At a time when the Japanese prime minister is describing his country’s nuclear crisis and the growing threat of radiation exposure as “very grave,” it must have been comforting for Fox News watchers to turn on the O’Reilly Factor last night (3/17/11) to see Ann Coulter telling them that radiation is actually good for you.
Yes, Coulter told O’Reilly viewers, the evidence was right there in the media, including in the newspaper she’d once hoped would be targeted with a terror attack:
I’m citing a stunning number of physicists and from the New York Times and the Times of London, there is a growing body of evidence that radiation in excess of what the government says are the minimum amounts we should be exposed to are actually good for you and reduce cases of cancer.
The New York Times science section, for example, a few years ago reported on a study from Canada where all these women who had had tuberculosis got an inordinate number of chest X-rays. Their breast cancer rate was lower than the general population.
There were apartments put up in Taiwan in 1993 that accidentally contained an inordinate amount of cobalt-60, a radioactive substance. After 16 years 10,000 occupants of these buildings, being hit with five times what the government says is the minimum amount you should be hit with, the number of cancer cases they had about 10,000 occupants was only five cases.
Now, for the general population in that same age group, a group of 10,000 Taiwanese should have gotten about 170 cases of cancer.
I’m sure you’ll be surprised to find that it takes minutes to debunk Coulter’s scientific declarations on radiation. That “pro-radiation” Times science piece (11/27/01), for instance, does cite research finding that low-dose radiation can have beneficial effects– only to note that it has been generally dismissed by scientists as flawed:
Now, some scientists even say low radiation doses may be beneficial. They theorize that these doses protect against cancer by activating cells’ natural defense mechanisms. As evidence, they cite studies, like one in Canada of tuberculosis patients who had multiple chest X-rays and one of nuclear workers in the United States. The tuberculosis patients, some analyses said, had fewer cases of breast cancer than would be expected and the nuclear workers had a lower mortality rate than would be expected.
Dr. Boice said these studies were flawed by statistical pitfalls, and when a committee of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement evaluated this and other studies on beneficial effects, it was not convinced. The group, headed by Dr. Upton of New Jersey, wrote that the data ”do not exclude” the hypothesis. But, it added, ”the prevailing evidence has generally been interpreted as insufficient to support this view.”
And that Taiwan study demonstrating that radioactive cobalt-60 built into an Taiwan apartment building protected the inhabitants from cancer? It contained a “major flaw” in that it failed to control for age–where a subsequent study that did control for age found an increased incidence of cancer associated to the apartment building. As a summary of the literature on Wikipedia puts it:
In popular treatments of radiation hormesis, a study of the inhabitants of apartment buildings in Taiwan has received prominent attention. The building materials had been accidentally contaminated with cobalt-60 but the study found cancer mortality rates 96.4 percent lower than in the population as a whole. However, this study compared the relatively young irradiated population with the much older general population of Taiwan, which is a major flaw. A subsequent study by Hwang et al. (2006) found a significant exposure-dependent increase in cancer in the irradiated population, particularly leukemia in men and thyroid cancer in women, though this trend is only detected amongst those who were first exposed before the age of 30.
So as an increasingly critical situation in Japan demands more accurate and useful information about radiation, the Fox News Channel‘s biggest show featured the ignorance of Ann Coulter. Just another reason why studies have found Fox News watchers more misinformed on the issues of the day than consumers of other corporate media outlets.