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Letter: If 95 percent of scientists agree, we can call that a consensus

Responding to another letter in the Times on climate change, May 30: “Consensus on climate wrongly assumes scientist are always right,” I don’t know where to begin. First of all, science doesn’t deal with right or wrong. It deals in facts that can be substantiated as opposed to those that can’t. A degree of scientific “consensus,” is reached when that verification reaches 95 percent. That’s a pretty high bar.

What about the remaining 5 percent? Well, that’s where controversy occurs. There’s always a chance that new information will be discovered that counters a long-held theory. When asked about phenomena that exceed the 95 percent, scientists say they’re pretty sure the sun will come up tomorrow or that an unimpeded stone will drop to earth (gravity).

So much for scientific consensus; let’s talk about Chernobyl. I truly doubt that Michael Crichton book, “State of Fear,” documented the exact number of immediate and long-term deaths from the Chernobyl meltdown. Crichton knew better than that. There is usually no way to prove that a specific cancer resulted from a known exposure unless it is immediate. Correlation does not prove cause.

The immediate deaths numbered 56. But anyone with any integrity cannot discount the many illnesses and deaths that occurred in the months and years after the meltdown. Radioactive isotopes from Chernobyl circled the globe. They were found in the Antarctic a year and a half later.

The idea that illnesses observed after the Chernobyl meltdown were psychological was propagated by the Russian government to calm its own people. Apparently that piece of propaganda has spread along with the radioisotopes themselves. What is undeniable is the worldwide increase in radioactive plutonium. In its elemental form it is very rare, but it is produced in every nuclear power plant in the world.

Nuclear waste is the No. 1 problem facing nuclear power. We have no idea how to get rid of it. Plutonium 239, the kind produced by a nuclear power plant, and the kind that is in nuclear waste, has a half-life of 24,000 years. It will be with us virtually forever.

Joan King


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