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From: Henry Spencer <>
Subject: Re: Stop the cassini Disaster
Date: Mon, 19 May 1997 16:52:33 GMT

In article <>,
Dennis Nelson  <> wrote:
>How can you even compare the risks of plutonium particles in the lung
>with an airplane flight.  It is just plain crazy.

Nonsense.  Dead is dead.  If you want to think rationally about risks, you
*must* be able to calculate and compare them.  Otherwise you're reduced to
arbitrarily deciding that some risks are good (typically because they are
familiar) and some are bad (typically because they're strange to you).
This is a rather silly distinction between things that have similar
chances of harming you, and can lead to misplaced time and effort spent
preventing things which are in fact fairly minor hazards.

>This is "bullshit" dogma pomulgated by the "nuclear experts."  Cancer rates
>have increased steadly since 1900, from one in ten then to one in three now.

What's a "cancer rate"?  The fraction of people who die from cancer?
That's obviously going to go up if the chance of dying from other causes
goes down, which it has.  The fraction of people diagnosed with cancer?
That's up, yes, mostly because of better detection technologies which find
small, slow-growing, late-onset cancers which are not immediately life-
threatening and would previously have gone unnoticed.  (Those low-risk
cancers also, alas, account for most of the "success" in cancer therapy.)

Try talking to cancer epidemiologists sometime.  The chance of *you*
getting any specific type of cancer at any specific age has not changed
much in this century, as best one can tell (cancer reporting was not very
good until quite recently), with three exceptions:

1. Lung cancer is up for smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke.
 Widespread cigarette smoking is a 20th-century phenomenon.

2. Stomach cancer has been declining slowly for a long time, probably
 because the rate of Helicobacter Pylori infection is declining (H.P. is
 the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers and is at least a factor in
 stomach cancer), which in turn is probably because of better sanitation.
 (H.P. is a recent discovery and nobody's yet sure how it spreads, but
 for anything that lives in the digestive tract, fecal-oral transmission
 is a good bet... and H.P. infection rates do seem to be higher in poorer
 parts of the world.)

3. Breast cancer has been rising slowly, probably because better nutrition
 and fewer pregnancies mean more menstrual cycles, and each cycle causes
 temporary changes in the breasts which are probably a small risk factor
 for breast cancer.
Committees do harm merely by existing.             |       Henry Spencer
                           -- Freeman Dyson        |

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