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Cancer Medicine Politics

Ann Coulter versus physics: Guess who wins? (Better late than never)

I realize this is two weeks old, but I had this hanging around, making it still worthwhile to discuss, because it’s been bothering me, and last week Coulter wrote a blisteringly stupid followup to her blisteringly ignorant column from two weeks ago entitled A Glowing Report on Radiation. She wrote this article in the wake of the fears arising in Japan and around the world of nuclear catastrophe due to the damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant caused by the earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan on March 11. Coulter was subsequently interviewed by Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor on Thursday evening:

Yes, according to Coulter, radiation is good for you, just like toxic sludge! Even more amazing, in this video Bill O’Reilly actually comes across as the voice of reason, at least in comparison to Ann Coulter. He’s very skeptical of Coulter’s claims and even challenges her by saying, “So by your account we should all be heading towards the nuclear reactor.”

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So, fellow Orac-philes, is Coulter right? Are all those scientists warning about the dangers of even low-level radiation all wrong? Should we start hanging out in radioactive mine shafts, as Coulter mentions in her column (seriously) in order to boost our health and decrease our risk of cancer?

Coulter, hormesis, and “Don’t worry, be happy!”

Actually, the scientific assessment of what levels of exposure to ionizing radiation are dangerous is, as you might imagine, a wee bit more complicated than my little sarcastic rejoinder makes it, but you’d never know that from Ann Coulter’s article and her interview with Bill O’Reilly. The reason for my sarcastic characterization of Coulter’s scientific nonsense is because her article uses many of the same tactics as any denialist. Chief among these is that Coulter takes the germ of a scientific controversy and then uses it to try to imply that the scientific consensus is fatally flawed. In this case, the scientific controversy is over how dangerous low level exposure to radiation is used to imply that the radiation from a nuclear disaster is not potentially harmful. All you former residents of Chernobyl, take note! It’s fine to move back to your homes that you were forced to abandon 25 years ago!

Here is what Coulter claims in her article:

With the terrible earthquake and resulting tsunami that have devastated Japan, the only good news is that anyone exposed to excess radiation from the nuclear power plants is now probably much less likely to get cancer.

This only seems counterintuitive because of media hysteria for the past 20 years trying to convince Americans that radiation at any dose is bad. There is, however, burgeoning evidence that excess radiation operates as a sort of cancer vaccine.

As The New York Times science section reported in 2001, an increasing number of scientists believe that at some level — much higher than the minimums set by the U.S. government — radiation is good for you. “They theorize,” the Times said, that “these doses protect against cancer by activating cells’ natural defense mechanisms.”

What Coulter is referring to is the phenomenon of radiation hormesis. This is nothing more than a biphasic dose-response curve to radiation in which the curve initially goes down with increasing dose (less risk of disease with increasing radiation exposure) and then curves upward and at some point crosses a threshold where radiation exposure is no longer beneficial but harmful with further dose increases. Basically, it’s a scientific model wherein low level exposure to radiation is not only not harmful but in fact beneficial. The reason for this effect, if it exists in humans, is hypothesized to be that low level radiation activates DNA damage repair and other protective mechanisms that are not activated in the absence of radiation; moreover, it is further hypothesized that these mechanisms are activated more than they need to be, so that low level radiation is actually protective against radiation-induced diseases such as cancer.

The radiation hormesis model is markedly different from the currently prevailing model that is used for regulatory purposes by most governments, the linear no-threshold (LNT) model, which states that there is no such thing as a “safe” dose of radiation and that radiation dammage accumulates in a linear fashion with dose. For completeness sake, I will note that there is also at least one other model for the biological effects of radiation, specifically a model in which there is a threshold dose under which radiation is not harmful. In practice, distinguishing between a threshold model and a hormesis model can be very difficult.

In order to give you an idea of what hormesis would look like in a radiation dose-response curve, I stole this graph from Wikipedia. Actually, I didn’t steal it; it’s public domain because it’s a product of a U.S. government agency. However, it illustrates the concept of hormesis quite well:

i-69f85ac4fce384d3e85a0a41096a655d-Radiations_at_low_doses.gif

Curve A demonstrates supralinearity, in which toxic effects are actually more intense per unit of radiation at lower doses; there is no evidence that this is indeed the case. Curve B is linear, and Curve C is linear-quadratic, in which low doses of radiation are less harmful per unit of radiation than higher doses. Curve D represents hormesis, where low doses of radiation are actually protective up to a certain threshold, where the curve shifts from a protective effect to a harmful effect with increasing radiation. The main contenders for the model that best describes radiation effects are either curve B, C, or D.

The key aspect of Coulter’s article that makes it so irresponsible is what she leaves out. What she neglects to mention is that, even if hormesis is an accurate model for radiation effects in humans, it only applies for very low dose exposures. (More on how low in the next section.) True, Coulter does at one point concede that it is “hardly a settled scientific fact that excess radiation is a health benefit,” throughout the rest of her article she presents the idea of hormesis as though it were–you guessed it!–a settled scientific fact. Indeed, Coulter’s earlier assertion that “excess radiation acts as sort of a cancer vaccine” is the sheerest exaggeration, even if hormesis is an accurate model of radiation exposure. Aside from this major exaggeration, how do Coulter’s assertions, which appear to be based largely on studies cited in a single NYT article that is nearly a decade old, stack up against science?

Not very well. Surprise! Surprise! As is the case with many denialists, Coulter takes a germ of actual science and then twists and exaggerates it beyond all recognition in order to support a preconceived notion, namely that those pointy-headed (and, of course, liberal) environmentalists are hiding the evidence that radiation at low doses is good for you. To accomplish this, Coulter cherry picks studies, failing to put them into their proper context with existing research, all for the purpose of advancing her ideological viewpoint.

Radiation hormesis: Ann Coulter’s claims versus reality

Last week, Coulter wrote a followup article entitled Liberals: They Blinded Us With Science, in which she “answers” her critics with outrageously idiotic rejoinders like:

According to Noel Sheppard at Newsbusters, MSNBC’s Ed Schultz devoted an entire segment to denouncing me. He called me toxic, accused me of spreading misinformation and said I didn’t care about science.

One thing Schultz did not do, however, was cite a single physicist or scientific study.

I cited three physicists by name as well as four studies supporting hormesis in my column. For the benefit of liberals scared of science, I even cited The New York Times.

Wow! Since when did Coulter accept the NYT as a definitive source? Next time she spews idiocy about science, I can simply find an NYT article that contradicts her, and I’m sure she’ll accept it and admit her error, right? As for “naming” physicists, I’m about to show you how badly Ann misrepresented the science. More than once–surprise! surprise!–Coulter completely misrepresented existing data by cherry picking older studies. Keep in mind, as you read, that Ann cites the NYT; I’ll be citing studies.

Before I discuss what the data regarding radiation hormesis actually show, it’s essential to discuss briefly why it is that the LNT model predominates when it comes to policy-making and setting limits on what is considered “safe” radiation exposure. The reason is not that biased scientists are “hiding” the evidence that radiation is good for you. Rather, it boils down to a few reasons. The first is probably that an LNT model is the simplest, most conservative model that can be fit to currently existing evidence. The problem with the LNT model is the same as the problem with the hormesis model. While at higher radiation doses, effects due to radiation are, like effects due to pretty much any other high-level environmental exposure, much more robust and reproducible, at lower radiation doses, the effects are weaker, and the scatter in the data is much greater. In other words, at low doses the signal-to-noise ratio is much lower due to a lot more “noise” and a lot less signal in the data. Moreover, the data are more difficult to collect, and variability from system to system, organism to organism, and cancer to cancer is likely to be much greater.

