The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘engineering’

Ask the U.S. Candidates to Debate Science!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 16, 2016

Last summer I posted about how Science Debate is gearing up for the 2016 elections in the United States, in order to encourage the presidential and Congressional candidates to publicly debate science policy and science-related issues.

uncle_sam_sd

Now that the heat of the 2016 U.S. campaign season is upon us, with the first public debates between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump (and possibly Libertarian Gary Johnson) a bit over a month away, it is imperative that we speak out to get the debate hosts and these campaigns to make science a part of these debates. In fact, it isn’t just science geeks like me calling for such a debate, as – according to this 2015 poll – vast majorities of Americans (of all political stripes) wish for such a debate…

Poll2015A

“An overwhelming majority of Americans (87%) say it is important that candidates for President and Congress have a basic understanding of the science informing public policy issues, including majorities across the political spectrum (92% of Democrats, 90% of Republicans and 79% of Independents). Americans also say the presidential candidates should participate in a debate to discuss key science-based challenges facing the United States, such as healthcare, climate change, energy, education, innovation and the economy, with  91% of Democrats, 88% of Republicans and 78% of Independents agreeing.”

So please pass the word, sign the Science Debate petition, or donate to the cause. One of the best ways to spread the word is to push for a ground-swell of support on social media and by contacting the campaigns directly. Toward that end, here is some advice from Shawn Otto, the founder of Science Debate…

Please alert your networks. Here is sample tweet language:

ScienceDebate’s
https://twitter.com/SciDebate/status/764063589078474752

or mine:
https://twitter.com/ShawnOtto/status/763755796626755584

or Sigma Xi’s
https://twitter.com/SigmaXiSociety/status/763742160743124994

Separately, here’s a tweet from MediaMatters emphasizing our urging of the press to do a better job of covering science, engineering, tech, health & environmental issues this cycle:
https://twitter.com/mmfa/status/763379155777880064

When using social media use the #ScienceQs hashtag (hint: search here for other tweets). You may also reference the twitter handles of ScienceDebate and the candidates: @HillaryClinton @realDonaldTrump @GovGaryJohnson @DrJillStein @SciDebate @ShawnOtto @Sheril_ @aaas @theNASEM

English http://sciencedebate.org/20questions

Spanish http://sciencedebate.org/20preguntas

A sampling of some of the initial domestic coverage on the questions (which should also be shared on social media – the more this is out there, the more pressure candidates will feel to respond promptly):

http://time.com/4445585/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-science-climate-change/?xid=tcoshare

http://www.cnn.com/videos/spanish/2016/08/11/exp-cnne-20-questions-about-science-for-candidates.cnn

http://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/debating-science-in-the-2016-election/

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/08/us-science-groups-have-20-questions-candidates

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2016/08/10/challenge-to-presidential-candidates-debate-about-science/

http://www.univision.com/noticias/planeta/las-20-preguntas-que-cientificos-urgen-a-clinton-y-trump-a-responder

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/46754/title/Questioning-the-Presidential-Candidates-on-Science/

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/groups-ask-candidates-what-about-science/article/2599053

https://insideclimatenews.org/news/10082016/scientists-call-presidential-candidates-address-key-science-issues-hillary-clinton-donald-trump

http://www.geekwire.com/2016/presidential-candidates-science-debate-quiz/

http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2016/0811/Scientists-have-20-burning-questions-for-presidential-candidates

https://www.inverse.com/article/19467-twenty-science-questions-for-the-next-president

http://mediamatters.org/blog/2016/08/10/fifty-six-prominent-organizations-urge-media-press-presidential-candidates-science/212293

News releases by some of the partners:

http://wildlife.org/groups-urge-presidential-candidates-to-address-science/

http://fisheries.org/2016/08/afs-joins-over-50-leading-american-nonpartisan-organizations-in-call-for-presidential-candidates-to-address-major-issues-in-science-engineering-technology-health-and-the-environment/

http://www.sfpe.org/news/303359/SFPE-Partners-With-Leading-Scientific-and-Engineering-Societies-on-ScienceQs.htm

All best,

Shawn Otto

Chair, ScienceDebate.org

 

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Posted in politics, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Science Debate is Back and Gearing Up for the 2016 Elections!

