CIVIL DEFENSE PERSPECTIVES
September 1999 (vol. 15, #6) 1601 N Tucson Blvd #9, Tucson AZ 85716 c 1999 Physicians for Civil Defense
DOGMA VS. SCIENCE
A small band of revolutionaries in flyover country has fired a shot heard round the world. The government-funded scientific establishment is manning the ramparts and calling for tighter centralized control of government schools. The search engine on http://www.northernlight.com turned up 6,722 citations for ``Kansas Board of Education AND evolution'':
``Kansas says if you don't see it, it doesn't exist'' (PR Newswire). The Kansas board ``took a giant step backward'' (St. Louis Post-Dispatch). Kansas ``makes the same mistakes as 17th century Italy'' (Kansas City Star). ``The Kansas action eliminates the requirement for its children to learn a key element in the body of scientific knowledge....[I]f unchallenged, [such actions] will ultimately affect the quality of life in this nation for years to come'' (Chairman, National Science Board).
This ``intellectual cleansing atrocity,'' perpetrated ``despite the expressed outrage of that state's university leadership,'' shows a ``growing public ignorance of the methods by which scientific observations are formulated into testable hypotheses.'' Even more menacing is the shrewdness of the strategy that will ``undermine the solidity of...scientific acceptance.'' The Kansas action is the ``tip of the iceberg of ignorance.'' Unless such new strategies are ``directly defied, the United States will not for long remain a leader in science....'' (Science 1999;285:1847).
One suggested response to the Kansas ruling is for colleges nationwide to refuse to count biology courses taught in Kansas as an academic subject for meeting admissions requirements: a ``vehicle for institutions of higher learning to take action in an entirely unprecedented way'' (Science 1999;285:1849).
Gov. Bill Graves of Kansas and some legislators are talking about abolishing the Board of Education or stripping it of authority. Some say the Board's action shows that members should be appointed by the governor, rather than elected.
It is, after all, a ``radical notion'' to let ``local communities formulate what is best suited for their own students''─or to teach students the skills they need to evaluate a scientific theory for themselves (Las Vegas Review-Journal).
In an editorial entitled ``The difference between science and dogma,'' Nature makes some points with which many of our readers might agree, especially in a different context: (1) it is to be hoped that county school boards will ignore guidelines of the Kansas Board of Education; (2) scientists should take a more active role in public life, to keep certain public sentiments from getting out of hand; and (3) there is omnipresent danger in teaching science as a set of facts to be learned by rote (Nature 1999;400:697). Board members, however, would probably disagree with the assertion that they think that ``phenomena occur only if they can be directly observed'' (ibid.). The heart of the issue, in fact, is whether phenomena that cannot be observed at all constitute a subject accessible to the scientific method. The Board thinks that they do not.
In all the furor, it is important not to lose sight of what the Board of Education actually did and did not do.
Elected public officials in Kansas chose to modify a new set of science teaching guidelines, proposed by a panel of ``science educators'' (a committee of the National Academy of Sciences), by deleting almost two pages. They did not proscribe the teaching of evolution; they did rule that ``macroevolution'' (the concept that life originated through the operation of chance alone) is not to be included on state examinations.
Kansas Science Standards state that science should be ``logical, consistent with experimental and observed data, and should follow strict rules of observation.'' Classrooms are not closed to the discussion of evolution, but opened to controversy. In particular, a distinction is to be made between ``microevolution'' (the mechanism whereby, say, mosquitoes may become resistant to DDT) and ``macroevolution'' (a proposed explanation for the existence of mosquitoes in the first place), or between selection and innovation. The curriculum does not drop a subject; it adds an unanswered question: What is the origin of genetic information?
The nation's scientific elite is clearly very worried about what might happen next─as is also shown by the other issue causing a firestorm, the Shelby provision requiring federally funded researchers to make their raw data accessible to the public for independent scrutiny.
Kansas is accused of challenging ``the unifying concept of biology.'' Worse could happen. Someone might next challenge the unifying concept of government-funded ``environmental'' science: that the activities of humankind threaten the global environment and must be constrained by global government. Citizens must believe that random chance is good and creative, and intelligent design (by humans) evil and destructive.
For example, granting agencies have been eager to fund studies on the effect of wind and water-borne (human-generated) pollutants, ultraviolet light, and global warming on the decline of amphibian populations, which, like canaries in a coal mine, have been regarded as indicators of ``global ecologic health.'' A problem is that frogs are dying in protected, pesticide-free wilderness areas, where UV levels have not been increasing. Moreover, experiments show that a fungus (chytrid) fulfills Koch's postulates and is killing frogs, and a parasite (Ribeiroia cercariae) is causing limb deformities leading to death.
``Only a week ago, I would never have thought to do this-collect frogs for testing,'' stated herpetologist Michael Lannoo of the University of Indiana School of Medicine.
Others, however, are still determined to find an ``environmental'' (anthropogenic) cause for the die-off. ``It's way too early to rule out other factors, such as pollutants and UV light,'' said Andrew Blaustein of Oregon State University. (See Science 1999;284:728-733 and 802-804.) Some are also seeking an evolutionary rationale: ``Induction of abnormal limbs may ... function as an evolutionary adaptation enhancing the transmission rate of Ribeiroia between its intermediate (amphibian) and final (undetermined predator) hosts.'' [A remarkable change from the theory that adaptations enhance survival of the organism carrying the gene, not of its killer.]
Now that Kansas has rejected dogma, indoctrination, and the selective use of evidence, in favor of unbiased study, scientists might take courage from a small band of lay citizens. The foundation for much of modern education, which seeks to teach students to look to government and government-funded science for the solution to all problems, is finally under siege.
The usual textbook example of evolution occurring now─not just in the remote, unobservable past─is the case of Biston betularia, the peppered moth. Collections from the 1850s show a higher proportion of light-colored members of the species, whereas in recent decades the dark-colored moths predominate. The reason is stated to be industrialization in the Midlands region of England. Dark-colored moths were supposed to be relatively protected against predatory birds when resting on soot-darkened trees, as is shown in photographs like the ones in the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study textbook (c. 1963).
According to Phillip Johnson, Professor of Law at the University of California at Berkeley, there are a couple of things wrong with this picture. One is that the moths do not normally rest on trees, and had to be pinned there to get the photos. Another is that similar changes occurred in areas without blackened trees. In any event, both light and dark types are still members of the same species. Thus, the example might show natural selection; but extrapolation to the origin of species requires what might be called a leap of faith.
[Prof. Johnson's talk on the Kansas Board of Education policy (at Eagle Council XXVIII) is available from ACTS, (800) 642-2287. Also see ``The Church of Darwin,'' Wall St J 8/1/99 and Darwin on Trial, Intervarsity Press, 1993.]
Despite the overwhelming evidence against the Linear No-Threshold (LNT) theory of radiation carcinogenesis (see DDP tape by Dr. B. Cohen), and the total lack of evidence for this theory of chemical carcinogenesis, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to use the LNT theory to augment its power and to frighten and impose burdens on Americans.
In Tucson, Arizona, the EPA could use this theory to shut down 90% of the ground water supply. An alternative would be to spend $100 million to ``decontaminate'' the water by moving more of it through reservoirs, or to dilute it with ``clean'' water. Both of these options are foreclosed by Tucson's 1995 Water Consumer Protection Act, which forbids delivery of water from ``tainted'' sources, even if it is cleaned up.
The EPA hasn't actually decided yet what standards it will impose. At the present time, radon in drinking water is unregulated. A rigorous standard of 300 picocuries per liter (pCi/l), or 300 nanocuries per cubic meter (nCi/m3), is under consideration. The current cap for arsenic is 50 micrograms per liter (mg/l); the EPA is expected to lower that limit to between 3 and 10 mg/l. (Current technology cannot accurately measure lower concentrations.) Mother Nature is the source of both of these ``pollutants,'' which are present in soil and rocks.