As imperfect as it is, the LNT model is a reasonable approximation for purposes of policy-making because it is conservative and safe. Admittedly, there are problems applying such a model when the doses get really low, as in lower than the normal background radiation that we all live in, but it’s a useful approximation. When it is very hard to distinguish between an LNT model and a hormesis model at very low radiation exposures, until better data can be gathered that clearly demonstrate the superiority of one model over another, the responsible and safe model to choose is the most conservative one that fits reasonably well. Basing public policy on a model that, if incorrect, has the potential to result in considerable harm in the form of increased radiation-induced disease prevalence is not wise policy at all, at least when the alternate model is not demonstrably wrong.

As far as Coulter’s reliance on an old NYT article, I thought I’d take a look at the article itself. As an aside, I can’t help but note that I really hate it when the online version of an article doesn’t include links to cited articles, and Coulter is no different in this regard. However, I do believe I managed to find this 2001 NYT article anyway from November 27, 2001, entitled For Radiation, How Much Is Too Much? It’s by Gina Kolata and discusses the controversy that had begun to bubble up about what doses of ionizing radiation might be considered safe. If you read it, you’ll see that it’s much more balanced than how it is portrayed by Coulter. For example, here is what Coulter writes about two studies cited by Kolata:

Among the studies mentioned by the Times was one in Canada finding that tuberculosis patients subjected to multiple chest X-rays had much lower rates of breast cancer than the general population.

Here is what Kolata actually wrote about these studies:

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.”

Notice how the finding in “some analyses” that there were fewer cases of breast cancer than might be expected has magically morphed into “tuberculosis patients subjected to multiple chest X-rays had much lower rates of breast cancer than the general population” in Coulter’s words. Also note that this appears to be the NCRPM report that analyzed the data. Unfortunately, it would have cost me $40 to download the PDF; so I didn’t. But what about these studies?

The first study to which Coulter refers appears to be a study from Canada that was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1989. This study examined the mortality from breast cancer in a cohort of 31,710 women who had been treated for tuberculosis at Canadian sanatoriums between 1930 and 1952. A significant proportion (26.4%) of these women had received radiation doses to the breast of 10 cGy or more from repeated fluoroscopic examinations during therapeutic pneumothoraxes. It should be noted that these sorts of doses of radiation are far in excess of anything likely to be received using modern radiological equipment, in particular given that we no longer perform fluoroscopy and therapeutic pneumothorax to treat tuberculosis. Interestingly, this is how the abstract summarizes the results of this study:

Women exposed to ≥ 10 cGy of radiation had a relative risk of death from breast cancer of 1.36, as compared with those exposed to less than 10 cGy (95 percent confidence interval, 1.11 to 1.67; P = 0.001). The data were most consistent with a linear dose-response relation. The risk was greatest among women who had been exposed to radiation when they were between 10 and 14 years of age; they had a relative risk of 4.5 per gray, and an additive risk of 6.1 per 104 person-years per gray. With increasing age at first exposure, there was substantially less excess risk, and the radiation effect appeared to peak approximately 25 to 34 years after the first exposure. Our additive model for lifetime risk predicts that exposure to 1 cGy at the age of 40 increases the number of deaths from breast cancer by 42 per million women.

Oops! Maybe I found the wrong study! On the other hand, this is a Canadian study that looked at women with tuberculosis who received numerous chest X-rays (fluoroscopy, actually), and I can’t find another one like it. I also couldn’t find other publications with other analyses. The analysis that exists in the published literature, for better or for worse, concludes that the risk of breast cancer is elevated with exposures to radiation greater than 10 cGy. So, what are these other “analyses” that purport to claim that these patients actually had a lower risk of mortality from breast cancer? I smelled a rat.

My first hint came from an article published in the Journal of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (JPANDS) by Bernard Cohen entitled The Cancer Risk From Low Level Radiation: A Review of Recent Evidence. I’ve discussed JPANDS and how it plays fast and loose with science for ideological reasons before, in particular its antivaccine views and its publishing studies so bad that laughter is the only appropriate response. In his article, Cohen claims that hormesis “found for breast cancer among Canadian women exposed over longer periods of time to X-ray fluoroscopic examinations for tuberculosis (13); when appropriately evaluated, this evidence shows a decrease in risk with increasing radiation dose at least up to 20 cSv (20 rem).” Unfortunately, no evaluation of this evidence is included; Cohen simply asserts that this is so.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to find other JPANDS articles making the same argument. For example, this one by Joel M. Kauffman. In it, Kaufmann divides up the subjects into several radiation dose ranges, while rejecting data from Nova Scotia because “too few” low radiation points were included. Conveniently he fails to define what “too few” is. However, if one looks at Table I in the NEJM paper, it’s obvious that in the dose range between 10 and 99 cSv, the death rate in Nova Scotia was much higher than the other provinces. One wonders if that had anything to do with leaving out the data, rather than writing the authors for a more detailed breakdown of the data between those dose levels, one does. In any case, what Kaufmann appears to have done is what JPANDS writers frequently do: Cherry pick the data. He took the lower end of the dose ranges, used “eyeball” fitting instead of statistical fitting to models, and left out any hint of a statistical analysis. The authors of the NEJM article went to great lengths to demonstrate that a LNT model was the best fit to their data; Kaufmann expects you to “eyeball” his graph and accept his claim of hormesis. Similarly, Jerry Cuttler and Myron Pollycove, in another JPANDS article, plotted the Canadian data on a semilog scale to make a hormesis effect look far more convincing than the actual data support, all the while simply claiming that a hormesis model fit the data better than an LNT model. Unfortunately, they didn’t “show their work,” so to speak. No discussion of how they modeled the data is included. No wonder the NCRPM found these “other” analyses unconvincing. Also, while it’s not surprising that Coulter would have gotten her data on this from JPANDS, it’s rather disappointing that Kolata didn’t look deeper back in 2001.

The second study cited by Kolata and exaggerated by Coulter was a study of U.S. nuclear industry workers. Regarding this sort of data, the scientists at the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory have included on their website this analysis:

The results of individual studies have been inconclusive, and to investigate the matter further a combined analysis has been carried out of seven studies-three for sites in the United States (Hanford, Oak Ridge, and Rocky Flats), three for sites in the United Kingdom, and one for Canada. A total of 95,673 workers was included, of whom 60% received effective doses above 10 mSv (1 rem). In the entire population, there were 15,825 deaths, of which 3,976 were from cancer. The comprehensive results for all cancers taken together showed a very slight decrease in cancer rate with increasing dose. However, this result had no statistical significance. Of possible greater statistical significance is a slight increase with radiation dose for some types of leukemia. Overall, the statistical uncertainties were large enough that the analysis did not rule out linearity or any of the other alternative dose-response curves indicated in Figure 15-1-although it does set an upper limit on the possible magnitude of a hypothesized supra-linearity effect.

The study being discussed it this one, which, by the way, concludes:

These estimates, which did not differ significantly across cohorts or between men and women, are the most comprehensive and precise direct estimates of cancer risk associated with low-dose protracted exposures obtained to date. Although they are lower than the linear estimates obtained from studies of atomic bomb survivors, they are compatible with a range of possibilities, from a reduction of risk at low doses, to risks twice those on which current radiation protection recommendations are based. Overall, the results of this study do not suggest that current radiation risk estimates for cancer at low levels of exposure are appreciably in error.

Coulter also makes much of a study of shipyard workers from 1991:

A $10 million Department of Energy study from 1991 examined 10 years of epidemiological research by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health on 700,000 shipyard workers, some of whom had been exposed to 10 times more radiation than the others from their work on the ships’ nuclear reactors. The workers exposed to excess radiation had a 24 percent lower death rate and a 25 percent lower cancer mortality than the non-irradiated workers.

