Manipulating Public Health Research: The Nuclear and Radiation Health Establishments

Manipulating Public Health Research:

The Nuclear and Radiation Health Establishments


Industry, government, and the military have systematically
suppressed or manipulated epidemiologic research showing
detrimental effects on human health from accidental or
occupational exposures to ionizing radiation. This leads to
conflicts of interest and compromised integrity among scientists
in the radiation health establishment, it stifles dissemination
of “unwelcome” findings and endangers public health. Key words:
radiation health effects; research censorship; conflicts of
interest; scientific whistleblowers; Chernobyl; Three Mile


Toxicologist James Huff presents a thorough review of evidence
that government has censored and manipulated to support research
by independent public health-oriented practitioners into chemical
pollution of the environment. He states “corporate-funded science
is increasingly common and is accompanied by a substantial
tradition of manipulation of evidence, data, and analysis,
ultimately designed to maintain favorable conditions for
industry” and “government appointed panels are often replete with
scientists and physicians having clear conflicts of interest to
the issues being evaluated.”1 In a related commentary, Egilman
and Howe2 discuss some pecific cases of corporate manipulation of

In this connection it is helpful to remind the reader that any
study that does not find a statistically significant association
between an observed excess in health detriment and exposure to a
suspected environmental contaminant (often reported as “we found
no effect from this pollutant”) is in fact inconclusive.

While there may indeed have been a truly negligible effect,
critical analysis may show that the design of the study was such
that a small but unacceptable health effect could not have been

What holds true for chemical contamination of the environment
applies equally to health risks associated The author is
Professor Emeritus of Physics and Environmental Sciences,
Portland State University, Portland, OR, U.S.A.; e-mail:

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Nussbaum. with
industrial/medical use of ionizing radiation and to radioactive
contamination of the environment. After an extended period of
euphoria among physicians and the public about the amazing
usefulness of X-rays as a new diagnostic and therapeutic tool,
studies of the detrimental effects of radiation became only
gradually admitted into health science journals.3-5 By the late
1940s, in the wake of the Manhattan Project, citizens and their
representatives in Congress grew increasingly more concerned
about health consequences of occupational, military, and civilian
radiation exposures.

Public consciousness was raised, in particular, after formerly
secret reports surfaced about the immediate and long-term human
devastation of genocidal proportions that followed the dropping
of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.3-6 Radiogenic cancer
mortality among survivors was associated with lower and lower
exposure levels over increasing follow-up periods.

In order to deflect these concerns and to make the cold-war
nuclear arms race psychologically and politically more
acceptable, the well-subsidized military/ industrial/medical, and
now also nuclear establishment started a large-scale “Atoms for
Peace” promotional campaign.5-7 With it came employment for
increasing numbers of radiation health professionals, trained by
the nation’s academic research centers.

Many of these experts from the nuclear establishment have been
members of national and international radiation safety and
standard-setting commissions. They also served as reviewers of
grant applications for sponsored research and as referees for
reports on radiation health studies in medical/scientific
journals. Practically all such research has relied on funding by
agencies that were created to promote, facilitate, and regulate
military and civilian uses of ionizing radiation, to allay
concerns about health effects from occupational and public
exposures, and to fend off litigation for workers’ compensation
claims. Thus, any study outcome that suggests an association of
health detriment with lowdose exposures below “allowable”
(industry-friendly) levels, inconsistent with official risk
estimates, does not serve these agencies’ aims. This has created
inherent conflicts of interest for many scientists within the
radiation health establishment and it has prevented publications
of “unwelcome” findings in mainstream med- 328 ical/scientific
journals. Wing et al.’s discussion of the cultural/ political
context of radiation epidemiology and its effects on unbiased
investigations is highly relevant to these issues.8

They can best be documented by some historic case studies:

1. The life stories of John W. Gofman, Thomas F. Mancuso, Alice
M. Stewart, and Karl Z. Morgan provide chilling examples of
scientists who refused to sell their integrity for careerism,
despite intimidation, character assassination, and
blacklisting.3-5,9 A shocking counterexample is provided by
recent revelations about the venality of Alice Stewart’s nemesis,
the famous Sir Richard Doll, idol of British epidemiologists.9-11

2. In an editorial Morris Greenberg stated: “The wounds and scars
received by advocates of unpopular opinions, and by persons
publishing reports of adverse effects that are `inconvenient’ . .
. are real but rarely presented in scientific journals.”12
Referring to reported excess cancers around Windscale (later
renamed Sellafield), a major British nuclear installation with a
history of repeated and massive radioactive environmental
contamination, he continues: “The radiation experts on the
[official investigating] commission calculated `best estimates’
[of exposure doses] and they concluded, on theoretical grounds,
that these could not have caused any major excess [cancer and
leukemia] risk: `It could not have happened, so it didn’t

