Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

On the trail of Caldicott, 10 years on.

with 4 comments

I recently discovered this webpage, which makes for very interesting reading.

I always wondered what B.L. Cohen would have to say about Caldicott’s claims.

The more objective, informed people are exposed to Caldicott’s work – the more they’re all saying exactly the same things.

Mark the dates – Caldicott and her friends have been making the same arguments, the exact same hyperbole, for the last ten years.

We’ve made the same arguments against it, and we’ve seen the same lack of sensible response. All the while – the inevitable meltdowns, the epidemics of cancer and death, the four horsemen of the nuclear powered apocalypse have been on our door step for the last 10 years…

…Where are they?

Were Strontium-90, Americium, Caesium-137 and so forth really released in the Three Mile Island accident? Well, the Kemeny commission report says nothing of the sort, but if Caldicott and her colleagues are so damned sure, then go to Pennsylvania with a shovel, take the soil, and perform gamma-ray spectroscopy, and publish the empirical data in their books. If I was in the United States, I’d be doing just that, and posting the data for the world to study and reproduce.

That’s how we find out; with this thing we call the Scientific Method. With this tool, we vanquish the impossible, as Caldicott’s friend Carl Sagan once said.

On that note: I have the deepest respect and admiration for the late Carl Sagan. Every thinking person fears nuclear war, and every technological nation plans for it. Everyone knows it’s madness, and everyone has an excuse.

Carl had, as many of us have, great respect for Caldicott’s tireless work on nuclear weapons policy, nonproliferation and disarmament. But would he tolerate this perversion of science? This complete disregard for the tools and philosophies of science, in favour of an agenda of political rhetoric? What would he have to say to Dr. Caldicott, today?

Written by Luke Weston

December 6, 2007 at 7:32 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I appreciate Sagan’s militant advocacy for science as much as anyone, but his involvement in the anti-nuclear movement really left a lot to be desired. In particular, the original 1983 TTAPS study was a travesty, and Sagan went around presenting it as though it were a rock-solid piece of incontrovertible science. I personally believe that the nuclear winter debacle was a huge mistake that helped discredit the disarmament movement at a critical historical juncture- and that it serves as a warning to anyone who would pervert science even for the most laudable of reasons.

    I believe that Caldicott is a liability to arms control for many of the same reasons. Her writings on this subject are just as sloppy and ill-informed as her writings on civilian nuclear power. With people like Caldicott at the helm, arms control has essentially failed. We need a new paradigm for addressing the nuclear weapons issue- one that learns from the past instead of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.


    December 6, 2007 at 11:23 pm

  2. I for one like Caldicott’s stuff on nuclear war…in this case one can’t be too afraid…although now, knowing how sloppy she is with the facts…I question how good a spokesperson she is.

    Dude…this is amazing find! I just got over a big polemic on here on my ‘diary’ on the daily kos at I might add stufff from this site after extensviely quoting from your site here!

    What a find! What’s Holloyway doing now?


    David Walters

    December 7, 2007 at 2:28 am

  3. Sovietologist: With regard to TTAPS, one famous episode with Sagan was when he said that the oil fires during the Gulf War (the first one) would create a kind of mini nuclear winter, causing grave climatic effects – and a leading atmospheric scientist immediately debunked this, saying that it was wrong.

    Sagan later accepted that yes, he’d got it wrong, and his science wasn’t the best science available on the subject.

    This error checking process of science, this process of scientific method – of constant error checking, criticism, peer review – is something that Sagan understood and appreciated. I doubt Caldicott ever appreciated it at all.


    December 7, 2007 at 4:40 am

  4. Christ, I run up against this all the time: “We believe this plant is releasing X” or “it’s accused of releasing” etc etc.

    Look, if it’s radioactive it isn’t hard (at all) to tell if these claims or suspicions are true. Maybe if it’s tridiated water or something then it would need some semi-special equipmnet, but if the plant is releasing signifficant radioactive material it’s super-easy to prove. Just check with a geiger counter.

    And as for Cs-137 and such then you may not be able to differentiate the isotope with a geiger counter but a simple analyzer which any environmental science company should have will do the trick in seconds.

    If the radiation levels are elevated then show the numbers. It’s not hard to find radioactive releases. This is why they actually ADD RADIOACTIVE TRACERS to non-radioactive materials to find leaks in pipelines and such. Thats how easy it is to trace the release of radioneucleotides.


    January 10, 2008 at 4:48 pm

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