The reference for this is:

Matanoski, G. M. (1991) Health Effects of Low-Level radiation in Shipyard Workers, Final Report, DOE/EV/10095-T2, National Technical Information Service, Springfield, Virginia, USA.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a hold of this report online over the weekend. I did, however, find the more recent reanalysis of the data from 2008 by Matanoski et al published in the Journal of Radiation Research. What Matanoski found wa that most of the differences in mortality and cancer rates found between shipyard workers who serviced nuclear ships and shipyard workers who did not were not significant, although there did appear to be trends towards increased risk of leukemias and other cancers with increasing dose. Overall, as far as saying anything about the association between radiation exposure and cancer, at best this study could be described as inconclusive. Certainly it’s exceedingly thin gruel to make such definitive statements about hormesis. As for the lower all-cause mortality among the nuclear workers, that is almost certainly due to phenomenon known as the “healthy worker effect“; i.e., the selective recruiting of healthier than average persons into the industry who have continued access to better than average health care.

Similarly thin gruel is this claim by Coulter:

In 1983, a series of apartment buildings in Taiwan were accidentally constructed with massive amounts of cobalt 60, a radioactive substance. After 16 years, the buildings’ 10,000 occupants developed only five cases of cancer. The cancer rate for the same age group in the general Taiwanese population over that time period predicted 170 cancers.

The people in those buildings had been exposed to radiation nearly five times the maximum “safe” level according to the U.S. government. But they ended up with a cancer rate 96 percent lower than the general population.

Not exactly. Actually, not at all. It’s not even thin gruel; it’s misrepresentation, either intentional or through Coulter’s laziness in researching the article. Coulter, as usual, is exhibiting willful ignorance by citing old data. In fact, more recent analyses of the Taiwanese population that lived in these buildings do not support her claims at all. The most recent followup study I could find was published in 2006 in the International Journal of Radiation Biology by Hwang et al. The results were:

A total of 7271 people were registered as the exposed population, with 101,560 person-years at risk. The average excess cumulative exposure was approximately 47.8 mSv (range 5 1 – 2,363 mSv). A total of 141 exposed subjects with various cancers were observed, while 95 developed leukemia or solid cancers after more than 2 or 10 years initial residence in contaminated buildings respectively. The SIR were significantly higher for all leukemia except chronic lymphocytic leukemia (n1⁄46, SIR1⁄43.6, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.2-7.4) in men, and marginally significant for thyroid cancers (n1⁄46, SIR 1⁄4 2.6, 95% CI 1.0 – 5.7) in women. On the other hand, all cancers combined, all solid cancers combined were shown to exhibit significant exposure-dependent increased risks in individuals with the initial exposure before the age of 30, but not beyond this age.

Hwang et al concluded:

The results suggest that prolonged low dose-rate radiation exposure appeared to increase risks of developing certain cancers in specific subgroups of this population in Taiwan.

So, basically, Coulter is completely wrong about the Taiwan incident. There is an increased incidence of cancer in young people, at least, who lived in those apartment buildings. Science is hard, isn’t it? Coulter’s also on seriously dubious footing when she cites Professor Bernard L. Cohen, whose various studies of the relationship between radon and lung cancer buck the established consensus that radon is a risk factor for lung cancer. (Yes, this is the very same Bernard Cohen who wrote the JPANDS article I mentioned earlier in this post; to me his having published in JPANDS is to me a huge hit on any credibility he might have had.) It turns out that Cohen probably didn’t control adequately for smoking in his studies because a reanalysis of his reported data demonstrated similar, strongly negative correlations between radon exposure and cancers strongly linked to cigarette smoking and weaker negative correlations between radon and cancers moderately associated with smoking. No such correlation was found for cancers not linked to smoking. These results strongly suggest that Cohen didn’t adequately control for smoking in his analysis. Another criticism points out that Cohen fell prey to the ecological fallacy and suggested that county-level data probably do not represent the best units to detect a correlation between radon and lung cancer.

Coulter’s final claims center on the Chernobyl disaster and victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In particular, she claims that only 30 people died in the plant as a direct result of the disaster and further downplays the risk of cancer in the survivors, stating:

Even the thyroid cancers in people who lived near the reactor were attributed to low iodine in the Russian diet — and consequently had no effect on the cancer rate.

As is usually the case for any scientific claims made by Coulter, this is utter rubbish. Unfortunately for Coulter, her timing in publishing her article was exquisitely bad. On the very next day after her article was published, the National Cancer Institute released the most comprehensive study yet of thyroid cancer in Chernobyl survivors. The findings indicated that radioactive iodine (131I) from the fallout from the reactor was likely responsible for thyroid cancers that are still occurring among people who lived near the reactor and that the risk of this cancer is not declining. In other words, no, Ann, the hugely elevated levels of thyroid cancer among people who live near Chernobyl when the reactor disaster occurred are not due to iodine deficiency in the Russian diet. There is some evidence that iodine deficiency might have increased the risk of 131I-induced cancers, particularly in the youngest, but that’s not what Coulter said. She implied that iodine deficiency could account for the elevated incidence of thyroid cancer among those affected by the fallout. Much more about the health effects of the Chernobyl disaster can be found here. It should also be noted that most people who lived in the area were not exposed to that much radiation according to the United Nations-sponsored team investigating. Most were exposed to about 9 mSv, about 1/3 the equivalent of a CT scan of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis, once the short-term doses to the thyroid were subtracted

Poor Ann. That’s what you get for not doing a bit more research. Basically, every claim she makes in her article can be shown to be either mistaken, grossly exaggerated, or based on old evidence. She even cites Tom Bethell, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, as a source. Bethell is an all-purpose right-wing science denialist, who, besides viewing scientists as attention whores who trump up alarmist findings in order to secure more research funding and castigates science for its commitment to “materialism,” also denies evolution and anthropogenic global warming. He even rejects relativity and embraces “AIDS reappraisal,” while extending his view on hormesis to argue that hormesis actually protects us from toxic chemicals in the environment that, according to him, we don’t have to worry about nearly as much as environmentalists say we do. In fact, Coulter includes a paragraph in her article that is so unintentionally hilarious that I can’t help but cite it:

Although it is hardly a settled scientific fact that excess radiation is a health benefit, there’s certainly evidence that it decreases the risk of some cancers — and there are plenty of scientists willing to say so. But Jenny McCarthy’s vaccine theories get more press than Harvard physics professors’ studies on the potential benefits of radiation. (And they say conservatives are anti-science!)

I doubt that Coulter appreciates the irony encompassed by this paragraph, given that this paragraph is further encompassed by an article that uses many of the same deceptive techniques of argumentation that the anti-vaccine movement, as epitomized by Jenny McCarthy, likes to use. Indeed, Jenny McCarthy frequently says that there are “plenty of scientists” willing to say that vaccines cause autism and a panoply of other health problems. Coulter then digs herself in deeper by correctly mentioning that Botox is a poison that is safe to use at high doses (Jenny McCarthy loves Botox, actually) and then pointing out the principle that many poisons are safe and beneficial at low doses but dangerous at high doses. If these arguments didn’t occur within the context of her spewing of misinformation, Coulter might actually be making some sense. Too bad she couldn’t resist adding:

Every day Americans pop multivitamins containing trace amount of zinc, magnesium, selenium, copper, manganese, chromium, molybdenum, nickel, boron — all poisons.

They get flu shots.

