Notebooks

17 Aug 1995 16:51

Lots of radiation is bad for you, of course, but how much is lots, and what about a little? A professor of medical physics will soon (21 April) be giving a talk on this, claiming there is evidence low-level radiation doses can make cancer less likely. (I append a copy of his abstract.) If true, the implications are staggering. For instance, could you sue your landlord for negligently failing to provide you with low-level radiation? [13 April 1995]

Prof. Cameron made a strong case that linear dose-response curves without thresholds are empircally wrong, and that the dose-response cruves for different sources vary dramatically. His case for high thresholds was weaker, though the matter deserves to be looked into. He speculated that low-level doses of radiation might improve health by stimulating cell division, but he presented no good evidence that this is so. To take, e.g., the case of the nuclear shipyard workers, these were workers who were (a) self-selected for nuclear work, (b) carefully screen by the Navy and (c) following safety regulations of almost obsessional elaboration: it's not surprising they're in good health. He had some genuinely disturbing stories about regulatory authorities insisting on linear, no-threshold'' theories sans evidence, which were rather undermined by his repeating the safe for children to eat dirt every day'' story, which I've heard so often in so many versions, and never with any citation, that I think it's an urban legend. In short: it's probably safe to move to Denver, it's probable even that radon is not a cause for panic, but I'm wouldn't move to Chernobyl, or even Hanford, any time soon.

Title and abstract of the talk given at the UW-Madison physics colloquium, 21 April 1995