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 24, 2015

[**Update (8-16-15): The recent manufactured controversy over the funding of Planned Parenthood is an excellent example of how anti-science has crept into U.S. politics. For more details on that, see this more recent post 🙂 ]

You may recall that in the 2008 and 2012 national election cycles, a new and extremely important effort to inject some serious discussion of scientific topics was introduced: Science Debate. The whole point of Science Debate is to get the presidential candidates (as well as other politicians) talking about science and science-related topics, so that the public can make informed decisions. And with the 2016 elections coming up next year, it’s time to get the word out about Science Debate and its place in the political discourse of the country. So please, read more about Science Debate below, sign their petition, submit questions you’d like addressed, spread the word, and donate to support this worthy cause!

uncle_sam_sd

About Science Debate:

Science Debate is a 501(c)(3) organization cofounded and run by volunteer citizens from a variety of walks of life who share the common vision of Thomas Jefferson that “Whenever the people are well-informed, the can be trusted with their own government.” In an age when science influences every aspect of life and lies at the heart of many of our thorniest policy challenges, we believe that candidates for office should be debating and discussing these issues, just like they debate and discuss economics, foreign policy, and even faith. Science Debate is dedicated to elevating science and engineering questions in our national civic dialogue.

Posted in politics, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Real Meaning of Grades and the Importance of Standards

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 4, 2013

*Sigh*… at the end of nearly every single semester that I teach, be it high school or college level, I have to deal with the same thing over and over again: grade grousing.  After grades for the semester have been posted, it is inevitable that I have to address some kind of request from a (former – note the semester is concluded) student asking me to increase their grade.  Most notable are the requests from students who missed an excessive number of classes, failed to turn in the required work, or who performed abysmally on exams (or a combination of all of the above) – yet they feel they deserve a better grade anyway.

Rather than go on in my own words, I would like to pass along the wise words of Prof. Kurt Wiesenfeld, a physics professor at Georgia Tech (at the time the article was written) back in 1996.  These words are just as important now as they were then, and for those of us who consider ourselves skeptics and hold to high standards of evidence when confronted with extraordinary claims, I think the connection is obvious…

MY TURN

MAKING THE GRADE

© Copyright NEWSWEEK Magazine, 1996

Many students wheedle for a degree as if it were a freebie T shirt

BY KURT WIESENFELD

Kurt's PictureIT WAS A ROOKIE ERROR. AFTER 10 YEARS I SHOULD HAVE known better, but I went to my office the day after final grades were posted. There was a tentative knock on the door. “Professor Wiesenfeld? I took your Physics 2121 class? I flunked it? I was wonder if there’s anything I can do to improve my grade?” I thought, “Why are you asking me? Isn’t it too late to worry about it? Do you dislike making declarative statements” After the student gave his tale of woe and left, the phone rang. “I got a D in your class. Is there any way you can change it to ‘Incomplete’?” Then the e-mail assault began: “I’m shy about coming in to talk to you, but I’m not shy about asking for a better grade. Anyway, it’s worth a try.” The next day I had three phone messages from students asking me to call them. I didn’t.

Time was, when you received a grade, that was it. You might groan and moan, but you accepted it as the outcome of your efforts or lack thereof (and, yes, sometimes a tough grader). In the last few years, however, some students have developed a disgruntled-consumer approach. If they don’t like their grade, they go to the “return” counter to trade it in for something better.

