No Stinkin’ Facts

by Martin Harris 

Martin Harris

With a repeat apology to the late Humphrey Bogart, whose Treasure of the Sierra Madre movie made famous the sweaty-bandit line “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges” spoken by an outlaw pretending to be a Mexican Federale, it will be modified for use as a literary device once again in this column-space, because it so neatly adapts to a contemporary practice, the casual suppression of facts and data which cast serious doubt on a desired political ideology. Example: anti-fossil-fuel anti-nuclear “green energy” advocates, many of them US Federales, might well say “Facts? We don’t need no stinkin’ facts”. Here’s a trifecta of subjects where fact-suppression is essential for ideological success: the entire Peak Oil concept, recently, in more sophisticated circles, re-phrased as “inevitable resource-depletion”; the statistical record of bird-kill at wind-generation sites; and the recent positive public-health findings for regions of low-level background (natural) radiation. All three were covered in considerable detail on Web sites and in The Wall Street Journal, but not in more ”main stream” media ranging from the Grey Lady of 43rd Street in NYC to the Gannett-chain Free Press in Burlington, VT or the non-Gannett Johnson City Press in Tennessee. Is it coincidence or causation that, of the above four, only the WSJ has been increasing its print circulation?

Long ago, in Humble Scribe college years, geology profs taught the Peak Oil truth with the same certainty that anthropology profs taught the Piltdown Skull truth and economics profs taught the Keynesian-stimulus truth. First to fall was –as it soon turned out—the Skull hoax: no half-human/half-ape Missing Link after all. By the 80’s, it was beginning to be realized that Keynes might have been wrong as well (although the Federal Reserve is still printing money as if the Sixties were still “Soaring”) and now, with the remarkable success of oil sands and shale exploration (where Federal land-use permits aren’t needed) we’re beginning to see charts showing fossil-fuel reserves increasing, while the once-famous 1956 M. King Hubbert Peak Oil supply bell curve has fairly suddenly gone into semi-reclusion. If there’s a difference, it’s that the Piltdown Skull was a deliberate fraud –orangutan jaw grafted onto human cranium—while the Hubbard thesis was, although now disproven, logical-for-the-times scientific trend-measurement. A recent study by Harvard-neighbor think-tank, Cambridge Energy Research Associates, includes a full-color chart showing all categories of fossil-fuel production increasing (except one labeled “other sources”) in the US, in Canada, and in Brazil, so that overall totals are up, not down. And yet, the Federales still talk the Hubbard scenario. For natural gas, production is ‘way up, prices are ‘way down. US oil might have shown a similar curve-pair, but was mostly Federally-prevented. (It was VT-prevented in the early 80’s, although the Eastern Overthrust deposits are still there.)

In like manner, it fell to another private think-tank, the Manhattan Institute, to dig out and publish the gruesome stats on bird-kills at such vaunted wind-power-generation sites as Altamont Pass, CA, where the casualties range from owls to eagles, totalling more than 10,000 annually, while such enviro groups as Sierra and Audubon kept discreet silence. Now embarrassed into action, they are suddenly pro-bird but not yet, you understand, anti-wind. To complete the trio, there’s the new news on radiation of the low-level, natural background type: populations of such areas are actually healthier by various measures than populations where supposedly healthier zero-radiation prevails. This time the think-tank is the Heartland Institute, whose ignored-by-the-Main-Stream-Media last-summer report has just been confirmed by UN studies at Fukushima. But that’s not pleasing to Vermont’s own anti-Vermont Yankee zealots, still fussing over miles-upstream fish. They don’t need no stinkin’ facts.

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Even before an earthquake-tsunami combination devastated a nuclear-power plant on Japan’s Pacific Coast last year, researcher Charles Sanders published his findings on zero to low-level radiation in “Radiation Hormesis and the Linear-No-Threshold Assumption” a 2009 Springer-Verlag book which got zero to low-level MSM attention perhaps because no reviewer chose to look up the meaning of ‘hormesis”. His fact- and stats-based argument: the human organism when lightly stressed by, say dirt or germs or –horrors—radiation, develops better immune-response abilities than if not so stressed, a phenomenon first noted when epidemiologists in the ‘40’s reviewed their stats showing that polio frequency was higher among overly-well-scrubbed middle-class kids than among grimier slum-dwellers. Here’s a quote from the August 11 Heartland review:

“Sanders documents that the age-adjusted cancer mortality rate for the US population decreases with increasing background radiation. Cancer mortality rates in Idaho, Colorado, and New Mexico are 20% lower than those in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, where background radiation levels are nearly 1/5 those of the first-named States.” In the 11 March 12 Wall Street Journal there’s a report on the latest epidemiological findings from Fukushima. It discusses public-health effects far lower than feared and therefore quite in line with the earlier Sanders study (not mentioned in the newspiece) and offers quotes like “from a radiological perspective, we expect the impact to be really, really, minor” from Katherine Higley at Oregon State University. A generation from now, per Sanders, Fukushima-area tsunami survivors should be, on average, more healthy than their distant less-radiated countrymen. In the US, you can get the same beneficial effect by moving to Denver or taking some extra high-altitude airplane rides. In Vermont, you could, for brief moments, hang out at the Vermont Yankee fenceline. If you’re of child-bearing age, it might make your offspring slightly smarter. That’s what happened to enable our ancestors to progress from stone axes to axial tomography. Like “hormesis”, look it up.