Friday, 20 February 98 Washington, DC
1. RADON: BEIR-VI SAYS THE THRESHOLD DOSE IS ONE ALPHA PARTICLE.
The sixth National Research Council report on Biological Effects
of Ionizing Radiation deals solely with radon. Its purpose was to
consider new evidence on residential lung-cancer risk obtained
since the 1989 BEIR-IV report. But the report released at a press
conference yesterday could have been taken out of a time capsule.
It blamed radon for about 18,000 lung cancer deaths per year,
mostly (90%) among smokers. The new figures are still based on a
linear-no-threshold extrapolation from data on uranium miners.
The panelists insisted that repair mechanisms that may produce a
threshold for penetrating radiation (WN 30 Jan 98) are not
relevant to alpha particle damage. The report acknowledged that a
threshold could exist and not be identified from the data. A
preemptive strike was launched a day earlier by a group called
Radiation, Science & Health, which held its own press conference
to argue that, even at the highest residential exposures, radon
is not only harmless, but beneficial. Studies by physicist
Bernard Cohen found lung cancer rates are consistently lowest in
areas where radon levels are highest. Such "ecological" evidence
was dismissed by BEIR-VI, which relied entirely on case control
studies. This is reminiscent of the debate between physicists and
epidemiologists in the EMF wars. The physicists were right.
2. REALITY CHECK: BUDGET BATTLE LOOMS OVER PHYSICS PROJECTS.
didn't take long for pot holes to show up on the road to a FY 99
budget (WN 6 Feb 98). First, there was the questionable linkage
between the President's budget and the tobacco settlement. Now,
Bob Livingston (R-LA), the powerful House Appropriations chair,
has issued his list of "questionable funding increases," which
includes the $30M increase for the LHC, $99M more for solar and
renewable, $400M for energy efficiency and $252M for the Global
Environment Facility. Livingston also dropped plans to retire,
which means he will be looking for visibility. Bad combination.
3. TIME TRAVEL: CONCERNS RAISED ABOUT CREW ON GERIATRIC MISSION.
NASA is holding a "press opportunity" this afternoon to introduce
the crew of the October shuttle launch that will carry John Glenn
back into orbit. Noting that the crew includes a heart surgeon
and an emergency medical specialist, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) wants to know if this means NASA is concerned about Glenn's
health. NASA might also wish to rethink the symbolism: 36 years
after his first trip into space, the Senator will travel only 80
miles further from Earth. Who would have imagined that in 1962?
4. SPACE STATION: NASA RELEASES NEW "RESEARCH PLAN."
This is a
report every scientist should read. It can be found at
http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/olmsa/ISS_final.pdf You can
comment at http://www.nasa.gov/office/olmsa/comments/index.htm
I would be grateful if you would send me a copy of any comments.