As unoriginal as the title would be, I toyed with the idea of calling this post "Lars Larson is a big fat idiot." But since I wanted Ann Coulter to share in the idiocy, and she's a lot closer to anorexic than fat, I had to give up that notion.
Which leaves Coulter and Larson being plain idiots for claiming that low levels of radiation are good for you.I heard Portland, Oregon right-wing talk show host Lars Larson say this last week, citing the rarely-reputable Ann Coulter as the source of this amazing bit of scientific misinformation.
Of course, it isn't true. And it's astoundingly irresponsible for Coulter and Larson to say this given the scientific consensus.
In 2005 the National Academy of Sciences released a report which concluded that "even low doses of ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays and X-rays, are likely to pose some risk of adverse health effects."
The report's focus is low-dose, low-LET -- "linear energy transfer" -- ionizing radiation that is energetic enough to break biomolecular bonds. In living organisms, such radiation can cause DNA damage that eventually leads to cancers. However, more research is needed to determine whether low doses of radiation may also cause other health problems, such as heart disease and stroke, which are now seen with high doses of low-LET radiation.
The study committee defined low doses as those ranging from nearly zero to about 100 millisievert (mSv) -- units that measure radiation energy deposited in living tissue. The radiation dose from a chest X-ray is about 0.1 mSv. In the United States, people are exposed on average to about 3 mSv of natural "background" radiation annually.
The committee's report develops the most up-to-date and comprehensive risk estimates for cancer and other health effects from exposure to low-level ionizing radiation. In general, the report supports previously reported risk estimates for solid cancer and leukemia, but the availability of new and more extensive data have strengthened confidence in these estimates.
As a Climate Progress post said, who are you going to believe, citizens of Japan and people living near United States nuclear reactors? Ann Coulter (and Lars Larson), or the National Research Council’s Committee to Assess Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation?
Hormesis is the unproven notion that a toxin can be beneficial in small doses, while harmful if more is ingested. The New York TImes story is decidedly more skeptical about radiation-related hormesis than Coulter let on.
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.''
Well, if that was true in 2001, it is much more true now -- given the above-mentioned 2005 review of the scientific literature which concluded that there is no safe dose of radiation.
Specifically, the committee's thorough review of available biological and biophysical data supports a "linear, no-threshold" (LNT) risk model, which says that the smallest dose of low-level ionizing radiation has the potential to cause an increase in health risks to humans. In the past, some researchers have argued that the LNT model exaggerates adverse health effects, while others have said that it underestimates the harm. The preponderance of evidence supports the LNT model, this new report says.
So even though it should be obvious, don't take health advice from Ann Coulter or Lars Larson.
Why? Because they're idiots when it comes to making rational conclusions from widely recognized facts.
I couldn't agree more with Comment #14 on the Climate Progress post:
These things are great! People like Coulter are becoming more and more blatantly idiotic. I think they’re setting the stage for their own demise.
In the meantime, let’s throw a “radiation party” for Coulter, Beck and Limbaugh to help them [live] a long and healthy life. Special invited guests: Inhofe, Morano, Monckton… and the whole cavalcade of conservative clowns.