(1) In the middle ages 1/3 of the population of Europe vanished (the Black Death) and probably 1/3 of the world population. New diseases could indeed destroy us. In August 1945 we learned that we could destroy civilization deliberately with nuclear bombs. A war with even 100 nuclear bombs on each side could destroy civilization. But we have thousands of bombs ready to go. Yet we still talk about Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), or NUTS as if they were possible options for a long term policy.. I have heard important Russian military people (e.g the Defense Minister of the Soviet Union - Marshal Yazov) declare that: "A nuclear war cannot be won". I have NEVER heard such a simple statement from any US military person, uniformed or civilian. Do they understand that a nuclear war would destroy civilization)? We must keep our military men and those that urge the military on under control.
(2) In 1975 the US EPA proposed a procedure for risk assessment based on a pessimistic view of the data. Even in 1979 it was shown to be much too pessimistic, arbitrary and capricious and probably illegal. A lifetime risk of one in a million, calculated pessimistically, is NOT achievable for most materials. The EPA never backed down and modified it but pretend (ERRONOUSLY) it is scientifically valid. A bad example of the problems this causes is the procedure for arsenic risk assessment with I have repeatedly criticized. Yet my criticisms have NEVER had an acknowledgement. If the regulations and actions are not based on the best available science, they become arbitrary and capricious. Ideally the risk assessment should be soundly based and precede any action or regulation. Then actions and regulations can be based on this risk assessment. When it transpires that the risk assessment must be changed in the light of new knowledge and understanding the action and regulation should be promptly modified. To recognize the problem would strengthen the EPA not weaken it. For the EPA to restore its integrity and usefulness this must be addressed.
(3) There is no good way as
it stands for understanding the risk of most of the 80,000
chemicals in commerce. Only a handful (20
or so ) have been measured in people. Only a few
thousand have been measured in laboratory animals and only a
few hundred measured carefully.
Ideally we would take a cautiously conservative position, knowing that it could be changed when new information becomes available. A bad example is the obligation under a 1975 agreement to do something about nerve gases such as sarin, in the US stockpile. It has been proposed to incinerate them and a test burn showed a huge number of chemicals not on the EPA list. A moment's thought should tell anyone that these chemicals are likely to be MORE dangerous (posing more risk) than most of the chemicals on the EPA list. Yet the proposed risk assessment set the risk at zero! More recently a chemical leaked into the river at Charleston, West Virginia. This again was one of the 60,000 with no rational risk assessment. This problem was discussed on the radio, TV and internet. But none of these discuss the complete failure of EPA and other agencies to address the matter logically and scientifically. They should be discussing what it means to say that something is safe. None do.
General Biographical Information
(Richard Wilson) was born in London, England 87
years ago in 1926, and have been at Harvard University since
1955 (58 years) where I am now Mallinckrodt Professor of
Physics, (emeritus) In 1975 I was made
an affiliate of the Center for Middle
Eastern Studies and of the Belfer Center
for Science and International Affairs at
the Kennedy School of Government. My CV shows
that I am the author or coauthor of 937 published
articles and papers. See also charts of
my ancestors and descendants and
my wife's (Andree Wilson's) ancestors.
Richard and Andree Desiree Wilson live in Newton
Centre where Andree tends her fine garden.
In particular look at the web site of Elaine
Wilson, a fine landscape painter. Richard
Wilson, the physicist, may be found most days in Jefferson
Laboratory of Physics room 257 at Harvard University. A page
of photographs of Richard Wilson over the years is available
only by password or personal request
to protect the privacy of others in the pictures. My
calculations and belief is that the international drug
trade is far more destructive of society than Al
Qaeda or the Ayatollahs in Iran. Keeping perspective was a
major theme of my book "Risk-Benefit
Analysis" (now in its second edition)
by Richard Wilson and Edmund A. Crouch, available from
University Press and on the book stands;
As a sample, see the Table
of Contents the first pages of the book
and some comments
on the book.