3. Nuclear-worker exposure standards are purportedly established
by national and international radiation safety commissions, based
on the most comprehensive scientific evidence for radiogenic risk
available at the time of their promulgation.13 Excess radiogenic
disease should not occur below those “allowable” yearly
accumulated occupational doses. However, contradicting numerous
earlier reassuring reports in the literature, commissioned by the
nuclear industry through the Department of Energy (DOE), a newly
designed study with greater detection sensitivity found that
excess cancer mortalities among workers at Oak Ridge National
Laboratory were associated with average accumulated doses well
below the then-allowable limits with a delay (latency) of more
than 20 years after exposure.14 The publication of these findings
was met with a barrage of vituperative criticism from prestigious
members of the radiation health establishment.15

4. After the accident at the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear
power plant on March 28, 1979, and before any credible study
could be completed, a “blue-ribbon” presidential commission
publicly expressed confidence that radioactive exposures of
residents downwind of the ill-fated reactor were too low for
radiogenic health effects to be detectable. Subsequently, a
prestigious VOL 13/NO 3, JUL/SEP 2007 research
team from Columbia University was commissioned to conduct a
health study among the population around the plant. It was paid
for by a litigation settlement fund, financed by the nuclear
operator’s insurers.

The supervising court imposed strict conditions on the
investigators with regard to how doses should be estimated
-another example of corporate/judicial manipulation of
epidemiology.16,17 Predictably, the Columbia University study,
reviewed and approved by the industry’s attorneys, found no
evidence that radiation releases from the Three Mile island
nuclear facility had influenced cancer risks during the limited
period of follow-up, 1975-1985.18 Six years later, however, and
based on the same health data, Wing et al. established that
radioactive exposures were significantly associated with excess
cancer incidence.16 Their report presented evidence that the dose
estimates used in the Columbia University analysis had been too
low. This challenge to an authoritative finding, publicized
earlier as “definitive” and “state of the art,” by a new analysis
with superior epidemiologic sensitivity, was met with scathing
rejection in the mainstream literature.16,17

5. Taking issue with the submission for publication of
“unwelcome” findings from an occupational radiation health study
by one of his staff scientists, a deputy director of Los Alamos
National Laboratory suggested that the authors might want to
modify their conclusions in order to please the DOE, since that
agency had provided funding for the project.19

6. In conjunction with assessments of the long-range health
impact of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster by the World Health
Organization (WHO)20 and the United Nations Scientific Committee
on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR),21 recent
publications highlighted the large discrepancies between the
reassuring statements by these agencies and a large body of
independent health studies with opposite findings.22-24

Earlier reports of excess health detriment from areas in Europe
and the United States after the Chernobyl disaster had suggested
that both the officially assumed population doses and the
accepted risk factors (on which exposure standards are based) had
been grossly underestimated.25

Few public health physicians and scientists are aware of the fact
that the WHO, the most prestigious public health institution in
the world, is bound by a 1959 agreement (ostensibly for lack of
radiation expertise within WHO) to refrain from conducting or
publishing any radiation health assessment without approval by
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an agency with a
mandate to promote nuclear power. This is consistent with the
many misleading press releases and reports issued by these
agencies downplaying the legacy of disease and death left by

Manipulating Public Health Research  329

In summary, the ethics of scientific rectitude has been seriously
violated and the general public has been misled. Whether
henceforth truth will inform radiation public health policy will
depend on the integrity and courage of a sufficient number of
outspoken health scientists. References

1. Huff J. Industry influence on occupational and environmental
public health. Int J Occup Environ Health. 2007;13:107-17.

2. Egilman D, Howe S. Against anti-health epidemiology: corporate
obstruction of public health via manipulation of epidemiology.
Int J Occup Environ Health. 2007;13:118-24.

3. Wasserman H, Solomon N. Killing Our Own: The Disaster of
America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation. New York: Dell, 1982.

4. Bertell R. No Immediate Danger? Prognosis for a Radioactive
Earth. Toronto, ON, Canada: Women’s Educational Press, 1985.

5. Caufield C. Multiple Exposures: Chronicles of the Radiation
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6. Takahashi Y. Hiroshima. Lancet. 2005;366:1434. <http://down

7. Nussbaum RH, K”hnlein W. Inconsistencies and open questions
regarding low-dose health effects of ionizing radiation. Environ
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8. Wing S, Richardson D, Stewart A. The relevance of occupational
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9. Greene G. The Woman Who Knew Too Much: Alice Stewart and the
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10. Hardell L, Walker MJ, Walhjalt B, Friedman LS, Richter ED.
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11. Walker MJ. Sir Richard Doll: Death, dioxin and PVC. <http://>;
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14. Wing S, Shy CM, Wood JL, Wolf S, Cragle DL, Frome EL.
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18. Hatch MC, Beyea J, Nieves JW, Susser M. Cancer near the Three
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20. World Health Organization. Health Effects of the Chernobyl
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21. United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic
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22. Baverstock K, Williams D. The Chernobyl accident 20 years on:
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24. Pflugbeil S. Chernobyl-looking back to go forwards: the
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25. Nussbaum RH. The linear no-threshold dose-effect relation; is
it relevant to radiation protection? Med Phys. 1998;25:291-9.  INT J OCCUP ENVIRON HEALTH

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