend myself when you know as well as I that infants and children are ten to twenty times more radiosensitive than adults? "

Even if children's bodies are more sensitive to radiation, Caldicott does not establishes a connection between radioactive isotopes in a reactor and the sensitive bodies of children,.

Caldicott then summerizes her case: "With all the data now at hand, what do you people think you are doing defending the nuclear weapons and power industry which is obsolete and medically contraindicated." Here again Caldicott engages in the fallacy of composition. None of her critics defended nuclear weapons, and that was not what the debate was about. While nuclear weapons may be medically contraindicated, she has clearly failed to show that reactors are medically contraindicated.

I will not engage in diagnostic speculation on this blog, There is however ample evidence that Caldicott makes many thinking errors, and that these errors persist despite criticism. Caldicott appear to believe that she is immune to criticism, as if her ad hominem establish the moral inferiority of her critics. Thus she repeatedly turns to arguments that do not attempt to demonstrate how her critics are wrong, but rather contending that they must be wrong because they are such bad people. Moral specialness thus is the source of truth in Caldicott's arguments.


Joffan said...

Caldicott's response to the problems in her position, indignant rhetorical questions attacking the questioner, is reminiscent of the preferred debating mode of groups such as Hezbollah.

How's that for guilt by association?

Charles Barton said...

It is preferred by a lot more than Hezbollah, If you caught my references at the beginning of the post.

Luke said...

Caldicott's response was quite shocking - more argumentum ad hominem than I've ever seen in one place. I think she's gotten at least a little bit more effective at debating over the last decade.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Charles Barton, I would suggest you learn to spell the names of the people you wish to criticize; it's Helen Coldicott. Proof read your blog if you want anyone to take you seriously. If you think the disposal of nuclear waste from fission reactors is a done deal and not expensive, check your homework. Who pays you to write this crap? I dare you to approve this.

heidim said...

I have read Dr Caldicott's work - "If you love this planet" as well as "Nuclear Madness". I have a very open mind about nuclear and fossil fuel power generation - I am working towards a PhD examining the whole gammit of energy production and their effects upon children - from mining to disposal of waste products.

I have had to totally disregard Dr Caldicott's work due to her lack of decent peer-reviewed references for example - citing a newpaper article in the Sydney Morning Herald for MOST of her arguements in both books is not valid - even as an undergraduate (try that in a current medical degree, and you'd promptly fail the course). Where papers are cited, the lack of her ability to reference makes it almost impossible to find the original paper and therefore check her arguements.

This is very dissapointing, as both sides of the fossil fuel/nuclear energy debate NEED to have spokes people able to support their arguements with FACT and not diatribe, hyperbole, personal attacks.

ps- according to both books, her name is spelt CAldicott (Anonymous is wrong on this score).

Mike Vandeman said...

1. You claim that Callicott doesn't tell the truth, but you don't say what that truth is! So your comments are worthless.
2. Your spelling is atrocious. I don't trust anyone who can't be bothered to check their grammar.


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