The liberal media collectively hyperventilated the past couple of days after conservative author Ann Coulter had the nerve to claim that radiation at certain levels is actually a good thing.
Jumping on the breathless bandwagon was MSNBC's Ed Schultz Friday who called Coulter "toxic" as he attacked her assertions without clearly elucidating her point (video follows with transcript and commentary):
ED SCHULTZ, HOST: And welcome back to THE ED SHOW -- time for "The Takedown."
A lot of people say Ann Coulter is toxic. But we had no idea that she would take that literally. Coulter says there’s no problem with exposing yourself to high levels of radiation. You would laugh at her if she wasn’t making light of a terrible tragedy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE AUTHOR: There’s a growing body of evidence that radiation in excess of what the government says are the minimum amounts you should be exposed to were actually good for you and reduce cases of cancer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHULTZ: In a titled column, "A Glowing Report on Radiation," Coulter dismissed the dangerous effects of nuclear disaster in Japan. She wrote, "The only good news is that anyone exposed to excess radiation from the nuclear power plants is now probably much less likely to get cancer."
Her basic premise is what the scientific community calls hormesis. It’s the theory that low doses of radiation can help fight diseases. Recent reports by the United States National Research Council, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation all concluded that insufficient human data on hormesis exists.
So, while it’s possible there may be health benefits to low doses of radiation, you won’t find any international scientific agencies promoting that theory just yet.
But Coulter isn’t just talking about low doses. She’s giving the impression that high level radiation exposure is safe, even though a reading at the Fukushima plant showed enough leakage to cause acute radiation sickness in anyone exposed for more than a couple of hours.
Coulter even goes back to the old myth that only 31 people died as a result of the Chernobyl meltdown -- a myth we debunked on this program earlier this week. If you remember, some studies have the resulting death count from Chernobyl as high as 500,000 people.
Coulter probably thought her expert opinion would find a captive audience on FOX News, but watch Bill O’Reilly’s reaction to Coulter’s theory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O’REILLY, FOX NEWS: What you say may be true. There may be some doses of radiation that the human body can ward off infection. But in something like this, you have to get the folks out of there.
COULTER: OK. But the point is
O’REILLY: And you have to report -- you have to report worst-case scenario.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHULTZ: Even Bill O’Reilly can’t get onboard with Coulter’s scientific method. This Bill O’Reilly:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O’REILLY: Tide goes in tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHULTZ: Radiation in, radiation out; who knows. When Bill O’Reilly is lecturing you about your shoddy science, you know you’re off the rails. But Ann Coulter doesn’t care about science. She only cares about being provocative so Fox will keep putting her on TV.
She is so predictable. You could write a scientific formula for her. Ann goes on TV. Ann goes off TV. There is always misinformation. That’s the Takedown.
Let's analyze this slowly. Here's what Coulter wrote Wednesday:
As The New York Times science section reported in 2001, an increasing number of scientists believe that at some level -- much higher than the minimums set by the U.S. government -- radiation is good for you. "They theorize," the Times said, that "these doses protect against cancer by activating cells' natural defense mechanisms."
Among the studies mentioned by the Times was one in Canada finding that tuberculosis patients subjected to multiple chest X-rays had much lower rates of breast cancer than the general population.
Schultz conveniently ignored that Coulter cited the Times in her piece. That's unfortunately what passes for journalism at MSNBC these days.
Rather than mimic his negligence, let's take a look at what the Times reported in its November 2001 article "For Radiation, How Much Is Too Much?":
In their efforts to protect Americans from the hazards of radiation, federal agencies have found themselves in a quandary. People are constantly exposed to radiation from natural sources -- from cosmic rays, radon seeping out of the earth and radioactive substances in soil, water, food and even from potassium in the human body itself.
Compared with this radiation, the amounts coming from human efforts like nuclear plants are, relatively, minuscule. So, the question is, How closely must this radiation be regulated?
Up to now, regulators have typically acted as if every bit of excess exposure is potentially hazardous. But some scientists question this assumption.
"But some scientists question this assumption." You can see why Schultz ignored this Times piece:
In a report last year on radiation standards, the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said: ''The standards administered by E.P.A. and N.R.C. to protect the public from low-level radiation exposure do not have a conclusive scientific basis, despite decades of research.''