Perhaps Coulter has more in common with Jenny McCarthy than she would like to admit. Actually, there’s no “perhaps” about it. Coulter will also say whatever fits her political viewpoint. Last week she was ranting about how radiation is good for you. Back in November, she was complaining that the new Transportation Security Administration scanners do pose a “radiological danger.”

These scanners result in a dose of 0.001 mSv for about 5 seconds of full body exposure, and even frequent fliers would be exposed to much less radiation than Coulter is claiming to be just fine. Indeed, Ann Coulter should be lining up to be scanned. After all, that little radiation is good for you!

Is hormesis a real phenomenon?

Despite my irritation, I was rather grateful for Coulter’s article. It did remind me of a rather fascinating debate in radiobiology over what model best describes the biological effects of radiation. Hormesis might indeed be a real phenomenon in humans, but it’s been very difficult to demonstrate. Even one of the best review articles I’ve found that argues for the existence of hormesis as a phenomenon, an article by Tubiana et al entitled The Linear No-Threshold Relationship Is Inconsistent with Radiation Biologic and Experimental Data doesn’t exactly argue for hormesis. Rather, it argues that the LNT model is inconsistent with the data and needs to be modified to more of a threshold model, in which doses below a certain threshold are probably harmless but above a certain threshold start to increase the risk of disease. Arrayed against these sorts of arguments are scientists like Rudi H. Nussbaum and Wolfgang Köhnlein, who call hormesis and the zero-risk threshold dose “scientifically refuted, but stubborn myths.” They even argue that in some cases the risk of low level radiation exposure might well be underestimated. Not surprisingly, in her article Coulter used nearly every myth that Nussbaum and Köhnlein deconstruct in their paper.

Hormesis is clearly an area of science that is as yet controversial. The reason is because it’s difficult to demonstrate definitively one way or another whether hormesis occurs in humans in response to low dose radiation. As I mentioned above, the signal-to-noise ratio for studies of low dose radiation is very low. Moreover, studies of low dose radiation have been conflicting, although we can say with a fair amount of confidence, based on my review of the literature, that, if hormesis occurs, it probably occurs only below doses of 100 mSv. Remember, 30 mSv is the dose received from a CT scan of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis and can be estimated to increase one’s lifetime risk of a fatal cancer by 1 in 1000 to 1 in 500 in pediatric patients, while most people receive around 3 mSv per year from background radiation. To put this all into context, XKCD has a very useful chart that describes how much radiation we receive from various sources. Another good perspective comes from a recent AP article on the topic, which takes a much more balanced perspective.

The bottom line is that we just don’t know whether hormesis is a real phenomenon for radiation response in humans. Lacking that knowledge, we do know that the LNT model is a reasonable approximation for purposes of regulation because it is simple and defensible. Even so, different professional organization bodies have started to question it. For example, the French Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine published a report in 2005 that stated:

In conclusion, this report raises doubts on the validity of using LNT for evaluating the carcinogenic risk of low doses (< 100 mSv) and even more for very low doses (< 10 mSv). The LNT concept can be a useful pragmatic tool for assessing rules in radioprotection for doses above 10 mSv; however since it is not based on biological concepts of our current knowledge, it should not be used without precaution for assessing by extrapolation the risks associated with low and even more so, with very low doses (< 10 mSv), especially for benefit-risk assessments imposed on radiologists by the European directive 97-43.

The Health Physics Society’s position statement, revised in July 2010, states:

In accordance with current knowledge of radiation health risks, the Health Physics Society recommends against quantitative estimation of health risks below an individual dose of 5 rem in one year or a lifetime dose of 10 rem above that received from natural sources. Doses from natural background radiation in the United States average about 0.3 rem per year. A dose of 5 rem will be accumulated in the first 17 years of life and about 25 rem in a lifetime of 80 years. Estimation of health risk associated with radiation doses that are of similar magnitude as those received from natural sources should be strictly qualitative and encompass a range of hypothetical health outcomes, including the possibility of no adverse health effects at such low levels.

Again, we just don’t know. My guess is that hormesis, if it occurs in humans in response to radiation, is not nearly as potent a phenomenon as its adherents claim. My further guess is that the way hormesis is invoked as a scientific explanation for homeopathy doesn’t help its reputation. Be that as it may, until science settles the question, I do know that, contrary to what Coulter claims in her nonsensical arguments, low dose radiation is not a magical “cancer vaccine.” At the very best, low dose radiation might not hurt you or might have some very slight benefits. At worst, it might actually hurt you more than the current scientific consensus accepts. That’s too wide range of possibilities and too much uncertainty to be laying down a barrage of misinformation as intense as Coulter’s.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

140 replies on “Ann Coulter versus physics: Guess who wins? (Better late than never)”

Why oh why does she keep saying “minimum” when I think what she means is “maximum?” Am I stupid?

Since she doesn’t seem to grasp the distinction between being exposed to radiation and ingesting radioactive substances-

I wonder if there are any surviving bottle of Radi-Thor still around somewhere. Perhaps everyone could chip in to buy her some.

After all, it’s good for you!

As you have mentioned, NCRP Report 136 is not available for download except at a hefty fee (not much of a public service, in my view). An excellent pro and con discussion by David Brenner (co-author of the report) and Otto Raabe, however, is. It’s worth a read.

If you don’t live in the boonies its incredibly easy to get.

Unlike the chipper Coulter, Mikey A. has been releasing toxic articles about the horrors of radiation nearly every day for the past two weeks ( NaturalNews). Similarly, Null has exposed his listeners to the “true dangers” of radiation( all last week; progressiveradionetwork/archives/ garynullshow).

Unsurprisingly, both then offer up nutritional solutions ( Iodine, Chorella, Spirulina, etc.) for those whose health has been compromised by emissions**. They also happen to sell these products: how convenient!

** radiation in the form of radio waves can be injurious to your health if you listen to woo-meisters’ advice and then follow-through.

I could see how it would be possible that it could work. We have similar responses to other stresses such as heat and cold shock. Exposing cells to lower levels of heat or cold allows them to temporarily adapt and be able to survive conditions that un-shocked cells can’t. On the other hand, that she would make such claims (which contradicted her prior claims of the TSA) is also not surprising.

Ann Coulter, wrong and stupid and sure of herself enough to shout it to the world. This may be a case where the audience will actually suffer if they listen to her. Go Ann!

Toxicity does depend on the type of radiation; sunlight (UV) seems to fit the hormesis model, facilitating vitamin D synthesis and killing of micro-organisms on the skin.. But leading to serious burns and increased cancer risk at too high a dose.

Am I the only one waiting for her to pull off the wig, reveal herself as a tranny and confess her whole career has been a satirical farce making fun of the right? Like some kind of Andy Kaufman meets Stephen Colbert?

i can only hope ms. coulter someday finds what she is looking for at the bottom of a mine tunnel.

Liz–

Would it make any actual difference to Coulter’s statements, or how harmful they were, if she turned out to be transgender rather than a ciswoman? Or if she’s cisgendered but wearing a wig for some other reason?

Seriously: there are lots of real reasons to attack Coulter, including that, if it’s satire, she’s doing it wrong: she’s getting rich, but nobody is laughing. There’s no need to stoop to bigoted insults, or to compare innocent transgendered people to right-wing hate-mongers.

Coulter Never misses an opportunity for a column or a TV appearance…after a tragedy. (definition of a celebrity whore). She is the darling of the right wing nuts who are sooo impressed with her intellectual “prowess” and adds a little glam panache to the “cause”.

James Haight: “Why oh why does she keep saying “minimum” when I think what she means is “maximum?” ”

It’s consistent with the overall pattern. Taiwan incident – Coulter says lower incidence, the study she supposedly read actually says higher. Chernobyl – Coulter says lower incidence, the next day a study says higher. I think she just can’t tell up from down, or bigger from smaller.