The radon levels in Tucson's water are at or below national averages, and the arsenic levels probably in the middle of the range, so the majority of American communities are facing the same regulatory compliance problems.
Using the LNT theory, the EPA estimates that airborne radon causes 20,000 lung cancers per year, and ingested radon causes 20 stomach cancers. Radon in drinking water contributes about 3% of the airborne radon in the home.
``There's no federal regulation for radon in indoor air,'' writes reporter Maureen O'Connell. ``By targeting water providers, the EPA is taking advantage of the only regulatory avenue available to it'' (Arizona Daily Star 9/25/99).
The EPA, however, wants the authority to regulate indoor air in private homes, and is likely to propose this as an alternative to turning off the water. A more lenient water standard of 4000 pCi/l is expected to be offered to communities that agree (voluntarily of course) to monitor for radon in new housing construction and a sampling of existing homes.
The EPA is about 20 years behind in its recognition of the carcinogenic potential of indoor radon in homes. Petr Beckmann pointed it out as early as 1979 in Access to Energy, in the context of the regulations that crippled the nuclear industry:
``The law ... asks not about health effects of picocuries per liter in general, but whether the radioactivity comes from mill tailings. If it does, it is damnable, punishable, and in need of remedial measures (at industry's expense); if it comes from other sources, it is ignored, and its most frequent cause, overzealous energy conservation is actively encouraged (at government, i.e., taxpayers', expense'' (AtE 6/83), by methods ranging from coloring books to tax breaks.
For example, 10% of all houses with a basement exceeded the EPA's standards for homes built on uranium mill tailings, and the Carter Administration's energy conservation policy was estimated to cause at least 10,000 additional fatal lung cancers each year by decreasing ventilation (according to Dr. Cohen's calculations from the LNT theory).
The radon level in regular homes averages about 0.5 pCi/l. In energy-efficient homes, the level is from 5 to 30 pCi/l (up to 150 times as much radiation as was released from Three Mile Island a few days after the accident). The total body radiation dose received as a result of inhaling a concentration of 1 pCi/l radon gas constantly for one year is roughly 100-200 mrem. Living in a house with a level of 3 pCi/l for 20 years would give about the same dose as the highest claimed by litigants exposed to fallout (about 6 rem or 6,000 mrem). In the U.S., exposures to indoor radon, in fact, often exceed the radiation exposures of most persons near Chernobyl, except in the Pripyat evacuation zone. The 4 pCi/l standard suggested by the EPA in 1986 would affect about 26 million people: far too many, as Petr Beckmann pointed out, to be offered shelter in the facilities of the nuclear industry, where the NRC applies a standard 40 times as strict.
While the EPA is making some slight progress toward consistency in standards, the progress is in the wrong direction. Professor Cohen did a reality check on his predictions from the LNT theory. In a study of 1,729 U.S. counties, he found that more radon is associated with less lung cancer. (The optimum hormetic level of radiation appears to be about 10 rem/yr.)
[A 25-year searchable archive of AtE is available on CD-ROM for $95 from PO Box 1250, Cave Junction, OR 97523.]
Tucson newspapers are publishing maps of the city wells: white dots represent radon levels below (150-299 pCi/l), and black dots radon levels above the EPA's magic number of 300 (300-1,500 pCi/l, all below the alternate magic number of 4,000). There are no dots for grocery stores, which sell whisky at 6,000 pCi/l and salad oil at 4,900 pCi/l.
Where Are the Scientists? ``Scientists quite literally believe that their livelihood will be affected if they take a stand against the environmental lobby. It is quite powerful in government, on which many scientists are wholly or partly dependent for funding'' (The Quotable Paul Johnson).