The situation is further confused, experts say, because regulatory standards are a hodgepodge.
The Environmental Protection Agency advocates a standard for all radiation exposure from a single source or site at 15 millirem a year, with no more than 4 coming from ground water. A standard chest X-ray, in comparison, gives about 10 millirem to the chest, which is equivalent to 1 or 2 millirem to the whole body. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission sets its acceptable level of radiation exposure from any one source at 25 millirem a year. In contrast, the natural level of background radiation in the United States, on average, is about 350 millirem a year, and in some areas of the country it is many times higher than that.
Having established a premise from an almost ten-year-old Times article, Coulter found other supportive sources:
A $10 million Department of Energy study from 1991 examined 10 years of epidemiological research by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health on 700,000 shipyard workers, some of whom had been exposed to 10 times more radiation than the others from their work on the ships' nuclear reactors. The workers exposed to excess radiation had a 24 percent lower death rate and a 25 percent lower cancer mortality than the non-irradiated workers. [...]
In 1983, a series of apartment buildings in Taiwan were accidentally constructed with massive amounts of cobalt 60, a radioactive substance. After 16 years, the buildings' 10,000 occupants developed only five cases of cancer. The cancer rate for the same age group in the general Taiwanese population over that time period predicted 170 cancers.
The people in those buildings had been exposed to radiation nearly five times the maximum "safe" level according to the U.S. government. But they ended up with a cancer rate 96 percent lower than the general population.
Bernard L. Cohen, a physics professor at the University of Pittsburgh, compared radon exposure and lung cancer rates in 1,729 counties covering 90 percent of the U.S. population. His study in the 1990s found far fewer cases of lung cancer in those counties with the highest amounts of radon -- a correlation that could not be explained by smoking rates.
Tom Bethell, author of the The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science has been writing for years about the beneficial effects of some radiation, or "hormesis."
And what was Coulter's conclusion?
Although it is hardly a settled scientific fact that excess radiation is a health benefit, there's certainly evidence that it decreases the risk of some cancers -- and there are plenty of scientists willing to say so.
Indeed. Radiation therapy is even used to kill various cancers. Makes one wonder if Schultz is aware of such treatment.
But missed in all of the shouting was Coulter's real point:
I guess good radiation stories are not as exciting as news anchors warning of mutant humans and scary nuclear power plants -- news anchors who, by the way, have injected small amounts of poison into their foreheads to stave off wrinkles. Which is to say: The general theory that small amounts of toxins can be healthy is widely accepted --except in the case of radiation.
Every day Americans pop multivitamins containing trace amount of zinc, magnesium, selenium, copper, manganese, chromium, molybdenum, nickel, boron -- all poisons.
They get flu shots. They'll drink copious amounts of coffee to ingest a poison: caffeine. (Back in the '70s, Professor Cohen offered to eat as much plutonium as Ralph Nader would eat caffeine -- an offer Nader never accepted.)
But in the case of radiation, the media have Americans convinced that the minutest amount is always deadly.
Although reporters love to issue sensationalized reports about the danger from Japan's nuclear reactors, remember that, so far, thousands have died only because of Mother Nature. And the survivors may outlive all of us over here in hermetically sealed, radiation-free America.
Indeed. From the moment this nuclear crisis began last Friday, our media have been fear-mongering the situation rather than properly informing a concerned public.
Instead of telling people the minimal risks of hazardous radiation levels reaching our continent, the press have incited anxieties creating runs on potassium iodide up and down the West Coast.
Rather than participate in this nonsense, Coulter wrote a well-researched piece Wednesday presenting a side of this story that should have been included alongside the hyperventilation for some balance.
After all, there has yet to be one death from this nuclear accident, and for all we know there won't be any. But because our media are almost universally No Nukes supporters, the coverage of this event has been far more paranoiac than professional.
As for Schultz's take on Coulter's appearance with O'Reilly Thursday, here's the unedited segment. Contrary to how the MSNBCer and most of his colleagues in the breathless media depicted it, this seemed like a very reasonable discussion of a serious issue.
Decide for yourself: