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the false prophet of unwarranted reassurance and the doomsayer

With the recent events in Japan Each time anyone knows that I work at a university within a nuclear chemistry section, I am asked for an expert opinion on the reactor accident in Japan. I always ask myself what should I do.

This brings me into an interesting moral choice.

I suspect that while many people are open minded and want to hear an independent point of view but for some people they are wanting something different. I suspect that they are hoping for a “religious ceremony”. They may be expecting me as minister of the “church of the latter day reactor accidents” or as a priest of the “Nuclear catholic church” to appear, be all knowing, totally wise, blessed with a supernatural insight and perform a ritual act of condemnation or reassurance (kindly delete as appropriate) where their concerns are either elevated to a new level or are totally quashed.

I suspect that those people who are pronuclear want someone to turn up and tell them that the accident is so bad after all, that it can not happen in (insert name of country) because we are smarter than “them”, that the contamination is limited to a very small area, that things will go back to normal soon and everyone will live happily ever after.

On the other hand those people who are antinuclear want someone to turn up and then tell them that the accident is going to be the end of the world, that japan (plus insert country of choice) will become a radioactive wasteland, the accident is going to happen soon near them and that everyone is going to die in lots of horrible ways.

Both are equally wrong !

I am aware that certain non governmental organisations (NGOs) and some elements in the media are likely to exaggerate the event to serve their personal, economic or political ends while some organisations are likely to understate the event for their own purposes. It is important to understand that the false prophet of unwarranted reassurance is morally no better or worse than their opposite the ‘doomsayer’ who preaches the gospel of unfounded plague, pestilence and decay!

Right now I hold a view that it is important for all the experts to sign up to a code of conduct.

  1. I will not issue false reassurance or its opposite in an attempt to change public opinion.
  2. I will be ready to admit “I do not know” if I am asked to comment on something which I know nothing about. It is better to admit you do not know, go away, obtain information / understanding and then report back than it is to just comment on things you neither understand or know about.
  3. I will not launch or encourage personal attacks on members of the other side. I read with horror when one person expressed their desire that those who dissent should be subject to “legal investigations” and then be sued to punish them. This is not the way to behave ! It reminds me of the story of Trofim Lysenko.
  4. I will not cherry pick the literature to support my own personal point of view, I have read many papers which paint the nuclear sector in a good light and I have also ready many serious papers which paint it in a dreadful way. I have a moral duty to tell the whole truth and not just the part of the truth which I might like.
  5. I will not engage in hysterical cheap theatrics.
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