via NeuroLogica Blog
In just about every disaster or event in which there are many deaths, such as a plane crash, there is likely to be, by random chance alone, individuals who survived due to an unlikely sequence of events. Passengers missing their flight by a few minutes can look back at all the small delays that added up to them seeing the doors close as they a jog up to their gate. If that plane were then to crash, killing everyone on board, those small delays might seem like destiny. The passenger who canceled their flight because of flying anxiety might feel as if they had a premonition.
This is nothing but the lottery fallacy – judging the odds of an event occurring after the fact. What are the odds of one specific person winning the lottery? Hundreds of millions to one against. What are the odds of someone winning the lottery? Very good.
Likewise, what are the chances that someone will miss or choose not to take any particular flight? Very high – therefore this is likely to be true about any flight that happens to crash. If you are that one person, however, it may be difficult to shake the sense that your improbable survival was more than just a lucky coincidence.
A similar story has emerged from the Sandy Hook tragedy. A mother of a kindergartener there, Karen Dryer claims that her 5 year old son was saved by his psychic powers. She reports that her son, after a few months at the school, started to cry and be unhappy at school. He was home schooled for a short time, during which the shooting occurred. Now, at the new elementary school that recently opened, he seems to be happy.
In retrospect it may seem like a compelling story – if one does not think about it too deeply. As Ben Radford points out in the article linked to above, the story as told is likely the product of confirmation bias. The mother is now remembering details that enhance the theme of the story (her son’s alleged psychic powers) and forgetting details that might be inconsistent.
VSauce (Michael Stevens) blows our minds . . . again.
Like an out of control flood of death and destruction, silly rumors and scares about the aftermath of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant disaster continue to emanate from a toxic slagheap and pour into the world, causing fear and panic buying of worthless detox junk. Scientists and skeptics, armed with virtual mallets, slam these demonic hedgehogs of lies back into their dark holes; only for more to pop out of the ground, clutching new rumors and scares in their foaming maws.
But major media outlets and scientists haven’t been silent. There are solid, scientifically-sound pieces all over the internet from the likes of Time, the LA Times, the New York Times, Forbes, Daily Kos, Popular Mechanics, Slate and others. There is also excellent debunking by experts of all stripes, from physicists to marine biologists to nuclear engineers, at places like Deep Sea News and Southern Fried Science. Finally, there are my humble attempts to bring some sanity to the madness.
So in the spirit of good science and healthy snark, here’s Volume 4 of my Fukushima series.
The previous volumes answered the pressing questions:
- Is Pacific Ocean fish safe? Yes.
- Is the West Coast Being Absolutely Fried by Fukushima Radiation? No.
- Did a bunch of other apocalyptic nonsense happen? No.
And now, meet the new crap. Same as the old crap.
CLAIM: OMG! A giant squid beached itself in Santa Monica! Fukushima!
This one is actually a decent litmus test for whether a person is serious about the impact of Fukushima. If they take this obvious hoax to be reality, they probably aren’t that bright and shouldn’t be listened to. For the record, Snopes demolished this the same day it hit the web, finding the two pictures Photoshopped together to create the hoax, and driving down to Santa Monica to ensure that, no, Squidzilla had not washed up on Muscle Beach. We’re dealing with moderately humorous satire, and that’s it.
CLAIM: Two underground nuclear explosions rocked the Fukushima site on New Year’s Eve, forcing Russia’s Ministry of Defense to go on high alert – and causing TEPCO to quietly admit that Reactor 3 was melting down. GAME OVER!!!
None of this happened, other than Reactor 3 melting down, which took place right after the tsunami. The original “report” about the “explosions” came from whatdoesitmean.com, one of the least reliable “news” websites on the internet, with a reputation for making up wild conspiracies and insane stories, then tossing them out there for other conspiracy sites to disseminate. Which is exactly what happened here. There were no underground explosions and no high alert.
Not only were there no nuclear explosions, there couldn’t have been. A nuclear bomb and a nuclear reactor are not at all the same thing. They’re designed differently to do very different things. Without some kind of detonator and weapons grade nuclear material, which Fukushima doesn’t have, a nuclear explosion literally could not have happened. This is basic nuclear physics, and if you don’t know this, you shouldn’t be sharing anything about Fukushima.
CLAIM: Radioactive steam was seen pouring off Reactor 3, meaning it’s in the middle of a meltdown.
Alternative media sites went crazy right before New Year’s with claims that the west coast was about to be hit by an onslaught of radiation from Reactor 3 in the form of nuclear steam. Putting aside the ludicrousness of “radioactive steam” in Japan killing people on the west coast, the steam, which is real, has a simple explanation, rooted in kindergarten physics.
- The reactor is physically hot, because of the decay of nuclear fuel. Of course, this is dangerous, but that’s beside the point.
- It’s winter in Japan.
- When cold water from rain or snow hits something hot (like a reactor), it turns into steam. Just like your breath.
The steam has been coming off Reactor 3 for almost three years. Panicking about it now makes no sense.
CLAIM: A dude with a Geiger counter went to a California beach and found radiation levels off the charts! Evacuate the west coast at once!
This one has been pretty well covered here at Skeptoid and at other places, so I won’t go into the whole explanation again, except to say that there are any number of reasons why the Geiger counter in the video reads the way it does. Background radiation is everywhere, and in everything (so much for the “no safe dose” meme.) This is especially true of the ocean, which is rich in uranium. That particular area, Pacifica State Beach, is especially radioactive, owing to natural substances in the granite and sand there.
The video is not a source of anything other than a guy with a Geiger counter. California officials dismissed it as scaremongering, and they were right. Your granite countertops will absolutely fry you long before a day at the beach does.