What alarms me is their indifference towards grades as an indication of personal effort and performance. Many, when pressed about why they think they deserve a better grade, admit they don’t deserve one, but would like one anyway. Having been raised on gold stars for effort and smiley faces for self-esteem, they’ve learned that they can get by without hard work and real talent if they can talk the professor into giving them a break. This attitude is beyond cynicism. There’s a weird innocence to the assumption that one expects (even deserves) a better grade simply by begging for it. With that outlook, I guess I shouldn’t be as flabbergasted as I was that 12 students asked me to change their grades after final grades were posted.

That’s 10 percent of my class who let three months of midterms, quizzes, and lab reports slide until long past remedy. My graduate student calls it hyperrational thinking: if effort and intelligence don’t matter, why should deadlines? What matters is getting a better grade through an undeserved bonus, the academic equivalent of a freebie T shirt or toaster giveaway. Rewards are disconnected from the quality of one’s work. An act and its consequences are unrelated, random events.

Their arguments for wheedling better grades often ignore academic performance. Perhaps they feel it’s not relevant. “If my grade isn’t raised to a D I’ll lose my scholarship.” “If you don’t give me a C, I’ll flunk out.” One sincerely overwrought student pleaded, “If I don’t pass, my life is over.” This is tough stuff to deal with. Apparently, I’m responsible for someone’s losing a scholarship, flunking out or deciding whether life has meaning. Perhaps these students see me as a commodities broker with something they want – a grade. Though intrinsically worthless, grades, if properly manipulated, can be traded for what has value: a degree, which means a job, which means money. The one thing college actually offers – a chance to learn – is considered irrelevant, even less than worthless, because of the long hours and hard work required.

In a society saturated with surface values, love of knowledge for its own sake does sound eccentric. The benefits of fame and wealth are more obvious. So is it right to blame students for reflecting the superficial values saturating our society?

Yes, of course it’s right. These guys had better take themselves seriously now, because our country will be forced to take them seriously later, when the stakes are much higher. They must recognize that their attitude is not only self-destructive, but socially destructive. The erosion of quality control – giving appropriate grades for actual accomplishments – is a major concern in my department. One colleague noted that a physics major could obtain a degree without ever answering a written exam question completely. How? By pulling in enough partial credit and extra credit. And by getting breaks on grades.

But what happens once she or he graduates and gets a job? That’s when the misfortunes of eroding academic standards multiply. We lament that schoolchildren get “kicked upstairs” until they graduate from high school despite being illiterate and mathematically inept, but we seem unconcerned with college graduates whose less blatant deficiencies are far more harmful if their accreditation exceeds their qualifications.

Most of my students are science and engineering majors. If they’re good at getting partial credit but not at getting the answer right, then the new bridge breaks or the new drug doesn’t work. One finds examples here in Atlanta. Last year a light tower in the Olympic Stadium collapsed, killing a worker. It collapsed because an engineer miscalculated how much weight it could hold. A new 12-story dormitory could develop dangerous cracks due to a foundation that’s uneven by more than six inches. The error resulted from incorrect data being fed into a computer. I drive past that dorm daily on my way to work, wondering if a foundation crushed under kilotons of weight is repairable, or if this structure will have to be demolished. Two 10,000-pound steel beams at the new natatorium collapsed in March, crashing into the student athletic complex. (Should we give partial credit since no one was hurt?) Those are real-world consequences of errors and lack of expertise.

But the lesson is lost on the grade-grousing 10 percent. Say that you won’t (not can’t but won’t) change the grade they deserve to what they want, and they’re frequently bewildered or angry. They don’t think it’s fair that they’re judged according to their performance, not their desires or “potential.” They don’t think it’s fair that they should jeopardize their scholarships or be in danger of flunking out simply because they could not or did not do their work. But it’s more than fair; its necessary to help preserve a minimum standard of quality that our society needs to maintain safety and integrity. I don’t know if the 13th-hour students will learn that lesson, but I’ve learned mine. From now on, after final grades are posted, I’ll lie low until the next quarter starts.