(Well, no, that’s not fair. I think she can tell them apart, and Orac put his finger on the actual problem: “those pointy-headed (and, of course, liberal) environmentalists”. Coulter belongs to that large fraction of the American right who reflexively take the opposite position from what they perceive as liberal/Democratic causes. Or at least, that’s how she makes her money.)

Hi Orac et al. Long time reader, first time poster.

I particularly loved it when she squealed “The media refuses to talk about these results. Ya know, the results I read about in both the NY and London Times. And that I’m currently screeching about on TV.”

And her resemblance to Cher in a blonde wig says nothing about her ability to put forward a coherent argument, nor her transgender status. Does it?

Thanks for putting this together.

I’ve been over at that wretched hive of scum and quackery, the Huffington post, which has been featuring the most alarmist coverage they can find about the Fukushima accident, resulting in paroxysms of self-righteous paranoia among the ill-informed commenters. It seems to me like nuclear power may well be a bad idea — it’s probably uneconomic and too dangerous (and we need to get those spent fuel rods put away somewhere less vulnerable), but there are people commenting over there who seem to be convinced that we here in the US will soon all die horribly because of this accident in Japan, that it’s way worse than Chernobyl, etc. etc. It’s been an interesting ride.

Coulter’s “thinking” seems to be along the lines of “The government tells us radiation is bad for you, therefore, radiation is good for you.”

it’s a tiny little quibble that doesn’t really change anything, but the TSA porno scanners are emitting 10 times the radiation previously thought. Here is a link with an embedded video (just a radio personality, I wouldn’t bother with the video): http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/03/21/958635/-TSA-Porno-Scanners-emitting-10-time-radiation-we-were-told

The reason that it doesn’t really change anything, is because even at 10x the radiation dosage previously thought, we’re still talking about tiny amounts.

However, if I had kids, they’d definitely be getting the pat-down. This article has taught me one thing: kids, teens, and anyone under 30 are more at-risk for radiation-related cancer than the rest of us, so it pays to be more conservative with them. That and, Coulter is an idiot, but I knew that already.

Just to repeat my comment from elsewhere, it’s suspect meaningless to argue whether radiation exposure exhibits hormesis. There are different kinds of radiation, including alpha and beta particles and gamma rays. They have different effects. It’s also very different to be exposed to an external source of radiation vs ingesting it. And even if you hold all that constant, the time profile of exposure almost certainly makes a difference. Exposure at a high rate for a short time is not equivalent to exposure at one-thousandth the rate for a thousand times longer.

Bottom line – I highly doubt you can generalize about hormesis for radiation. Even if hormesis was proven for one set of exposure conditions, it would likely be difficult or impossible to extrapolate to any other set of conditions.

One possibility that seems likely to me is that if hormesis is a real phenomenon in humans then background radiation is more than enough to stimulate it.

I couldn’t sit for 5 minutes in the same room as that woman. What an annoying, rude person. I can’t stand people who won’t let anyone else get a word in, and just shout their opinion louder. I have a personal acquaintance who does this, and as a result I now refuse to engage her in any kind of debate.

I also found this recent article on the Taiwanese buildings she mentions.

http://oem.bmj.com/content/67/3/187.abstract

Since she doesn’t seem to grasp the distinction between being exposed to radiation and ingesting radioactive substances

She’s hardly the only one… That XKCD chart which everyone seems so fond of doesn’t make that distinction either. I’ve handled radioisotopes in the lab without any worry, but I washed my hands afterwards.

[email protected] — That’s about right; meanwhile, over at HuffPo, the thinking of many seems to be “The government tells us that the fallout level in the US is almost undetectable and of no concern, therefore it must be a horrible health problem.” It’s remarkable to me how politicized scientific issues have become (though after following global warming for a while, nothing should surprise me any more.) High levels of radiation are obviously very bad for you, but the paranoia of some in the antinuclear camp is ridiculous. This is unfortunate since it makes it so easy to caricature those who have more reasoned concerns by lumping them with the know-nothings. Not to mention the people who may be gulping potassium iodide

Ann Coulter? Maybe I’m following the wrong media these days, but isn’t she like totally middle of the last decade?

Wow, I have never seen Bill O’Reilly look so freakin reasonable! My favorite part is where he just trails off with a long “Come ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooon.”

Anyway, thanks for this very informative rebuttal!

Vicki:
I believe you misread the post from ‘Liz.’ Rather than comparing a transgendered person to a right-wing pundit, it would seem to posit them as being mutually exclusive categories. The comparisons to Colbert and Kaufman are surely meant as positive. If Coulter revealed a gender masquerade, that would make the joke on the right cut even deeper, as they would have been fooled by an Other they despise. ‘Tranny’ is not necessarily an insult among the transgendered, and often more of a ‘wear-it-proud’ declaration.

‘Toxic Sludge is Good for You’ is a muckraking book (I mean that as a compliment, and not literally…) about the Public Relations industry by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampson. These authors have published several books on this and related topics, which might be of interest to ‘skeptics’. An Amazon list of their books: http://tinyurl.com/3k7tnhp

Seen this kind of idiocy before, when I made the mistake of reading a Politically Incorrect Guide. Which also made the claim that there’s no such thing as plutonium poisoning.

Sadmar,

The joke does not posit Ann as a positive trans figure, it relies on the bigoted idea that trans women are fake women seeking to deceive people. That idea is both insulting and the reason that trans women suffer an incredibly high murder rate. Think about it; Liz did not merely posit that Ann is playacting a fake personality like Colbert and Kaufman.

And yes, “tranny” is used as a reclaimed term by SOME trans people. The vast majority of its use is as a bigoted slur, so it’s not something we appreciate cis people tossing around all the time.

Thank you, Vicki and Sas. I speak as a cisgender woman who has transgender friends, and none of them would find Liz’s comments to be a positive “reclaiming” of a hurtful word.

Helpful hint for would-be reclaimers: you can only reclaim what you are. I’ve been known to refer to myself as a “dyke” but if a straight person used that word to refer to me, unless that person was a very close friend of mine, I would not be especially happy. I’ve had that word directed at me as an insult in the past, and it was hurtful. Similarly, I would hesitate to use the word “tranny” to refer to one of my aforementioned transgender friends, because that’s not my identity.

Sas:
Scuse me if this derails the thread, but you are simply wrong in saying “the joke does not posit Ann as a positive trans figure” because it does not posit Ann as a trans figure, period. The joke requires us to imagine an alternate reality, conjure a fantasy. “IF ‘Ann Coulter’ was a hoax constructed by a transgendered performance artist to expose the silliness of right wing ideology, wouldn’t that be cool and serve those assholes right.” (Yes, it would.) It is not a proposition about the real world.
As it is, ‘Ann Coulter’ is not an actual person, but a calculatingly constructed celebrity image. She IS a fake seeking to deceive people. You would deny Liz her imagination that the tables might be turned, the fakery flipped to subversive ends rather than oppressive ones?
This has nothing whatsoever to do with REAL LIFE transsexuals, or the bigotry and violence they face. (Yes, I know who Venus Xtravaganza was, and Brandon Teena.)

