This post is not directly about climate, but concerns our relationship with reason and science, in which there are parallels with the conduct of the climate debate.
Shrill cries of alarm
Shortly after the momentous earthquake and tsunami wreaked such terrible havoc in Japan on March 11, the press and broadcast media began a chorus of shrill, poorly-informed warnings about the nuclear crisis developing at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Sober description of fail-safes
Then a blog posting appeared on March 13, describing the operation of those 40-year-old reactors and their numerous fail-safe systems. It was written by one Dr Josef Oehmen, a mechanical engineer and scientist, and concluded there was no reason to be alarmed and very little possibility of a meltdown. Even if a meltdown occurred, he said, the plant’s systems and trained engineers would handle the event safely. The article was quickly picked up and widely distributed around the Internet.
It was published here as Nuclear reactor: blast impossible, meltdown no sweat.
Maladroit attack on public peace of mind
On March 15 one Justin Elliott published Debunking a viral blog post on the nuke threat which tried to pour cold water on Oehmen’s analysis. Elliott didn’t do this by refuting what Oehmen had said or by disagreeing with his analysis; instead, he ripped into Oehmen’s reputation.
Oehmen’s article begins with a candid admission:
I am a mechanical engineer and research scientist at MIT. I am not a nuclear engineer or scientist, or affiliated with Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, so please feel free to question my competence.
But in a supremely bungling introduction, Elliott swaggers right on past this clear, honest disclaimer and arrogantly reports, as his own words, that Oehmen has no special expertise in nuclear power. Hmm. The cautious would note that and read on with care. Continue Reading →