I have recently self-published an autobiography: "Physics is Fun" : Memoirs of a Life in Physics ISBN 978-0-615-42158-2. This was printed by MIRA DIGITAL PUBLISHING St Louis Missouri, USA. but neither Mira nor Amazon carry without exorbitant charge. You may order direct from me at $25 a copy including domestic postage.. Or a digital copy in either of 2 common formats for $10.
My recent interests include: understanding and advertising the uses of charged particles in radiotherapy and my history of the Harvard cyclotrons shows how much of this began. Studying cancer at old age; the problem of chronic arsenic exposure: various Human Rights activities; experiments on parity violation in electron proton scattering at CEBAF. I also has a major interest in analyzing and trying to understand, risks; how to reduce them, how important individual risks may be. Ten times as many people were killed on the roads last year as were killed on September 11th 2001. I am the founder and President of the ARSENIC FOUNDATION which is dedicated to helping to avoid the arsenic poisoning from drinking contaminated water supplies in SE Asia.
Over the years I have worked at a number of research reactors, cyclotrons, synchrotrons, linear accelerators and colliding beam facilities. The designers, builders and operators of these facilities (and even the bureaucrats funding them) are often unsung. I here give my thanks to each and every one of them.
Then I moved to a study of nucleon structure by electron-proton scattering at the Cambridge Electron Accelerator from 1963 to 1970, and muon proton scattering at Fermilab in the E98 and E665 collaborations starting in 1972. I was an early proponent of electron-electron and electron positron colliding beams with a tentative proposal in 1956, and a definitive proposal in 1962. I was a participant in the CEA "bypass" program which demonstrated an unusually large cross-section for producing hadrons (see published papers 150,152,155,158). I worked in the CLEO collaboration using the electron-positron colliding beam facility at Cornell University, until November 2001 when the Harvard group formally left the collaboration. I am still participating in scattering of polarized electrons from protons at CEBAF which provides information on the strange quark form factor in the nucleon. I am also involved in experiments on parity violation in electron proton scattering and comparison of neutron and proton radii at CEBAF (Jefferson National Laboratory at Newport News VA), I am participating in a minor way an experiment on "little a" in decay of polarized neutrons. More details are available in his 937 published papers of which about half are on these subjects.
I have used radiation and ionizing particles all of his professional life (indeed starting as an undergraduate in 1946). Most of the time I carried out research into the structure of nuclei and of elementary particles. This necessarily involved understanding radioactivity and radiation therefrom. Also in maintaining the cyclotron I was exposed to radioactivity from the machine and helped establish rules for the staff. Among physicists I became known for this understanding. This is exemplified by a recent Resource Letter on health effects of radiation that I have written for the American Association of Physics Teachers of which the most recent version was in 2011 (This is the on-line version where many of the papers are directly linked). I became aware that radiation was first used by physicians, who did not understand it well, but this changed on August 9th 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Although there were less than 6,000 deaths (mostly cancers) due to that radiation, it is a major incorrect public perception that the 200,000 or so deaths in each city were caused by radiation. They were direct effects of the explosion itself. When in about 1970 I became actively involved with beneficial uses of radioactivity, particle accelerators and radiation therefrom I began to explain this to the public and anyone who would listen. As noted below I was one of the first scientists to visit Chernobyl after the accident and to arrange for translation into English of a Russian "journal" Radiation and Risk. In addition to the work with the Harvard Cyclotron noted above, I am also interested in wise and appropriate uses of nuclear energy for electricity production. One of my interests and specialties is understanding the risks of misuse of radiation and technologies involving radiation. This led me into a detailed attempt to understand other risks and dangers of life as noted below.