And yes, “tranny” is used as a reclaimed term by SOME trans people. The vast majority of its use is as a bigoted slur

Well, all the evidence available to me suggests otherwise. Perhaps your experience represents a different subculture. I come from the arts/humanities/pop culture world, one which is very queer positive. In fact I cannot recall any use of ‘tranny’ in a genuinely pejorative way (as opposed to a mock/ironic… well, QUEER way.) Not that I have never encountered bigotry against people who do not fit gender norms. I have, and believe me, the haters have much worse words than ‘tranny’ in their vocabularies and have no hesitation in using them.
However, to go beyond the anecdotal, check the definitions of ‘tranny’ (http://tinyurl.com/3q7wg8w) and ‘hot tyranny mess’ (http://tinyurl.com/44cjagr) on Urban Dictionary. You will find that the ‘reclaimed’ senses (#3, #5, #8: entries by transgendered users) have far higher ratings than those that either define the term as bigoted (#7) or express bigotry (#9). You will also find that the #1 rated definition treats the whole subject as a joke in a very ‘gay’ form of camp humor.
So really Sas, you have no business, on a web forum devoted to promoting reason over willful ignorance, projecting your own perceptions onto other people and presuming to act as some kind of definitive arbiter of what slang terms do or do not mean.
And BTW, the whole point of Andy Kaufman’s art was that you never knew when he was acting, or more precisely where the line between playacting and being was drawn exactly.

Sadmar,

Liz said Ann would “reveal herself as a tranny”. Yes, that DOES portray her as a trans woman no matter how you want to spin it. Whether it is a fantasy or whatever other convoluted excuse you want to use, it is still based on bigoted ideas that have impact in the real world.

Furthermore, I am a transsexual woman. So yes, I do have business stating what slang terms are offensive to me and many other trans women and I don’t give a rat’s ass what people on urbandictionary upvoted. Seriously, you’re offering votes on a website as a “rational” proof? I think PZ Myers should have a word with you.

Well, all the evidence available to me suggests otherwise. Perhaps your experience represents a different subculture.

My experience represents an actual trans person who you’re lecturing on what slurs I have to accept from cis people. My experience represents someone who has been called “tranny” in the very threatening way you claim is just a camp joke.

(Yes, I know who Venus Xtravaganza was, and Brandon Teena.)

You want a cookie for knowing about two trans people who died over eighteen years ago? Did you expect to establish trans cred by name-dropping them? Did you know there were over 500 trans people murdered last year, and that’s just the reported cases? Did you know that many of their murderers get sympathetic treatment because of the common bigoted idea that trans people are deceivers?

I do not understand why anyone would use transgender as an insult.

The argument should be on a person’s actions, not on their looks or even previous line of work. I believe one could discredit Jenny McCarthy just by her changing stories and stating complete falsehoods, without going into her previous career for Playboy. The same with Ms. Coulter. Her words are damning enough.

(And it is with amusement that one troll here, Little Augie, keeps trying to insult me by saying that I think okay that some people are transexuals. It stems from his inherent sexism when finding out I was an engineer before I was a mother.)

Tresmal: It would not surprise me if the optimal dose of radiation turns out to be an exact match for the background radiation in the east African savannahs we evolved in.

Furthermore, I am a transsexual woman. So yes, I do have business stating what slang terms are offensive to me and many other trans women and I don’t give a rat’s ass what people on urbandictionary upvoted.

I think I’m going to enjoy rereading this post for some time to come.

@ Sas: “Did you know that over 500 trans people were murdered last year……”

From http://www.Transrespect/TransphobiaTDOR the number of “trans” people murdered November 20, 2009-November 19,2010 inclusive, is 179 total worldwide (includes 14 “trans” people in the United States).

Yup. That ‘Liberals: They Blinded Us With Science’ article is despicable. How dare Coulter take issue with the media obsession with Science-by-Celebrity and ‘If it bleeds (exhibits a type I error) it leads’. That stands against all the principles your weblog has embraced.

@lilady

Oops, you’re right, I was thinking of their latest tally and (in my admittedly angry state) misremembered it as being just last year rather than the last three years. That’s still a huge amount for such a small group of people.

Despite the word count you make no attempt to produce any actual evidence for LNT. That is because there is none. None whatsoever.

It was invented by bureaucrats because it gave them a simple and overcautious rule but it is not and never has been science.

Without going through everything – I will show the fault and clear bias in the attempted refutation of the Taiwan case. It referrs to having found a positive correlation with leukemia & then points out that it is only among people under 30. Out of a population of 7000 the number who are both under 30 and cancerous must be less than the fingers of one hand. If we are talking of 1 or 2 cases it it is not statistically viable and anybody basing their case on it must know that.

The evidence for hormesis, on the other hand, comes from a large number of unrelated sources, some them using very large populations (the whole US population and the level of radon in homes), some repeatable (laboratory examination of plants and cultures); some over immense times (natural radiation in part of Iran and of India is 200 times normal background and has been since we lived in the trees); and some thoroughly studied accidents where exposure can be fully known (Taiwan & the radium watch dial cases). All of them strongly support hormesis.

This is a collection of links to evidence on the subject. I offered to do a collection of links proving LNT but nobody had any. Perhaps the writer of this article can do so – the offer remains open. http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/2010/03/low-level-radiation-evidence-that-it-is.html

LNT is the basis of the entire anti-nuclear scare movement. If has deprived the human race of inexpensive nuclear electricity and probably thereby cut our wealth by about 60% and allowed millions to die in cold and poverty. If it is not scientifically proven this makes the global warming scam and perhaps even the DDT one look as small as the medieval witchburning one.

NC @ 44:

If it is not scientifically proven this makes the global warming scam and perhaps even the DDT one look as small as the medieval witchburning one.

…aaaand this one sentence allows us to figure out his whole comment.

Parroting what he’s been told by people out to mislead him. Without actually understanding any of it.

Buh-bye.

@ Sas: See, a little sleep helps. I hate to see people go off topic. I think you realize that we are a “live and let live” group of people, who pull the rug out from under the pseudo science charlatans…sometimes we even get into politics or religion…

I confess that I compare Coulter to the Alaskan Diva, who twists everything in her mind and says the most outrageous and fallacious things…all to hang on to her “base”, but instead of saying “reload” she actually reloads her mouth. At the risk of slamming red-blooded “true” Americans far-to-the right males…there is something that attracts them to these dominatrix types.

As I stated up-post Coulter never fails to take advantage of a tragedy to assert the contrary view (definition of a publicity whore).

Anyone murdered for being “different” or for being perceived as “different” is a tragedy and a hate crime. Case in point: a 16 month old boy was battered to death by his babysitter because “he acted like a sissy”.

@lilady: Well, I have been lurking at RI for like three years. 😉 That’s why I was so distressed to see the topic come up in connection to Coulter (though not surprised because someone makes that dumb joke in almost every thread about her everywhere online).

I roll my eyes whenever some dink bases some insult of Ann Coulter on her appearance. Yes, I think she’s unattractive, too, but it’s just stupid to bring it up when she’s spreading anti-science ideas.

Sas:
I am sorry people treat you badly. In my teens (I’m 57) one of my mother’s friends was an M-F pre-operative transsexual. She worked in the health field and lived in the suburbs, so her environment was not supportive. Things were very difficult for her. That’s just all kinds of wrong.
However, my personal sympathy for your experiences does not extend to giving you a free pass on rhetorical excess, especially when your position implicitly impugns another socially marginalized group: gay men.

I don’t give a rat’s ass what people on urbandictionary upvoted. Seriously, you’re offering votes on a website as a “rational” proof?

Nowhere did I use the word ‘proof’. Ratings on UrbanDictionary are indicators of how a large database of users understand the meanings of slang terms. They don’t ‘prove’ anything, however they are evidence.

