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San Luis Obispo shows us how to expose antinuclear pseudo-science
San Luis Obispo shows us how to expose antinuclear pseudo-science
Last week, the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department released a rejection of a recent claim that there were elevated health risks from the routine operation of the Diablo Canyon nuclear station. (1) The claim was made by Joseph Mangano (et al) in a paper entitled “Report on Health Status of Residents in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties Living Near the Diablo Canyon Reactors Located in Avila Beach, California”, published on March 3, 2014. (2) It seems appropriate to comment because Mangano has been publishing this kind of rubbish concerning the innocuous exposure levels in the Pacific Northwest following the Fukushima accident of March, 2011. San Luis Obispo’s report is the most complete and outspoken response to any of Mangano’s claims that this writer has seen.
Before getting into the meat of the matter, it should be noted that Mangano’s paper about the Diablo Canyon area was published by the World Business Academy. This non-bastion of scientific research touts itself as “a nonprofit think tank and action incubator”. They take credit for the recent decision by Southern California Edison to close the San Onofre nuclear station, and have shifted focus to closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility. This is an unabashed propaganda-generating organization fully committed to the antinuclear persuasion, and not what anyone should view as an objective, scientific body of repute.
Mangano’s paper says that “official public health data presented in this report suggest a probable link between the routine, federally-permitted emissions of radioactivity from the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and elevated health risks among infants, children and adults living closest to the reactors.” Mangano further concludes “These findings strongly suggest that federally-permitted radiation releases pose a health risk to the public, especially to people living near Diablo Canyon in California.” The San Luis Obispo Health Department’s rebuttal (SLO) says (in part), “After thorough review of the study, and the methods used, none of these claims hold up. There are substantial and obvious problems in methodology wherein basic statistical precepts were overlooked. In addition, the study shows selection bias in choosing case and control groups.” (emphasis added) Further, SLO says Mangano draws twelve major conclusions in his report, “each of which is either erroneous or not substantiated with proper scientific methods.” In other words, Mangano’s work is, at best, pseudo-scientific. At worst? Well…you can come up with your own descriptive term, but mine is “rubbish”.
The SLO document thoughtfully begins with a brief dictionary of epidemiological definitions to assist the interested reader. Most descriptions are accessible to the layman, if not all. Thereafter, each of the twelve false claims are addressed individually, with no punches pulled. Statements such as “this statement is incorrect”, “this statement is speculative and unsound” and “this finding proves false” are shamelessly presented. However, the phrase that strikes me as especially poignant is “selection bias”, which comes up three times in the SLO report. In other words, the Mangano study “included only the data which would yield desired results.” In fact, the SLO report says Mangano’s paper “appears to have substantial bias”, and takes specific umbrage with Mangano’s conclusion that “This is the first known analysis of local health status patterns and trends near the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant”. SLO says this is “patently untrue. Multiple health status reports have been published by the County Public Health Department and the California Department of Public Health on local San Luis Obispo County health trends, including low birth weight, infant mortality, and cancer rates. The major difference between the Mangano report and the work published by the County and State i methodology. While the State and the County use common accepted epidemiologic measures of morbidity and mortality, and control for confounding variables, the Mangano report cites “crude rates, and omits significant data that would not support its conclusions.”
To make the Mangano paper even more devious, among his references he cites three other papers which were written by…Mangano! How painfully arrogant! Plus, all three of the other reports are rife with the same damning methodological flaws. SLO is less blunt, however, and says, “Using one flawed study to support another does not strengthen the conclusion… There may be as yet unknown additive health consequences of very low levels (known as permissible exposure limits) of radiation emission in and around nuclear power plants. However, this study does nothing to advance that theory and is in fact irresponsible in its treatment of the subject, raising a specter of invalid concern by reporting unsubstantiated findings.”
The three studies SLO is talking about includes the one we mentioned earlier, which claims high levels of hyperthyroidism in children of Pacific Northwest America due to the minute level of Fukushima isotopes that wafted across the Pacific in the air. (3) The same tactics were used in this report as those exposed by the SLO rebuttal of the Diablo Canyon paper. Mangano and Janet Sherman (his understudy) used “selection bias” (included only the data which would yield desired results) through-out the piece. For example, they conveniently select a time frame containing an extremely low rate of infant hyperthyroidism and then choose a similarly-long time frame occurring after the Fukushima accident with a much higher rate of incidence. Prior, intervening and subsequent time-frames are conveniently omitted. As it turns out, the high and low periods selected were within the typical fluctuations found in hyperthyroidism data dating back for more than a decade. In other words, Mangano and Sherman clearly cherry-picked from valid data in the unscrupulous desire to come to a pre-conceived conclusion. They planned on finding something…somewhere…somehow… to try and show that extremely low level exposure to radioactive Iodine-131 in child thyroids was causing significant harm to the little ones. They resorted to cherry-picking some statistics and pasting them into a context that flew in the face of the body of data from which the cherries were picked.
Theirs is not science. It is, at best, pseudo-science. At worst, a corrupt fabrication that has caused undue concern and significant psychological damage to frightened Pacific Northwest parents who have no idea they are being duped. But, I am not the only one who has taken issue with Mangano and Sherman over their blatherings about hyperthyroidism in American babies due to Fukushima…there are many more who have come before me. (4-6) In fact, the Scientific American reference calls their methodology “data fixing”.
The detailed, professional rebuttal of this sort of non-scientific poppycock should be rebuffed by non-vested expert bodies, as demonstrated by the San Luis Obispo Health Department. Twisting the facts for the purpose of personal gain by exploiting a naïve, frightened public should never go unchallenged. The perpetrators need to be summarily exposed and put to shame. Let SLO’s denouncement of Mangano be the guide. But, until this practice becomes commonplace, antinuclear pseudo-science should be avoided by all authentic seekers of truth.
2 – Mangano, Joseph; “REPORT ON HEALTH STATUS OF RESIDENTSIN SAN LUIS OBISPO AND SANTA BARBARA COUNTIES LIVING NEAR THE DIABLO CANYON NUCLEAR REACTORS LOCATED IN AVILA BEACH, CALIFORNIA”; March 3, 2014 http://worldbusiness.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Report-on-Health-Status-of-Residents-Near-Diablo-Canyon-Nuclear-Power-Plant.pdf
3 – Mangano and Sherman; “Elevated airborne beta levels in Pacific/West Coast US States and trends in hypothyroidism among newborns after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown”; January 29, 2013 http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojped.2013.31001