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Radiation: Is it good for you or bad for you?

 

I think it is important that you have good information for making decisions about radiation. But, it’s often hard to tell whether what we read, see or hear is good information.
 
Sometimes I don’t know whether to drink the whole pot of coffee because it might be good for me or not to drink five 6-packs of sweetened pop a day because it might be bad for me. Media storylines (coffee is good for you, coffee is bad for you) are an example that we have to dig deeper - more than headline deep. The scientific publications on which media base headlines and articles are not often read by us to get the full story. This allows the article’s author to selectively take pieces of the scientific publication and create an article that may be slanted to a particular point of view.
 
The point is, sometimes we need to dig deeper if we want to know the basis for the story. We can’t simply rely on the headline. I’m going to share a personal interaction with a reporter that highlights the need for us to get more information when an article is on a topic that interests us.
 
After working with a reporter for three weeks and performing calculations based on data she provided, the results were not mentioned in her article. It doesn’t matter that the results weren’t, but it is why they weren’t used. The results did not meet this writer’s point of view. Specifically, when asked, the writer said “Nobody is going to read the article if there is nothing there.” The calculations resulted in numbers suggesting that radiation levels weren’t an issue and, ignoring it, she wrote a fear-inducing, biased article.
 
She misled you and me (intentionally). Readers of the article by the thousands (maybe even tens of thousands since it was picked up and virally spread through the Web) feared for themselves and their families because they were led to believe that their houses were unsafe to live in. [Specifically, that their granite countertops were emitting unsafe levels of radiation even though results (based on independent measurements of various granite slabs) showed otherwise. But, again, it wasn’t included in the article.]
 
What occurred next, as a result of panic on the part of some homeowners, was a large expenditure of your taxpayer dollars to investigate thousands of individual homes because people called their State Health Departments who hired contractors to test houses and hired consultants to study and put together a report on the issue.
 
The report just came out. Conclusion? There is no radiation issue.
 
These “errors of omission” by a few reporters occur not just with radiation, although, that is when I catch it most often. Media outlets vie for your attention. They need to because they want you to be a customer. Most science reporters will go to great lengths to make sure the article they write includes all points, but in some cases, we need to be wary of what we’re being told. If you are very interested in the subject of the article, dig further to see what other information is available.
 
In future blogs, I’m going to take some articles and break them down trying to show what is the truth of what is stated and what is fiction.
 

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