It is easy to argue that today the world is in a war only matched in the memory of the older generation by World War II. On the morning of August 6, 1945, Hiroshima exploded into the first and largest high-level radiation test laboratory in the world. Three days later, Nagasaki became the second. Most victims died from the intense heat or blast effect. Hundreds were to succumb later to effects of radiation- while thousands of survivors were instantaneously hit with trillions of neutrons and gamma rays we know as nuclear radiation.
In the early 1950s studies of the effects of radiation were needed by the U.S. military and civilian defense authorities because of the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Children in our schools were taught to duck and cover were a bomb ever to reach the United States.
A joint U.S.-Japan program was initiated to analyze radiation effects on the Japanese population. Doses to survivors were estimated by their locations at the time of the blasts, with a health handbook being kept by each exposed citizen in Japan. Their medical histories were meticulously recorded. Of great importance was the potential mutagenic effects. People feared “nuclear monsters”.
While it was well known that some insects were altered by radiation, such never occurred in humans, In fact not only were the offspring of survivors not negatively affected, but there were benefits that we now attribute to the “hormetic” effect of radiation, which is the concept that while a lot of something may be bad for you a little of that something may be good for you.
The primary concern was cancer however, and indeed excess cancers in the population, years later, were attributable to high levels of radiation among the Japanese citizens not affected by the blast but close enough to receive a high dose of radiation.
Due to the now disproven belief that a single particle of nuclear radiation could lead to cancer, called the Linear-No-Threshold or LNT theory, a much greater number of cancers were expected to appear among the population whose exposure was minimal. Typically this amount was equivalent to a lifetime of background radiation exposure experienced in but a few seconds. Researchers expected that excess cases of leukemia would be seen in 3 to 10 years and other cancers in 20 or even 30 years.
After 40 years of intense study and data collection from this large Japanese population exposed to minimal radiation those things did not happen. In fact, reported in the 1993 book by Dr. Sohei Kondo entitled “Health Effects of Low-Level Radiation”, these bomb survivors were outliving their unexposed peers by significant rates.
Surprisingly with countless additional studies of the benefits of low level radiation in medicine the LNT theory has not yet been placed in the dust bin of history.
What we learned about radiation, we learned from real data analysis. Today we try and do too much with mathematic models we believe MAY simulate reality. In virtually all cases the math equations are filled with dozens of SWAGs, which stands for Scientific Wild Ass Guesses. The absurd predictions launched from climate models are the simplest case in point. In 30 years of billions of dollars of government funding, not a single prediction of the Earth’s temperature has been close to being correct. You might think no harm no foul, but there has been harm in the expenditure of moneys all over the world that could have benefited the poor and public health.
Now the entire economy of the United States has been risked on mathematical models of the expansion of the corona virus Covid-19. When the models say each case could lead to 1.2 to 5.4 new cases (called the R factor, the media only broadcasts the worst cases for infections and the worst case of potential mortality at a great cost to our nation.
I am an optimist, we will win the war against the virus through effective treatments and eventual vaccines and the economy will recover in a few years, and in fact be stronger.
Vernon Smith, Nobel Laureate in Economics writing in the April 6 edition of the Wall Street Journal explains that we will see the survival of the fittest businesses and the expansion of new ideas the quarantine has produced and that the travel and hotel industry which is not in a long term decline will bounce back quickly.
It is likely that in the next pandemic type health emergency we will learn from the media driven political opportunism that has lead to unwise decisions using very poor mathematical models. Perhaps they will no longer be guided by a last ditch effort to pin this on a President in hopes of finally ridding him from the government previously run by an entrenched establishment.
Let me end by explaining that we build airplanes based on mathematical models entered into computer simulations of as many as 3000 parts that must work together seamlessly. We run thousand of Computer Aided Design (CAD) simulations that result in Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) to keep our airplanes aloft or we would not get on them with a chance of failure as small as one percent. It appears Boeing suffered from just such an error. We are all suffering today from errors in mathematical models. Yet looking at the positive side our nation has shown it is made up of the very best folks working in the trenches of medicine to care for the infected throughout our nation, putting their lives at risk as we have done in all past wars. We will survive and be better for it.
Note: The author thanks Ed Hiserodt for his assistance in reporting on the radiation impacts of the atomic bombs of World War II in his book, “UNDEREXPOSED”.