So yes, I do have business stating what slang terms are offensive to me and many other trans women

Of course you do. But by adding the qualifier ‘to me and others’ you have created a straw-man by suggesting I object to the statement phrased that way. Which I do not. What I objected to was your claim that this offensiveness is the undeniable root meaning of the term ‘tranny.’ For this, you offered no evidence at all. You have now added the anecdotal evidence of your own experience and that of other women you know. There is, as I noted, also evidence on Urban Dictionary that a fair number of other people feel the same way about the term. However, all this remains vastly outweighed by the remaining evidence, which suggests that, like most words and especially slang, the meaning of the term is highly variable, contested and context dependent.

My experience represents someone who has been called “tranny” in the very threatening way you claim is just a camp joke.

Another straw man. I did NOT claim that every utterance of ‘tranny’ is a camp joke. Obviously, if you have personally been called ‘tranny’ in a threatening way, that is not a joke of any kind. Any kind of threats to individuals are abhorent. The only claim I made about camp humor is that I interpret entry #1 on UrbanDictionary as expressing that. That’s clearly a subjective interpretation. By implication though, I could draw out a hypothesis to the effect of: “Utterances of ‘tranny’ in a humorous or positive sense are more common than utterances of ‘tranny’ in a threatening or genuinely derogatory sense.”
Nothing in that hypothesis delegitimates your personal experience, or claims that anyone calling YOU a ‘tranny’ is a joke. What we are talking about is YOUR original claim: “The vast majority of its use is as a bigoted slur,” and your implied agreement with Vicki that Liz’s post was bigoted. You still have offered no evidence or argument for either of these claims.
And if you could have offered a better interpretation of Liz’s post, supported by the text, than my “IF ‘Ann Coulter’ was a hoax constructed by a transgendered performance artist to expose the silliness of right wing ideology, wouldn’t that be cool and serve those assholes right” you would have done so, instead of just asserting that your perceptions of things are right because you say so.
What no one has any business doing is trying to read Liz’s mind, or asserting some definitive objective connection between an Ann Coulter joke and reality.
There would have been any number of ways for you and Vicki to express your feelings without making condemning assumptions about Liz. Vicki could have said:

I do not understand how you mean us to read a comparison of transgendered people to right-wing hate mongers.Would it make any actual difference to Coulter’s statements, or how harmful they were, if she turned out to be transgender rather than a ciswoman? Or if she’s cisgendered but wearing a wig for some other reason? Furthermore, many transgendered people, including regular contributors to Respectful Insolence, find the term ‘tranny’ to be an offensive insult. I would hope we could critique Ann Coulter for her ludicrous misrepresentations of science and leave gender out of the discussion.

Would that not make the point without impugning Liz’s motives, or acting like a slang-Nazi? I probably wouldn’t have replied to such a comment, and if I had, the whole context would have been different.
I can certainly say this: if you address the language and avoid the ad hominem attacks you have a more persuasive point. Posts in these comment threads are very chippy. That’s not going to help you push back against the bad guys. This is politics. You need to have some social skills to build a movement. (And I say that as someone admittedly lacking in that area…). For example, if you said something like:

You’re right sadmar, I can’t really know what Liz meant, or how other people use the term in their own circles. I just want people to know that there are other users here who find the term hurtful, and ask that we avoid it in the future as a gesture toward creating a more supportive community.

you might even make some friends.
p.s.

Did you expect to establish trans cred by name-dropping two trans people who died over eighteen years ago?

No. I expected to establish that I was not totally ignorant of the issue you raised, which is far short of establishing ‘cred.’ But I feel the need to drop another name, not to validate my position, but perhaps just to note that the trans community is not monolithic, and to remind folks here about the virtual part of virtual reality: Sandy Stone.

sadmar, usually it is better to put the shovel down and stop digging when you find yourself in a hole. Just remember there are plenty of things to discuss about a person’s ideas without having to go into their physical attributes.

Here are some words you might try next time: “I am sorry I offended you. I will try to remember next time.”

Neil Craig: If it is not scientifically proven this makes the global warming scam and perhaps even the DDT one look as small as the medieval witchburning one.

Neil Craig’s website is good for a giggle. He describes Orac’s blog as “one of those eco-fascist blogs which pretend to scientific standards” and compares himself a lot to Galileo in his lone fight against the Linear No-Threshold model.

I’m just going to leave this and this here and bow out of this discussion because it’s already exhausted me.

Being a “slang-Nazi” can be so much work.

Trying again:
Neil Craig’s website is good for a giggle. He describes Orac’s blog as “one of those eco-fascist blogs which pretend to scientific standards” and compares himself a lot to Galileo in his lone fight against the Linear No-Threshold model.

Posts in these comment threads are very chippy. That’s not going to help you push back against the bad guys.

Where’s the Crack Emcee when you really need him?

Andreas Johansson wrote: Ann Coulter? Maybe I’m following the wrong media these days, but isn’t she like totally middle of the last decade?

Yup, her niche has now been occupied by Sarah Palin. However, unlike unemployment benefits, wingnut welfare never expires; once you’re in, you never have to worry about honest work again, no matter how passe your act becomes.

Ok, so I wasted bandwidth trying to reason with people who imagine they are beyond any and all critique, and think anyone who says ‘huh?’ is some kind of bigot. My bad. Let’s get back to Ann Coulter and Physics.
The title of this thread offers a rhetorical question I would guess the author framed with some tinge of irony (at least as a possibility). But the literal answer, of course, is that Ann Coulter won.
Now, certainly Orac has pulled Coulter’s appearance on O’Reilly into the ring of science, truth, reason etc. with the blog entry above. Here he deftly responded to Coulter’s Chuck Wepner-like flailing swings with counter-punches reminiscent of The Greatest at his best. It’s a unanimous decision. The blog entry dances around the ring, the 3-figure crowd of skeptics cheer heartily, and the Coulter video skulks away in humiliation and defeat.
But Ann Coulter has not been fazed in the least. She is utterly oblivious to the Orac-gnat buzzing near her head, and if you could somehow make her aware of what happened in the ring of science, truth, reason etc. she would surely laugh in your face.
Because Ann Coulter knows this: she went on Fox News, and presented her BS with enough science-like lingo combined with her usual assertiveness that most of the 3 million people watching bought it.
That is the actual rating for that episode of the O’Reilly Factor. Three MILLION.
Fox news whacked Physics over the head, bound it and gagged it and tossed it into a basement where Coulter re-enacted scenes from Hostel and Saw on its helpless body. Thus did Physics join a long list of victims from the science, truth, reason etc. families.
It matters little what ultimately is ‘objectively’ true, and it matters much what counts for knowledge in society and in the formation of public and private policy. And the U.S. Congress now represents an electorate who KNOW that Angels watch over them, that ‘Global Warning’ is a tree-hugger fantasy, that the Founders ended slavery and intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation, that we are here by God’s design, that humans and dinosaurs walked the planet at the same time, that concentrating wealth fuels economic growth, that Barack Obama was born and raised in Kenya and is heading a conspiracy to establish Sharia law in a Marxist America.

They KNOW all that stuff. Go to the comments thread on any news website and try to argue with them. They will declaim the verity of their ‘facts’, the absolute rectitude of their ‘reason’ no matter what you say.
And the pain of this is that their ‘knowledge’ counts, because it is connected to forces of material power. It has money, guns and oil (and lawyers, for the Warren Zevon fans). They get to decide what gets funded, what gets put in the schoolbooks in Texas (which means the schoolbooks across the nation, since the publisher’s profit would fall if they had to generate different texts for different markets), what ‘scandals’ (ACORN!! PBS!!!) will be blasted from the loudspeakers and what atrocities will remain hidden. Among other things.
So, the question, my dear skeptics, is “What is to be done?” Shall you stay inside the auditorium of science, truth, reason etc. shouting curses at all the fools, or will you seek a strategy to undermine Coulter and her kind in ways that they will feel, ways that will matter in the realm of the social, and in the rooms of power?