Starting in 1972 I became a leader in the developing field of Risk Analysis. This arose out of the incorrect perception of many people that radiation is uniquely dangerous. The first articles were comparing risks of electricity production for a technical audience. But in 1979 the first document for the public was an article "The Daily Risks of Life" published in the MIT Technology review and then reprinted in the state of Maine, in Farmer's Almanac and in Readers Digest and printed in well over 10,000,000 copies. That same summer my testimony (in the benzene case) was quoted favorably by the US Supreme Court. This confluence, which is unusual in the Harvard University science areas, led him to be considered as an expert and quoted in the New York Times as well as other newspapers. One interesting feature that became apparent in the 1970s is that risks of accidents, particularly radiation accidents, are calculated by physicists and engineers, risks to health of chemicals had been calculated by toxicologists and physicians, and epidemiologists. These used different words, and different structure to their understanding. One of my roles has been to ensure that they do not talk in opposition but in unison or at least in harmony. The book, Risk-Benefit Analysis, with Edmund Crouch, followed and is now in its' second edition. My co-author Edmund A.C. Crouch is widely regarded in the field. This led to my active concern in many subjects: Radiation, Chemical Carcinogens, Air Pollution, Potential Climate Change, Arsenic, Nuclear Weapons. A recent article on development of Risk Analysis was in the journal "Risk Analysis" and has received many compliments.
I, Richard Wilson noted as early as 1972 that energy problems in the USA are actually environment problems. The US has plenty of fuel if we are willing to use it. I started the Energy and Environment Policy Center at Harvard University, in 1976, and in 1989 started the New England Center of the National Institute for Global Environmental Change (NIGEC). My organization of an energy session at the Boston meeting of the American Physical Society in 1973 reflects this interest. I was a colleague of Professor Roger Revelle who was a mentor of Senator Al Gore who popularized the issue. I, together with other physicists, particularly Klaus Lackner of Columbia University noted that CARBON as it comes out of the ground is easy to monitor. For it is at this point that the amounts are recorded for payment. Yet politicians want to control emissions sector by sector with huge expense and inefficiency. The Lieberman-Warner Bill and the Waxman-Markey bills in the US House of Representatives are loaded with pork. The Maxwell-Markey bill was 1300 pages long. It has been said that they are pork barrel bills with a veneer of climate change. Some experts, including James Hansen of NASA believe that it is best to abandon them and start again. Regulating carbon as it comes out of the ground with no exceptions and returning any funds from an auction of permits to general funds leaves less room for pork and inefficiency. Maybe the desire to cater to special interests is why politicians and financiers are reluctant to control upstream. In this I was encouraged by the Cantwell-Collins bill submitted to the US Senate. It was short, only about 50 pages. Alas that bill was too sensible, and had no pork barrel, to get anywhere politically and it needed more scientific support than it got.
I, Richard Wilson am concerned with many environmental issues. In particular he is interested in risks of much greater magnitude than those of nuclear radiation. Of course tobacco smoking is now believed to be far worse but air pollution is also important. Being brought up in London, UK I was exposed to London fogs from early childhood. Two dramatic situations changed the professional view that "the solution to pollution is dilution". The fog in London and all the way the Thames in December 1952 with a dramatic increase in deaths in London hospitals, and the situation in Dinora, Pennsylvania where much of the town got sick. I published with others a book "Health Effects of Fossil Fuel Burning" in 1982 which was updated in an edited volume in 1996: "Particles in Our Air: Concentrations and Health Effects" distributed by Harvard University Press. In this he and his coauthors argued that fine particles in air pollution pose a considerable hazard, (some tens of thousands deaths yearly in the USA) and there is probably a linear relationship between dose of these particles and the effect on health. Although this linear relationship was widely disputed in 1982, further work has led more and more experts to agree with this basic conclusion.
