Decarbonise SA had a visitor recently. A new commenter took exception to the contents of the clip from Panadora’s Promise and fired off a bit of invective, albeit with some linked references. Here is the comment:
From the trailer:
1. Mark Lynas: “no increase in cancer amongst Chernobyl liquidators”
WHO: “a doubling of the incidence of leukaemia among the most highly exposed Chernobyl liquidators.” – http://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/chernobyl/backgrounder/en/index.html
2. Mark Lynas: “no children born deformed as a result of Chernobyl”
Science: “the frequency of both congenital and fetal abnormalities in the Republic of Belarus has apparently increased.” – http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/stem.5530150734/abstract
3. Dude in denim shirt: “Greenpeace claims 1 million deaths from Chernobyl”
Greenpeace: “93,000 cancer deaths, possibly up to 160,000 deaths from all other causes.” – http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/planet-2/report/2006/4/chernobylhealthreport.pdf
So, in just a few seconds of trailer we find it’s packed with false claims. Looks like weak propaganda, not credible documentary.
Some of you may recognise this type of opening foray. No time wasted in saying hi, nothing phrased remotely as a question like “What about this?”. Just an attack on the work of a great film maker. This type of opening leaves little room for back-peddling, and sure enough my visitor simply became more and more hostile.
What I recognised as I prepared an adequate response was something else familiar: cherry picking, including choice phrases from abstracts.
I am not a working scientist. But I use science in my work which I describe as environmental decision-making. Semi-regularly I need to go beyond summary documents and return to source articles. Based on this I can say one thing for certain: abstracts are not an adequate representation of a scientific paper. Abstracts are basically bait. They are there to pull you into reading the paper. To craft an awkward metaphor, they usually include all of the sex, but little of the awkward conversation that follows…
It is either lazy or deliberately misleading to go no further than an abstract when throwing around information that can have a serious impact on the lives and well-being of others.
It’s encouraging to hear in this recent interview that the response to Pandora’s Promise seems so far to be one of essentially accepting the message as it is presented. But I am quite sure that the film will stimulate many to selectively rake through scientific papers on the impacts of nuclear power and try to inflame, rather than inform, our society’s discussion on nuclear power. My advice would be this: if something stinks, click on the link and read the reference yourself. We can’t let these important discussions be ruled by Abstract thinking.
My response to the commenter is reproduced in full below. Thank you to several other commenters who did a great job in exploring the issues in further detail.