So, the question, my dear skeptics, is “What is to be done?”

Actually, I think a more intriguing question is where you got the notion that condescending disquisitions about how to communicate are a good way to communicate.

Condescending disquisitions on how to change peoples’ minds certainly changed my mind, but then it was changed back again by The ‘s vituperative bragging about his own superiority in changing people’s minds.

Right now I am imagining someone in a hole so deep that when he tries to throw the dirt out, it falls back in. He is now burying himself.

I’m impressed by the level of imagination displayed by Narad, Herr doktor and Chris. Me, I just imagine Sadmar is an asshole.

I guess that makes me part of the problem instead of part of the strategy to undermine Coulter. Darn.

Thank you, Raincitygirl!

(Don’t undermine yourself… just knowing the fallacies that Coulter uses is enough!)

Coulter is known for her outrageous views in fact she admits to being “a pot stirrer.” When she first appeared on the media stage about 15 years ago, she wasn’t so controversial and she seemed to be the darling of the Conservatives. But her occasional “clever” remarks turned into long-winded harangues and turned people off…on both sides of the aisle.

Her spots on TV talk shows dried up because she sucks the oxygen out of the room with her overbearing rants, forgetting that you have to please, not piss-off the host. She has very effectively limited her own career; Ann who???

Actually, I think a more intriguing question is where you got the notion that condescending disquisitions about how to communicate are a good way to communicate.

Narad for the win!

Woa – sorry I derailed the convo. I meant it as Sadmar said it, actually. I know a lot of gay people and one transgendered person. We often joke about this and call each other ‘slang’ names. Oftentimes we try to think of the most off-color thing to say to one another because it’s funny. To us, anyway.

But sometimes I forget that no one knows me on the internet, nor can hear inflection. The word “tranny” isn’t so funny coming from some homophobe. So I apologize for offending anyone.

How about we pretend I said “Male comedian in drag” instead?

PS* Chris – a persons physical attributes are well worth criticizing when she says things like “It would be a much better country if women did not vote. That is simply a fact. In fact, in every presidential election since 1950 — except Goldwater in ’64 — the Republican would have won, if only the men had voted.”

So this, my friend, is why I said what I did.

I see that though I have stirred up a few ad hominum attacks nobody, not even the author of this piece, has made any attempt to produce actual evidence, as asked for, for the LNT theory.

QED It is not science and those supporting it with such attacks are indeed eco-fascists. I thank them for proving the case beyond any reasonable doubt.

I see that though I have stirred up a few ad hominum attacks nobody, not even the author of this piece, has made any attempt to produce actual evidence, as asked for, for the LNT theory.

QED It is not science and those supporting it with such attacks are indeed eco-fascists.

Yawn. Does Neil Craig know any other tricks besides trying to 606 his way to victory?

I see that though I have stirred up a few ad hominum attacks nobody, not even the author of this piece, has made any attempt to produce actual evidence, as asked for……

You miss the point. If there was a reasonable person to discuss this with on the other end a serious discussion would be welcome.But it’s a waste of time and bandwidth argue with cranks.They turn everything they don’t agree with into a conspiracy theory, rather than just an alternate viewpoint and are immune to considering evidence that doesn’t fit their narrative(and yes it IS out there). It would be like engaging a climate change denialist…….oh, wait…..
Sincerely, the eco-terrorist

Neil Craig,
To quote from Orac’s original statement:

The first is probably that an LNT model is the simplest, most conservative model that can be fit to currently existing evidence. The problem with the LNT model is the same as the problem with the hormesis model. While at higher radiation doses, effects due to radiation are, like effects due to pretty much any other high-level environmental exposure, much more robust and reproducible, at lower radiation doses, the effects are weaker, and the scatter in the data is much greater. In other words, at low doses the signal-to-noise ratio is much lower due to a lot more “noise” and a lot less signal in the data. Moreover, the data are more difficult to collect, and variability from system to system, organism to organism, and cancer to cancer is likely to be much greater.

As imperfect as it is, the LNT model is a reasonable approximation for purposes of policy-making because it is conservative and safe.

Nowhere can I find that he – or anyone else in this stream – argued that the LNT curve was more correct than hormesis. It is simply a “conservative and safe” model that fits (some of) the observations and is easy to make policy around. Since it is more conservative than the hormesis model, it is less likely to come back to haunt someone later.

It would be useful to have a really, really good grasp of just what level of of radiation is “good for you” – provided the hormesis model is correct – before making policies that allow a level of radioactive substances to be released into the environment. Do you have good evidence for that? The consequences should those numbers be off on the high side could be severe and long-lasting.

Liz:

PS* Chris – a persons physical attributes are well worth criticizing when she says things like “It would be a much better country if women did not vote. That is simply a fact….”

Again, no. The person’s physical attributes are not part of the argument. Criticize the person’s ideas, not their body. The statement you quoted would have been idiotic no matter who it came from and what they looked like. Also, unless you sourced that quote I could believe it came from Phyllis Schlafy or Glenn Beck, not necessarily Ann Coulter.

Before you continue on, put down that shovel!

When an insane person interviews another insane person, who should I listen to?

I know nothing about Ann Coutler, but anybody who goes on that circus show are either seeking intention or are insane.

@ David Andrews; Funny link you provided if in fact the radium suppositories did not have radium in them; the homeopathy product of their day. Back in the early to mid part of the last century, people were overly concerned with bowel health and “regularity”.

Please, please tell me that some of you posters “remember” the fluoroscope shoe-sizing machines back in the 1950s…our young crowd would always run into the local shoe shops to line up in front of the machines. We thought it was great fun to view our foot structures with the fluoroscope.

My mom, also a nurse, related the story of treatment of her plantar wart when she was in nursing school…a long time ago. Med students in the late night hours would fire up the X-Ray machine and irradiate the plantar wart. After dozens of “treatments”, the plantar wart problem was resolved.

Neil Craig @65: though I have stirred up a few ad hominum attacks

Speaking of ad hominem arguments, Neil, I noticed that on your own blog you described Respectful Insolence as “one of those eco-fascist blogs which pretend to scientific standards”.

Skimming quickly through RI, I can find no eco-fanaticism. The proprietor is an oncologist and researcher who normally blogs about alt-med charlatans and their credulous victims. On this occasion he was blogging about the safe limits of radiation — which I think you will agree is a legitimate area of expertise for an oncologist, what with its uses in diagnosis and treatment — and about an entertainer / provocateur who had been espousing the health benefits of radiation in massive doses.

On your own blog, you approvingly cite Jerry Pournelle and his own citation of a retired Swedish oncologist who thinks the dangers of radiation have been over-stated, so evidently you accept the authority of oncologists in this field.

Anyway, I imagine you can find people among the commenters here who are open to a good-faith discussion of the hormesis issue.

As a word of advice, though, I recommend sticking to one topic at a time, for some of us are boringly single-minded and do not like to gallop from one contrarian assertion to another. When your first comment talks about “the global warming scam and perhaps even the DDT one”, it does not come across as an attempt to open debate; you look more an ODD teenager trolling for reaction because the local newspaper will no longer publish his letters.

It also has the air of crank magnetism. If you are unfamiliar with this term, it is like the Amazon website: “People who liked this crank theory also liked climate-change denialism and DDT revisionism”.

Chris – I’m not digging out of anything. I was apologizing to whomever thought my “tranny” comment was out of line. Vicky pointed something out & it needed to be addressed. I didn’t think you’d all be going mental about it and I certainly don’t care that you are offended for me criticizing her looks. She’s a man, baby.

Shovel that & lighten up.

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