Once I started studying the effects of air pollution I naturally began to think about all chemicals in the environment. Traditionally they had only been studied at high exposures and therefore high doses. I soon found out that the public health implications were discussed using the terminology and attitudes of physicians which differed from those of a physicist which are used to discuss the effects of radiation. I have therefore spent considerable time trying to relate the two. Since it is undesirable and unethical to carry out experiments upon people, mankind has carried out experiments on animals, usually rodents, to understand which substances are carcinogens. The way in which the risk of cancer in people is derived from the risk of cancer in animals becomes of great importance and is discussed. Starting in 1979, Richard Wilson and co-workers have written a series of papers on chemical carcinogens, on interspecies comparisons in particular and research is continuing on cancer at old age. It appears that above age 80 age specific cancer incidence falls for all tumor sites, vanishing between ages 100 and 105. This fall off is too sharp to be explained by a variation in sensitivity. It is now leading to use of the NIH SEER (Statistics Epidemiology and End Results) data base for understanding issues of "over diagnoses" and consequent excessive, expensive and unnecessary and possibly counterproductive treatments.
The research into chemical carcinogens naturally leads to a desire to understand the carcinogens that pose the largest risks to life. He has therefore been active in emphasizing the chronic health effects of prolonged doses of arsenic. He was one of the first to realize the importance of the studies by C.J. Chen in Taiwan which were published in the USA in 1986 and ignored by the US EPA for many years. In Inner Mongolia in 1994 and more recently in Bangladesh (1998 to 2013) he has emphasized the magnitude of the public health catastrophe. He started the Arsenic web site project at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, School of Public Health, and Parsons Laboratory at MIT. This project aims to cover arsenic problems world wide but in view of the magnitude of the catastrophe has Bangladesh as a main focus. Indeed I have often stated that the Bangladesh Catastrophe makes Chernobyl look like a Sunday School picnic. In that I has never been contradicted or questioned. As a particular project, he is helping the scientists and physicians at Dhaka Community Hospital in Dhaka to build sanitary "dugwells" in several villages to replace the older insanitary wells and the arsenic laden tube wells. Also I realized the success of the River Sand Filters installed with UNICEF funding in 1982. I emphasize the importance of reliable and frequent measurement so that the results may be convincing even to a politician or banker. I started the ARSENIC FOUNDATION Inc. as a charitable organization to which every viewer of this page is invited to contribute. This foundation not only continues the work but is now the official owner of the arsenic website. Any gift thereto is exempt from US and UK taxes. Here is a link to photographs from a visit in 2004.
TO BE REPLACED BY A SPECIAL WEBPAGE terrorism.html
Although it was obvious in 1945 that a nuclear bomb could be used by a terrorist organization (usually thought to be a state actor) I was not directly involved until 1970 when I had become involved with energy and environment issues, but I remain deeply concerned that we do not learn from small actions. I have presented a series of talks, and the latest is being presented in August 2013 at Erice, Sicily on terrorism.
Since August 1945 it has been clear to me that mankind can destroy itself with nuclear weapons. In May 1940 I saw my first air raid and a bomb with 50 pounds of TNT destroyed a house (and its owner). The Hiroshima bomb had the explosive power of about 17,000 tons of TNT. Andrei Sakharov’s Nuovo Zembla test (called by the USSR the TSAR BOMBA) had the explosive power of 50 million tons of TNT equivalent TWO BILLION TIMES AS BIG. It has since been clear that this is far bigger than any other accident we normally consider. Mankind now knows how to destroy itself. Einstein stated the problem clearly. "Everything has changed except our way of thinking". I urge everyone reading this website (blog) to consider this simple fact and remember it in all public policy decisions. In the "cold war" between the USSR and the USA an arms race took place and tens of thousands of nuclear bombs were made on each side. This was indeed madness and "justified" by Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Hopefully neither side dare use nuclear weapons; how many are necessary to scare the other side? That depends on the level of understanding of the "other side". With ordinary weapons there is a theorem by Lancaseter in 1914 that the side with the most weapons at the right place and time wins. My favorite example is the tank battle in the "western desert" just south of Tobruk in Libya in summer 1941. There were about 300 tanks on each side and at the end only 3 tanks were moving. The three were British so the British "won". Now imagine a battle with 300 nuclear bombs on each side, each with the address of a major town. At the end of the battle 3 bombs were remaining, did the owner of the three "win"? No. He lost heavily. So did everyone including non-participants. Civilization as we know it would come to an end. This was stated to a group of us, in his office by Marshal Yazov of the USSR on May 29th 1981 about 10 am. This group, led by the Deputy Speaker of the UK House of Lords, Baroness Cox (Caroline) had been to a meeting about Chernobyl, and had just returned from facing down Azeri militia on the border. "Chernobyl taught those of us who did not know that a nuclear war could not be won. If a device not intended to explode (Chernobyl Reactor) caused that much mess a nuclear war would destroy the planet". I have heard no pentagon leader, civilian or military make such a clear statement. I wish that every military man would state the problem as clearly as Marshal Yazov and think every day about its logical consequences..
