April 5, 2014
Harvey Wasserman has made a career out of condemning nuclear power. He is unabashed in his use of the “cherry-picking” strategy to provide alleged evidence for his speculations, exaggerations and outright confabulations. Wasserman has fine-tuned his rhetorical methods for more than three decades; ever since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. But now, he has coined a phrase likely to become the new buzz-word with the antinuclear demographic around the world…nuclear omnicide. In other words, Wasserman has a new term to use when spouting that nuclear energy threatens the existence of the human race.
In his latest diatribe, “The Nuclear Omnicide”, Wasserman pulls out all the stops, citing so many traditional antinuclear arguments that it would be counter-productive to refute them all. However, there are two that bear serious attention.
The first concerns an article recently posted in the Smithsonian Magazine (he calls it a “Smithsonian report” to make it sound more impressive), Forests Around Chernobyl Aren’t Decaying Properly. The article concerns a March, 2014 report by infamous antinuclear “researcher” Timothy Mousseau entitled Highly reduced mass loss rates and increased litter layer in radioactively contaminated areas. It matters not that the Mousseau paper drips with questionable methodology and pre-conceived agenda. Undaunted, Wasserman proclaims it to be undeniable proof that Chernobyl contamination (and, by association, any releases from nuclear plants anywhere) has disrupted the typical cycle of decomposition of detritus on forest floors. He cites Nuwer as saying, “Decomposers—organisms such as microbes, fungi and some types of insects that drive the process of decay—have also suffered from the contamination. These creatures are responsible for an essential component of any ecosystem: recycling organic matter back into the soil.” It doesn’t matter that Nuwer (and Mousseau) did not test for any possible cause(s) of the alleged reduction in decomposition, and merely assumed it is due to Chernobyl contamination – guilt by association, if you will. It matters not that Mosseau and company is using Chernobyl as a convenient scapegoat. Regardless, this is where Wasserman dives over the edge. He concludes “The microorganisms that form the active core of our ecological bio-cycle have apparently been zapped, leaving tree trunks, leaves, ferns and other vegetation to sit eerily on the ground whole, essentially in a mummified state.”
The biological effects of radiation exposure have been studied for more than a century, with the most intense research having occurred over the past three decades. Adverse impacts on forest detritus has never been connected to radiation exposure before. Plus, the connection alluded to by Wasserman (via Nuwer and Mosseau) would surely have been noticed in forested, well-populated locations around the world with much, much higher natural background levels than what is the case with the forests around Chernobyl; locations such as the coast along the beaches of Brazil, The Kerala region of India, and the region around Ramsar, Iran. If the forests in those locations were in any kind of mummified state, surely someone would have noticed by now.
It is routinely touted in the popular Press, and always trumpeted by the antinuclear sector, that we really don’t know the risks of low level radiation exposure. In a way, it’s true. If there are no risks (which increasingly seems to be the case) then we will never know the risks. We’ll just keep looking and looking until who-knows-when before it is no longer an issue. But, instead of leaving it at that, pundits like Wasserman continually come up with speculations on new, fantasy-based assumptions of radiation hazards. Radiation is the world’s boogie man. Next thing we know, Wasserman will try to make a connection between radiation and zombies!
It should be noted that the Mosseau report says nothing about the forests being in am mummified state. It says that the amount of detritus found through his convoluted methodology shows a reduction of up to 40% in some locations. In fact, the notion of mummification isn’t even remotely implied. Wasserman made that allusion up.
Before addressing the next point, I want to cover a commonly-used rhetorical tactic employed by antinuclear pundits like Wasserman. It’s called “cherry-picking”; the selective choosing of evidence to support an argument. When used honestly, cherry-picking provides the audience with the best-possible information that coincides with the writer’s perspective, which frees them from the tedious reading of a long, exhaustive citation. The abbreviated citation should be entirely in context with the source reference. However, many antinuclear writers will cherry-pick convenient citations and use them entirely out of the context with the references they came from. But, the most extreme violation of the practice seems to be what I call “triple dot cherry-picking”. In this case, the citation only the most convenient parts of sentences which are plucked out and reassembled by connecting the fragments with the triple-dot, “…”.