WIESENFELD, a physicist, teaches at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

From NEWSWEEK JUNE 17, 1996

Posted in education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Speak Up for Science: Stop Sequestration!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 21, 2013

If you’ve been paying attention to the U.S. political news of late, then you know that a crucial fiscal deadline is approaching: the dreaded sequestration cuts across the board to all federal programs.  As a supporter of strong science education and scientific research programs, this alarms me quite a bit.  To make such deep and long-lasting cuts in our most basic science research and education programs would be like eating our seed corn, with the result that scientific and technological innovation and education would be starved of critical funding at a time when we need it the most.

So I encourage you to read, sign, and pass along the following petition from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) imploring Congress to seek a bipartisan solution to this problem:

Petition

On behalf of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), we—as researchers, professionals, students and interested citizens in the science, technology, engineering and math fields—write to ask both branches of government to work together to achieve a bipartisan compromise that moves the country on to sound fiscal footing without sacrificing our nation’s crucial investments in science and technology. Almost every national priority—from health and defense, agriculture and conservation, to hazards and natural disasters—relies on science and engineering. As another fiscal cliff approaches, placing a significant burden on federal research and development investments, as sequestration would do, is nothing less than a threat to national competitiveness. Support for science is support for economic growth, innovation, and technological progress. Please consider this as you seek to address our nation’s pressing fiscal challenges.

Click here to sign the petition!

Posted in education, politics, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Farewell Neil Armstrong, and Thanks for That “One Small Step”

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 26, 2012

Neil Armstrong died today.  The first human being to ever set foot on another world – the Moon – died today.  It is with more than a hint of nostalgia that I write this, because as I reflect back upon my 40 years of life I have to marvel at the fact that humans walked on another world before I was even born!

Let’s hope we can get back “out there” even more, for the sake of Neil’s memory and the future 🙂

In closing, I can think of no better way to close than by referencing this amazing obituary for Neil Armstrong from The Economist Magazine:

Obituary

    Neil Armstrong 

Aug 25th 2012, 20:38 by T.C.

ASTRONAUTS do not like to be called heroes. Their standard riposte to such accusations is to point out that it requires the efforts of hundreds of thousands of backroom engineers, mathematicians and technicians to make space flight possible. They are right, too: at the height of its pomp, in 1966, NASA was spending about 4.4% of the American government’s entire budget, employing something like 400,000 workers among the agency and its contractors.

But it never works. For Neil Armstrong, who commanded Apollo 11, the mission that landed men on the moon on July 20th 1969, the struggle against heroism seemed particularly futile. The achievement of his crew, relayed live on television, held the entire planet spellbound. On their return to Earth, the astronauts were mobbed. Presidents, prime ministers and kings jostled to be seen with them. Schools, buildings and roads were named after them. Medals were showered upon them. A whirlwind post-flight tour took them to 25 countries in 35 days.

As the first man to walk on another world, Armstrong received the lion’s share of the adulation. All the while, he quietly insisted that the popular image of the hard-charging astronaut braving mortal danger the way other men might brave a trip to the dentist was exaggerated. “For heaven’s sake, I loathe danger,” he told one interviewer before his fateful flight. Done properly, he opined, spaceflight ought to be no more dangerous than mixing a milkshake. …

Read the rest of the obituary here

Posted in space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Mars Science Laboratory Landing: Science – It Works!!!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 6, 2012

I, like many of my fellow humans on planet Earth, am simply bursting with joy, excitement, pride, anticipation, and (pardon the pun) curiosity after the successful landing of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory on the Red Planet.  This was a big deal, for a number of reasons outlined at this link, but for me this remarkable acheivement can be summed up in one quick phrase:

Science – It Works!!! 🙂

Image source and caption: In this image from NASA TV, shot off a video screen, one of the first images from a second batch of images sent from the Curiosity rover is pictured of its wheel after it successfully landed on Mars. The video screen was inside the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team inside the Spaceflight Operations Facility for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California August 5, 2012.The rover landed on the Martian surface shortly after 10:30 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday (1:30 a.m. EDT Monday/0530 GMT) to begin a two-year mission seeking evidence the Red Planet once hosted ingredients for life, NASA said. REUTERS/Courtesy NASA TV/Handout

Image source and caption: Aeolis Mons (unofficially Mount Sharp), as seen from Curiosity.

And if that isn’t cool enough, check out this Youtube video of the descent of the MSL towards the surface of Mars taken from the lander itself!

**Note: I want to give a shout out to my FB friend Rob for inspiring the title of this blog entry 🙂

Posted in scientific method, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Save National Science Foundation Funding!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 6, 2011

I just got the following action alert from the American Association of Physics Teachers.  If you value not only scientific research but science education as well, I encourage you to contact your Senators and tell them to fully fund the NSF.  As a physics teacher/professor, I cannot tell you how valuable programs like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are for reaching out to the public and promoting science.  In addition, these and other similar programs are absolutely critical to helping insure that the United States has well-qualified science and math teachers in our schools; these programs also help to shuttle many students into science and engineering-oriented careers, which ultimately benefits all of us.

Anyway, read the AAPT’s press release below…

If you live in the United States, AAPT and the nation need your help. On Friday, September 16th, the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies reported a bill to Congress recommending a reduction of science funding for fiscal year 2012. Specifically, the bill recommends reducing funding for the National Science Foundation by an amount of $161,772,000 or 2.4% below the 2011 enacted level and $1,068,905,000 or 13.8% below the budget request.(See http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/ CRPT-112srpt78/pdf/CRPT- 112srpt78.pdf for the full bill). This is particularly disappointing because the House has recommended much higher funding amounts ($6,698,100,000 for the Senate versus $6,859,870,000 for the House and $7,767,000,000 for the 2012 requested). Particularly hard hit is the Education and Human Resources Directorate of NSF which has a recommended cut of $32,030,000 or 3.7% below the 2011 enacted level and $82,200,000 or 9% below the request. This Directorate funds many of the programs that support STEM education including many key AAPT programs such as the New Faculty Workshop, ComPADRE, and the SPIN-UP Regional Workshops.

I urge you to contact your senators and ask them to support the full requested level of funding for NSF for the 2012 fiscal year. You might mention the legislated calls to double the NSF budget as a fundamental investment in our society, but we realize that goal will be difficult to meet in the current difficult enconomic situation. This is particularly urgent if one of your senators is a member of the CJS Subcommittee. You can find your senator at the US Senate website http://www.senate.gov/general/ contact_information/senators_ cfm.cfm and members of the CJS Subcommittee are listed at http://appropriations.senate. gov/sc-commerce.cfm.

In order to make the process easier, you can use the sample letter of support and insert the date, your address, your senator’s name, and your name and credentials. If possible, personalize the letter by adding a few sentences on the impact that a reduction of this funding will have on you and your students. Better yet, write your own letter emphasizing the impact the cuts will have on physics education. You can submit your letter directly to your senators via their websites to expedite the process.

Best regards,

Beth A. Cunningham, Ph.D.
Executive Officer

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Anti-Nuclear Stupidity: When Ideology Trumps Science & Reason

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 15, 2011

I just wanted to post a follow-up to my earlier posts on the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis (for reference, those earlier posts are here and here) and the related ideologically driven, anti-nuclear hysteria that is being pushed by far too many people.  An excellent example of this kind of zealotry is on display on the comment sections of my two previous posts, and I just want to focus on a few particular comments made here by people who are misrepresenting facts at best and engaging in some pretty despicable fear-mongering at worst.  I think it serves as a pretty useful exercise in critical thinking to examine such claims…

Comment #1: Here is the first comment I want to examine, regarding my blog post titled Japanese “Nuclear Fallout Map” is a FAKE!!!

Well, I’ve been keeping track of all this fallout business from the beginning and I have to say, it’s not looking good. There are reports from Arkansas and several other states concerning elevated radiation levels in milk and municipal water supplies, as anyone who’s been keeping track of this has probably heard by now.
So if this is all B.S. then why is radiation showing up all over the U.S.? And most importantly, why isn’t the media talking about it?