It follows that the first side to reduce the (undesirable) number of nuclear bombs wins and saves money. It is generally agreed that having weapons plutonium for tens of thousands of weapons is excessive. But it is not yet agreed that reducing to 100 or so is a clear financial advantage for the "side" that does the eduction whether or not is is balanced by the other side. The idea came up in the 1960s that it was possible to build an Anti-Ballistic Missile system to prevent a nuclear attack. There is general (alas not unanimous) scientific agreement that this will not work. The world set up an Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in 1972 to stop this escalation of the arms race. It was abrogated in the 2002 by the USA. The losers are the world and in particular the US people who have been (falsely) led to believe that there is a scientific (technical) solution to a political problem. I have written and talked about this several times at the Erice meetings of the World Federation of Scientists. (Bush-Putin_disagreement)
I was not very active in nuclear electric power till about 1970 since then I have spent a great deal of time explaining it to the public and discussing it. I summarize the recent work on a special webpage nuclear_power_support.html
I do not remember when I first became interested in
Russia. Cartainly by 1942. But I first went to
Russia (and the Ukraine) in 1958. I met a group of
four visiting scientists, Drs Blokintsev, Nikitin and
Dzelepov at the American Physical Society meeting in
December 1957 (I believe) in Stanford, Calirornia. By
that time it was already clear tome that scientists and
physicists in particular had a status second only to the
KGB. Of course physicists had that staure because
they had built an atomic bomb. Nonetheless the
personal interactions were hopeful: we hoped that they
would dominate the cold war and enable a period of
prosperity. As a young faculty member at Harvard,
recently tenured, I resolved to play my part with the
encouragement of my wife Andree and family. On
my first visit to Moscow in 1958 I remember being shown
around by a young physicist. The road from the
airport was lined with new apartment buildings - clearly the
first new residential since 1913. I commented on this
and was told : "yes: and behind every window is a happy
man!" This reinforced my view that we could spearhead
a rapprochment. I met soon thereafter igor Tamm,
Sergei Kapitza, his father and mot her Pietr and Anna
Kapitza. But not until 1979 did I meet Andrei
Sakhaov. Many of these interactions are recorded in my
autobiography noted in the introduction here,
but I have a special file for Sakharov and my
interactions with him because of his extraordinary impact on
the public in most countries.
Russian radiation issues
Just as at Harvard where Professors Kenneth Bainbridge and Norman Ramsey encouraged, almost insisted, that young physicists understand effects of radiation on health I wanted to understand the studies in Rissia. For these and other reasons I was asked (by the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus) to help found the International Sakharov College of Radioecology, in Minsk, Belarus and be the Chairman of its' International Advisory Committee (which position he held until 2001). This has now become the (International Sakharov Environmental University) on the tenth anniversary of the opening (in May 2002) of this university, Dr. Frantisek Janouch, from the Czech Republic and Sweden, gave an admonition to students (in Russian and in English) to think carefully whether they deserved to use the Sakharov name. At the ninth anniversary (Sakharov's 80th birthday), I told the students my memories about Sakharov. I believe in putting my actions where my mouth is and followed closely the Russian and Ukrainian radiation accidents at Chernobyl in the Ukraine, and the accidents at the Techa River and the Mayak production complex in the Ural Mountains. This interest also led me to become editor of the English Translation of the Russian Journal Risk which is published by the Russian Medical Research Laboratory in Obninsk and is mainly about effects of Chernobyl. In 1987 I visited Chernobyl with a Chicago TV crew and the resulting film (Back to Chernobyl) was on public television in late 1988. I was among the first in the USA to emphasize the importance of the Russian radiation accidents in the 1950 - 60 period. In that period, for example, 2 million Curies of radioactive material were dumped into the upper reaches of the Techa River. The effects have been studied for 40 years by a dedicated group of physicians and scientists in the Urals Center for Radiation Medicine (URCRM) in Chelyabinsk. See also public comment on EPA proposals to regulate DOE facilities, and tighten standards for uranium in drinking water. Starting in the late 1990s I was the spokesman for a group "Scientists for Secure Waste Storage" (SSWF) which supported the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians who would like to store nuclear waste (temporarily) on their reservation. Although after 7 years the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was ready to grant a license, the politicians in Utah, both the Governor and the Senators, have vowed to oppose it. They persuaded the US Bureau of Land Management to deny use of land to transfer casks from rail to road and to deny the right to make a long term agreement. SSWF sent in a brief supporting the Goshutes, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to deny the right to make a long term agreement. The activity is in limbo for the last 8 years and it is unclear whether anyone can resurrect it. More detail on some radiation issues is available in a separate page on this site.
(and by extension other accidents)
Those who favor new energy technologies argue that even if they are too expensive now, there will be a "learning curve" and they will become cheaper. Yet these same people object when I ask for a real study of the "forgetting curve" displayed by commercial nuclear power plant implementation. Nuclear power was cheap - cheaper than coal - in 1971. This statement is based upon actual bills by the reactor operator to the distributor of electricity - the busbar cost. WHY IS IT NOW SO MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE? (Both capital cost and operating cost) The cost cannot be due to safety improvements. The main safety improvement is careful analysis according to Rasmussen's procedure in his landmark report in 1975 (Reactor Safety Study), and analysis is cheap. A large part is intransigent opposition by a segment of the population which has persuaded the politicians at every stage. Why do we let these intransigent members of the population control the discussion? It is vital to realize the distinction between Prompt deaths (Acute Radiation Sickness occurring within days) and delayed effects such as cancer. Prompt evacuation is only necessary to ensure that no one gets acute radiation sickness. Even the most exposed worker at Fukushima had an exposue and hence dose well below that giving Acute Radiatioo Sickness so there would have been time for a careful analysis of the situation. I argue that at Fukushima evacuation was unnecessary and undesirable.The calculated figures for future radiation cancers will never be fully verified by experiment yet there are definite deaths from unnecessary evacuation. (http://users.physics.harvard.edu/%7Ewilson/publications/pp932.doc) More important, when something untoward happens, the risk and benefits of any risk/benefit decision immediately change, and should be analyzed (preferably in a procedure discussed and maybe mandated in advance). The increase in dirty coal use with its concomitant air pollution in Tokyo and other cities also dramatically altered the risk equation. The Japanese earthquake and Tsunami has led to other tests of nuclear ideas. Why do we worry about disposal of radioactive materials which last only thousands of years yet mercury and arsenic last forever? Why is a secure land fill for ordinary waste one which is guaranteed for 30 years whereas one for nuclear waste must last 1,000,000 years? In the USA radiation standards for clean-up of radioactive material are far tighter than necessary and that has led to unconscionable delay in clean-up of weapons sites such as the Hanford reservation.
Both Andree and Richard Wilson have been concerned about the disadvantaged in the world all their lives. We were both happy that in 1945 America was known throughout the world for its optimism, its enthusiasm, its generosity even to the defeated countries (the Marshall Plan) and its responsibility to those who defended her (the GI Bill). By 2011 these have disappeared and as we contemplate the terrible events on 9/11 and again on 11/11/11 we remember these important American ideals that these veterans fought to defend. When opportunity arises, which it does all too often, they engage in various Human Rights activities. A short summary of Richard Wilson's human rights activities since the 1960s is available here. Richard Wilson is serves on the Board of Directors of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation which endeavors to continue the work of Andrei Dmitreyvich Sakharov in Human Rights and Human progress. It is now 45 years since Sakharov's famous article on "Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom". A major conference to discuss this and implications for the future was held on 24th and 25th October 2008 hosted by Harvard University and the American Academy for Arts and Sciences A copy of this is also available here with some auxiliary papers. Andrei's widow, Elena Bonner, valiantly fought to preserve the memory of Andrei. Here is a personal tribute to Yelena Georgovna Bonner. He joined a fact finding group, led by Baroness Cox, President of Christian Solidarity worldwide, that visited the Armenian-Azerbaijan border in May 1991 and reported thereon to the first Sakharov conference on physics two days later. I attended, (and talked at) a conference on self-determination of peoples in Moscow on June 27th to July 1st 1999. He helped Dr. Stanislaw Suskevich, then Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus, and de facto head of state, set up the Sakharov College of Radioecology in 1991. I was the first Chairman of the International Advisory Committee. This is now the International Sakharov Environmental University (ISEU). In many of the issues which arise throughout the world Richard Wilson has been asked to sign petitions, support divestitures, participate in boycotts or otherwise join in actions of others. Whether Richard Wilson has signed, or declined to sign, one party or another, often close friends have disagreed and Richard Wilson has often been misquoted. A more detailed discussion of boycotts etc. is on a separate page. I am especially proud to be the recipient of the Andrei Sakharov prize of the American Physical Society in 2012. After meeting Andrei Sakharov in 1979 I actively worked for the principles he espoused and on his death I have worked for his memory and remembrance of his principles I spoke about my meetings with Sakharov in acknowledgement of the prize. The detail about these world problems is on another page.
Monday, April 15th, Patriots Day, saw terrorism in Boston. As we mourn for those killed and wounded, and prepare for worse, we must contemplate how lucky we are in the USA. Tragedies such as this happen every day in Iraq and Syria is far worse. Let us redouble our efforts to make the whole world safe. We must also contemplate that these bombs had an explosive power of a few pounds of TNT; 5 billion times less that Andrei Sakharov's 1964 Nuovo Zembla test. I am deeply disturbed that Americans are careless about words and thereby misinform the public. 10 pounds of TNT is NOT a weapon of mass destruction. Nor even are the chemical weapons used in WWI. The real weapons of mass destruction are, as noted above nuclear weapons and biological weapons. To misuse the word encourages a dangerous complacency.
All people are very concerned when one human being kills another, and more so when it is a terrorist attack. Yet, we must all be aware that the same week saw an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West Texas which killed more people and did more damage than the Marathon bombers. While we must await full information that in addition to anhydrous ammonia, which is not in itself explosive, there was 500,000 pounds (250 tons) of ammonium nitrate which was not properly rendered non explosive by the addition of urea. Alas, urea also makes the uranium nitrate stink.
Press reports say this was true of over 44 Texas communities. Apparently farmers object to the foul smelling addition. Although it would not have helped in a coordinated terror attack (because the urea can be removed easily) it would have made the plant safe for accidents.
My wife Andree and I are also shattered by the collapse of the top 4 floors of a 7 story building in Savar, a suburb 25 km NW of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Andree and I drove through Savar 2 years ago. According to a reliable report from Dhaka Community Hospital (DCH) the building was approved at 3 stories high and the top floors with the garment factories were illegal. This accident killed over 1000 people mostly women garment workers. It is tragic that although women have gained a degree of independence by finding a job in the city rather than stay in the country with no control over their lives, they are being exploited in the cities. We should worry about earthquakes which would bring many buildings down with a tragedy greater than that in Haiti 2 years ago. That would be terrible but the stupidity of the building owner in ignoring developing cracks makes a bad situation worse. The USA had a tragedy like in Savar in the garment district in the USA a century ago. A major part of the solution was a garment workers union. Bangladesh needs one.
The question also arises "How do we in the western world help the developing countries?" "Refuse to buy garments from them and reducing the national income of Bangladesh by 30%?" "Send money to a corrupt government to distribute?" Our personal solution is to bypass the government and send money to the Dhaka Community Hospital Trust (DCH), a charity hospital which offers a minimum of health care for everyone. The DCH staff were fully occupied after the SAVAR accident in helping in the situation. DCH is also a major group that has been concerned with the nation's arsenic pollution problem. As noted below, we have been helping through the 501(c)3 charity the ARSENIC FOUNDATION Inc. While this is for helping on the arsenic problem, sending funds releases funds for general help to the poor. Any donations will be forwarded without any overhead.
Another financial fact raises another paradox. Although more people were killed in Sandy Hook CT by the rampage of a young man who took his mother's guns, than in the Boston Marathon bombings, the funds for helping the victims are in the other order ($32 million for the marathon bombing survivors vs. $3 million for the Sandy hook victims. A part of that is a result of the fact that compensation for a disabled person can far exceed compensation to the family of a dead one. This simple statement should be pondered by everyone. Is this what society wants?
Over the years I have testified at a number of public federal and state hearings on various issues from nuclear power to risk analysis. But the President of the National Academy of Science (Dr. Fred Seitz at that time) persuaded me to become a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Atlantic Legal Foundation (ALF), a public interest foundation which specializes in contesting "junk" science in the courts. I disagreed with Fred on a number of issues but he also believed that disagreements needed more discussion than agreements. I started a special "sound science" page. ALF has submitted three briefs of "amicus curiae" to the US Supreme Court ( DAUBERT , JOINER and KUMHO decided by the Supreme Court in 1993 (Daubert), and on March 23rd 1999 (Kumho) and several "amicus curiae" briefs (ASHLAND , CANAVAN and JENNINGS ) to state courts on behalf of a number of distinguished scientists on the admissibility of scientific evidence. In these I was one of the "amici" and helped write the briefs. In particular I have emphasized that the data that suggest that low frequency and low intensity magnetic fields cause cancer are unconvincing, and that many such claims fall into this category of junk science. In this I criticized a 1998 draft report of a committee of the National Academy of Sciences which fortunately never got beyond draft form. . The Atlantic Legal Foundation also criticized this draft report on legal grounds. The Atlantic Legal Foundation submitted a brief of "amicus curiae" (COVALT) to the Supreme Court of California and to two district courts on the issue of whether the court should take seriously claims that electromagnetic fields cause cancer. The courts decided that they should NOT take the claims seriously. I joined two Physics Nobel Laureates in submitting a brief of amicus curiae to a Hawaii court supporting the start-up of the Large Hadron Collider in CERN, Geneva, and opposing a proposed injunction to prevent operation. The court threw out the case claiming lack of legal jurisdiction. Yet in the court of common sense a claim that the whole world will vanish into a black hole inherently involves everyone! On behalf of the Atlantic Legal Foundation, I started a web page: sound-science.net (also addressable from this page) to outline these matters. I also wrote a paper in Technology and Society to explain these issues.
For this work I was recognized by ALF with a "Lifetime Achievement" award presented in Washington DC in March 2013
I have often participated in meetings of the Ettore Majorana Institute of Scientific Culture in Erice and activities of the World Federation of Scientists (based in Geneva, Switzerland). I was (2001-2005) Chairman of the Permanent Energy Monitoring Panel which meets at Erice, Sicily (August 2003, August 2004, August 2005) and am still (2012) a member thereof. The informal webpage, started in 2003, is now organized by other excellent scientists. There is also a page in GOOGLE groups
to which many members of the PMP belong. I attach here introductory comments at a session on non-proliferation in summer 2006. I am also a member of the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Terrorism. And I started a page of information on Mitigation of Terrorist Actions. For this work I was awarded the 2005 "Erice" prize for Science and Peace in 2005.