[MbrExchange] Re: [ RadSafe ] Scientific Consensus

Howard Shaffer hshaffer3 at verizon.net
Fri Mar 16 10:50:30 CDT 2007


Scientific Consensus is in two parts:  What the science (and engineering as 
applied science) shows, and the INDIVIDUALS Personal JUDGMENT on the 
risk/cost -benefit, and social/political worth.

It appears that Scientists are not taught to make this distinction, and I 
know Engineers are not (I am an Engineer.)

In 2001 I had the privilege of being the ANS's AAAS Congressional Fellow. 
As a Democrat I sold myself to Republicans and served on the House Committee 
on Science's Energy Subcommittee.  The Committee and Subcommittee were 
chaired by Republicans.  I said "Science and Engineering, when done right, 
yield the same answer for everyone.  It is in the next step, of making VALUE 
JUDGMENTS that the Parties (and people) differ.  I found that in the end all 
political issues come down to value judgments, which is why they are hard, 
and controversial.

In the debate over nuclear power, which is tied to radiation safety and 
energy policy and global warming, there are a few scientists whose personal 
value judgments differ from the majority of scientists.

In Radiation Safety, I believe there is no dispute over what the science 
shows.  Profs Goffman and Tamplin make the personal value judgment that the 
possible effects are not acceptable for society.  Prof Cohen and most of us 
acknowledge that even one alpha emitting particle, or one exposure to 
sunlight for one minute COULD (theoretically) cause a fatal cancer, BUT we 
go the next step and evaluate the PROBABILITY of these effects AND compare 
them to the risk/benefit of alternatives.  We then find the risk acceptable 
for ourselves, our families, and our children.

I suggest we poll the Scientific and Technical communities that uses 
radiation in any form - the medical profession, all the disciplines  that 
use radioactive tracers etc, engineers and operators of nuclear power 
plants, X-ray technicians, and of course Health Physicists.  Present the 
question in the two parts: What the science shows, and your personal value 
judgment on the risk/benefit.  If we present the results to the public and 
press this way it may help cleanup the mess.

In the Global Warming debate, the results of the science are still 
incomplete, BUT the POLICY implications are so large that may of the 
scientists involved have jumped to the personal value judgment and 
recommended POLICY initiatives.  They must admit that the science is still 
incomplete. Nay Sayers of global warming must admit that they do not want to 
have the policy decisions made until the science is more complete.  The 
answer to the question of "When do you make a policy decision on incomplete 
science?" depends on the personal value judgments of the decision makers of 
the risks of waiting versus the risks of going ahead and being wrong.

Senator Lieberman framed the issue this way, during the 2000 Presidential 

If there is Global Warming  then we want to have policies for: energy 
efficiency, conservation, alternative energies, and getting off oil, natural 
gas, and coal.

If there is no Global Warming, then what about atmospheric pollution?  Then 
the policies are......the same as for Global Warming.

If there is no atmospheric pollution, then what about running out of oil, 
gas, and coal?  Then the policies are ....the same as for Global Warming.

If there is no atmospheric pollution then what about National Security and 
dependence outside energy sources?  Then the policies are......the same as 
for Global Warming.

If there is no National Security then what about economic security-balance 
of payments, national debt, and consumer debt?  Then the policies 
are.....the same as for Global Warming.

The question remains of HOW LONG we have and HOW to we do we implement 
policies while keeping the economy strong and providing for a population 
that is growing and the impoverished who want and deserve to have better 

Howard Shaffer  PE

The attached essay of mine may help.  Don't be thrown off by the title. 
It's what the law students asked for, and they liked it and published it.

From: "Bernard L. Cohen" <blc+ at pitt.edu>
To: "Otto G. Raabe" <ograabe at ucdavis.edu>
Cc: "RadiatSafety" <radsafe at radlab.nl>; "ANS listserv (E-mail)" 
<mbrexchange at list.ans.org>
Sent: Friday, March 16, 2007 10:27 AM
Subject: [MbrExchange] Re: [ RadSafe ] Scientific Consensus

> Otto G. Raabe wrote:
>> March 15, 2007
>> I think the term "scientific consensus" is an oxymoron. If there must be 
>> a vote, there must not be definitive scientific information, so there is 
>> no basis for being certain.
>       ---Whether or not "scientific consensus" is an oxymoron, the global 
> warming people have sold it to the media and to the public as though it is 
> the truth. I am suggesting that we take advantage of their successful 
> "sell". If the media and thr public now believe that the scientific 
> consensus is close to "the truth", that could be a powerful tool for us.
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