[ RadSafe ] Is there a way to quantify the effect of the fear and stress caused by the fear mongering

Clayton J Bradt CJB01 at health.state.ny.us
Thu Apr 28 14:00:45 CDT 2011

I would like to respond to three related posts:

Rich Gallego:                   "Is there a way to quantify the effect of 
the fear and stress caused by the
                                        fear mongering of articles like 
these? The Los Angeles Times had an article
                                        this past Sunday on Chernobyl and 
it appeared that suicide and depression
                                        were not insignificant effects of 
the accident. One has to wonder what
                                        effect these exaggerated and 
erroneous proclamations have on the people
                                        living close to the damaged 

Franz Schoenhofer:      "So my question to RADSAFE is, whether there are 
any investigations known
                                        about the psychological effects of 
the sensational exaggerations of the
                                        massmedia and the constant absurd 
indoctrination with fear for life and
                                        health. I cannot find anything 
like that in the two US papers I read daily
                                        on the internet (Washington Post 
and USA Today), neither on Swedish

Leo M. Lowe:                    "... one measure of the real impacts of 
the fear and stress caused 
                                        by Chernobyl is the number of 
                                        induced abortions brought about by 
perceived potential birth 
                                        defects.  The number of excess 
induced abortions in Europe due to 
                                        this fear has been estimated in 
the tens of thousands, and even 

Rich, Franz, and Leo,

        I did my undergraduate work and a year of grad school in 
psychology - before I wised up and eventually switched to physics - so I 
feel somewhat qualified to opine a little on the subject of psychological 
"measurement". The quotation marks are significant here because any 
measurement of psychological data, that is behavior, can never claim more 
than nominal scale status.  Psychologists often attempt to measure 
behavior by counting events, such as the number of abortions in a given 
population over a defined time frame, and by doing so claim to have 
achieved ordinal scale data thus allowing comparisons between populations 
and time frames. The more abortions under conditions x,y,z, the greater 
the effect, etc.  But this is an act of self-deception on the 
psychologists' part because, continuing with our example, each abortion is 
a unique event resulting ultimately from a singular set of circumstances, 
motivations, stresses, etc. In order to count events, objects, apples or 
oranges they must belong within a category of identicals.  Human behaviors 
(at least) are each a singular event because behavior is determined by 
perception and perception is ultimately context dependent. No two events 
occur in exactly the same context and therefore cannot be counted as 
repetitions from the same class of object. 

In short, there is no legitimate way to quantify the psychological effects 
of scare mongering or of any other behavior.  Scare mongering, and the 
spreading of dis-information are best handled with the tools of moral 
philosophy, not science.

Clayton J. Bradt
Principal Radiophysicist
NYS Dept. of Health
Biggs Laboratory, Room D486A
Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12201-0509


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