Let’s see how this ploy can be used to inveigle the audience. If a person might write “This or that is something I would never, under any circumstances, do”, by chopping out the unwanted part of the statement and re-connecting the remainder we get “This or that is something I would…do.” The actual implementation of triple-dot rhetoric employs much more subtlety in order to make the ploy believable, otherwise the reader will see what is being done and possibly reject the whole thing. But, I think elementary example I have used gets the point across. Cherry-picking out of context with the referent is dishonest, to say the least.
Wasserman’s second gross use of the printed word concerns a cherry-picked quotation by former Navy nuclear czar, Hyman Rickover. As a former Navy nuclear sailor who served under the Admiral’s regime, including but one very brief encounter during a training exercise, I take the most extreme umbrage with this one. First, Wasserman took the Rickover “quote” from…uh…um…he never cites his source. This is red flag #1 – we can’t say whether or not it is verifiable or fabricated. Second, let’s assume it came from another notorious antinuclear cherry-picker who did post something like this in 2010 – Karl Grossman. If this is, in fact, where Wasserman got it from, he literally cherry-picked the cherry-picker. (Rather than extend this Commentary to unwieldy length, please compare and contrast references #1 and #4 listed at the end) Grossman’s use of Rickover’s words is entirely out-of-context. They were actually taken from a 300 page congressional transcript of the Admiral’s testimony before congress after he was forced to resign at the age of 82. The vast majority of his testimony concerned nuclear weapons, and not nuclear power plants. In fact, when he was asked, “In view of the experience with Three Mile Island and the other accidents and mishaps, do you believe that civilian nuclear reactors can be operated safely?”, Rickover responded “Absolutely, sir.” Clearly, Grossman’s use of Rickover’s testimony to make it seem decidedly antinuclear is dishonest, in itself. (For a more complete breakdown of Grossman’s misuse of the testimony, see Rod Adam’s Admiral Rickover’s Final Testimony to Congress, below) To reiterate, Rickover’s cited testimony concerned bombs and their fallout…not nuclear reactors. And the several instances of triple-dot rhetoric in Wasserman’s essay drops it even deeper into the realm of deceit.
Wasserman not citing the source of his Rickover “quote” is bad enough. Use of triple-dot cherry-picking makes it even worse. But, when we look at what Rickover actually said, in context with the reference, we find rhetorical skullduggery at its worst. Wasserman alleges that Rickover said, “But every time you produce radiation, you produce something that has life, in some cases for billions of years, and I think there the human race is going to wreck itself, and it’s far more important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliminate it.” What Rickover actually said was, “Ultimately, we will need nuclear power because we are exhausting our non-renewable energy resources; that is, coal and oil.” He then briefly shifts to the subject of radiation and the need to control it. Soon, he returns to the subject of fossil fuels and says, “There are, of course, many other things mankind is doing which, in the broadest sense, are having an adverse impact, such as using up scarce resources. I think the human race is ultimately going to wreck itself. It is important that we control these forces and try to eliminate them.”
In other words, Wasserman entirely misquoted the Admiral, and it can in no way be unintentional! Wasserman didn’t even have the journalistic decency to place his fabricated “But, every time you use radiation, you produce something that has life” in brackets, or use the triple-dot ploy. This is not merely well-crafted disinformation… it is evil personified.
1 – Wasserman, Harvey; The Nuclear Omnicide; http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/02/the-nuclear-omnicide/?utm_source=feedly&utm_reader=feedly&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-nuclear-omnicide
2 – Nuwer, Rachel; Forests Around Chernobyl Aren’t Decaying Properly; http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/forests-around-chernobyl-arent-decaying-properly-180950075/?no-ist
3 – Mosseau, Timothy, et. al.; Highly reduced mass loss rates and increased litter layer in radioactively contaminated areas; http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00442-014-2908-8 (abstract only; report behind pay wall)
4 – Grossman, Karl; The Push to Revive Nuclear Power; November 8, 2010. http://karlgrossman.blogspot.com/2010/11/push-to-revive-nuclear-power.html
5 – Adams, Rod; Admiral Rickover’s Final Testimony to Congress; November 10, 2010 http://atomicinsights.com/admiral-rickovers-final-testimony-to-congress/