First of all, this commenter is equating the detection of “elevated” radiation levels with “dangerous” radiation levels, and they are not the same thing.  As has been pretty thoroughly reported, radiation from Fukushima has in fact reached various parts of the United States (as well as other nations); however, what this commenter is not saying is that such levels of radiation have been detected in trace amounts.  In the context of radiation, “trace” essentially means “so small that you don’t have to worry about it.”  And whether or not the amount of radiation detected is higher than the normal background isn’t as relevant as whether or not the amount is near the danger level – and, in all the cases of such radiation detected in the U.S. the danger level is no where close to being reached.

What this commenter also neglects to mention is the fact that, as I’ve stated before, there are other (natural & artificial) sources of radiation around us all the time!  As this link to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows, there are sources of radiation everywhere – from the sky, the ground, your house, your food, etc.  Hell, chances are that you have received a higher dose of radiation from reading these words on your computer screen than you’ve gotten from the Fukushima power plant.

As for the last comment: “why isn’t the media talking about it?” – I have no idea where this innuendo of conspiracy comes from, seeing as how the media has been going on and on about this story for well over a month now, and all along most media outlets are screwing up the science just as is this commenter.

The comment continues:

Telling the public that radiation levels are only “slightly elevated” and causes no health hazards. Just like our Government “experts” told the natives living around the Atoll islands out in the Pacific the same line of nonsense after they tested twenty-three nuclear devices including the first hydrogen bomb between 1946 and 1958. 10 years later 90% of them had died from cancer.

Again, this smacks of blatant conspiracy mongering.  Also note the outlandish claim that 90% of the inhabitants of the islands within the Pacific Proving Ground had died of cancer within ten years – there is evidence that those people were negatively affected (through higher rates of cancer & birth defects) by the related fallout, but nothing to support the claim of a 90% death rate within 10 years time.  This is precisely the kind of hyperbole which displays zealotry trumping facts & reason.

Continuing on:

Also it has been announced that Fukushima will most likely surpass Chernobyl as far as radiation emission levels are concerned.
Now, if radiation from Chernobyl was detected all over the northern hemisphere (and that is a fact)and the Fukushima event is supposedly far worse, what fool in their right mind would question whether or not radiation from the Fukushima event would make it to the U.S.?
It has and it will continue to do so.

While Fukushima has been upgraded to a level-7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), the same INES rating as Chernobyl, to claim that it is just as bad – or even worse! – than Chernobyl is simply laughable.  First of all, it has been clearly documented that the total amount of radiation released from Fukushima is only about one-tenth that of Chernobyl, and that radiation release is much more localized & less lethal than Chernobyl ever was.  In fact, the Chernobyl accident resulted in a direct death toll of 56 (due to immediate radiation sickness) as well as estimated 4,000 additional cancer fatalities among people exposed to elevated doses of radiation. As a result, the city of Chernobyl (pop. 14,000) was largely abandoned, the larger city of Pripyat (pop. 49,400) was completely abandoned.  It should be noted that, so far, there has yet to be a single death confirmed to be related to radiation released at Fukushima.

So, despite the similar INES rating of 7, comparing the two events – in terms of severity of radiation release & dispersal as well as human fatalities – is like comparing apples and hammers.

As for the rambling about radiation reaching the United States, see my previous notes on that.  Once again, “detectable” does not equal “dangerous”.

Last, but not least:

Now to say this is “fear mongering” is ridiculous, I have checked my facts and I suggest everyone else does the same. Because it doesn’t seem like the people we pay to keep us informed concerning such things, are doing their jobs very well. As far as hair and teeth falling out, I don’t think it will get anywhere near that bad but, the long term health effects of low level exposure should be considered at least.

More conspiracy mongering.  I think this section of this person’s comment can be best summed up as follows:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in conspiracy theories, environmental hysteria, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Radiation Dosage Put Into Perspective Courtesy of XKCD

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 19, 2011

Wow, sometimes someone comes along and really lays out the science so clearly that it just makes you go… wow.  I’ve spent much time in recent posts (here and here) discussing why it is important that the media put some context onto reports of radiation, specifically regarding accidents like that at the Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan.  The fine folks at XKCD have done an incredible job of putting the numbers I’ve been talking about for a week into a wonderful graphic; I suggest you all take a look (and try to find the dosages relevant to Fukushima, while you’re at it 🙂 )…

 

Posted in environmental hysteria, humor, internet, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Japanese “Nuclear Fallout Map” is a FAKE!!!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 15, 2011

[**Update (3-16-11): There also appears to be a fake text message warning people of “fallout” coming their way.  Just an FYI, folks.]

You know, over the weekend when I was doing a bunch of research for my last blog post – Know Nukes: The Japanese Earthquake & Anti-Nuclear Hysteria – I briefly ran across an image about the supposed “fallout pattern” from the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.  I thought, “What a bunch of bullshit” and then moved on; not until later did I think that we’d probably be seeing that image again in the context of a hysterical, ranting chain email.  And I was right – here it is…

This is a completely, 100% bogus map, as is the email associated with it! As the fine researchers at Snopes.com have discovered, it has no association with the Australian Radiation Services, and any implication by the map that there will be nuclear fallout, a large release of radiation, or any kind of far-reaching health/environmental damage is nothing more than rank fear-mongering.

I don’t know what kind of asshole puts something like this image out there at a time like this, but I don’t find this funny in the least.  Most especially at times such as these, what we really need is to slow down, act calmly & coolly, and think about things in as rational manner as possible.  Freaking out, going hysterical, and blindly buying into & passing along garbage such as this “map” is only going to make a bad situation far, far worse.

[**Update (3-17-11): On the question of the Fukushima site and radiation, if you want to get more regular, reliable updates, I suggest using the World Nuclear News website – here’s more from that site in a recent update…

… peaking at 400 millisieverts per hour (40,000 mrem/hour) on the inland side of unit 3, and 100 millisieverts per hour (10,000 mrem/hour) on the inland side of unit 4. At the highest exposure rate, a nuclear worker or soldier could remain in the area for less than 40 minutes before leaving the site, unable to return. …

… Despite high levels of radiation close to the units, levels detected at the edge of the power plant site have been steadily decreasing.

17 March, 4.00pm  — 0.64 millisieverts per hour (64 mrem/hour)

17 March, 9.00am — 1.47 millisieverts per hour (147 mrem/hour)

16 March, 7.00pm — 1.93 millisieverts per hour (193 mrem/hour)

16 March, 12.30pm — 3.39 millisieverts per hour (339 mrem/hour)

This means that if you are at the edge of the Fukushima site itself, then receiving about 60 mrem/hour is like getting 2 or 3 chest x-rays per hour, which is a very strong dose of radiation.  However, the intensity of the radiation gets a lot weaker the further away you get from the source (I believe it follows an inverse square law).  Thus, it should be noted that if the radiation levels are that low at the edge of the power plant site, then they are most likely well within acceptable levels by the time you get to the edge of the evacuation zone, 30+ km away.  And there’s certainly no danger to people far beyond that point, including here in the United States and Canada.  Thus, despite the fact that some radiation has been released on the Fukushima site itself, the notion that any kind of “fallout cloud” will spread far & wide beyond that site is utter nonsense.

In addition, a good reference on the levels of radiation exposure (and related health effects) can be found here – http://www.epa.gov/radiation/understand/health_effects.html#anyamount – note that those values are in rems, whereas most of the exposure I’ve been referencing in these reports is in milli-rems (mrems).  Bottom line: the people who are going to be affected the most are the workers right there on site, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them are getting a potentially lethal dose; as for everyone else, I think the danger is practically non-existent.]

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