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Tuesday: Are you still vulnerable to media messaging?

Check out this graphic from xkcd.  It shows the amount of absorbed radiation that is/was produced from various sources.   FYI: the blue squares are measured in micro Sieverts (the Greek letter μ), the green ones in milli Sieverts.  Micro is much smaller than milli, which in turn is much smaller than a Sievert.   But if you had been listening to the media for the past two weeks, you might have had induced panic attacks and rushed out to your local apothecary for a stash of potassium iodide (the chemists who still have jobs are not happy about the shortages).  I’ve read that people are even buying gas masks.

This makes me very sad.

Because as you might note from the graphic, the amount of radioactivity produced by the Fukushima plant for people in the evacuation zone is less than they might have gotten in a CT scan and only slightly more than any woman might have gotten in a mammogram machine.  If you’re truly worried about exposure from Fukushima, shouldn’t you also be worried about having your breasts flattened to the dimensions of a pancake and then blasted with xrays?

This is why I keep urging people to stop watching television news.  It doesn’t matter what channel you have on.  It doesn’t matter if it’s broadcast or cable.  They’ve got your number.  They know what kinds of stories will get your attention and they know what buttons to push to get the right Pavlovian response from you.  Be careful of what you read in newspapers too.  in this media and political environment, we must be constantly on our guard because it is so easy to manipulate public opinion.  We still have no idea who is behind all of the nuclear plant hysteria.  What was the purpose?  Was it an attempt to put the nail in the coffin of the nuclear industry in this country?  Kill it in its infancy?  Did it have help from energy speculators who are trying to drive up the cost of oil?  Is it the result of journalists who have a built in bias against nuclear energy after having watched The China Syndrome and the TMI accident coverage when they were younger?

By the way, did you notice how little radioactivity was produced during the TMI incident?  If you listen to the media, you’d think it was right up there with Chernobyl- squared.  The actual amount was tiny.  REALLY tiny.  It’s a blip.

Oh, sure, you say, but NO nuclear energy is safe.  You can never turn your back on it.  I’m not so sure I’d agree with that statement.  If anything, the Fukushima accident refutes these claims.  It shows that a 40 year old reactor can come through a “great” earthquake, a tsunami and a power failure and still expose people in Japan to less radioactivity than they would get in a CT scan.

That doesn’t mean I think we should run out and get one for the patio.  But I am very willing to consider nuclear energy as an alternative to burning fossil fuel.  The lessons learned at Fukushima could make new reactors even safer.

The emissions I worry about come from the broadcast end of the spectrum where carefully crafted messaging can turn otherwise perfectly rational people into raving lunatics indistinguishable from the end-of-time fundies with generators and MREs in their survivalist stash in the basement.  The hysteria that swept the nation last week was embarrassing.  It shows how vulnerable we are.  Manipulating the crowd is easier than we thought and, as we saw in the 2008 election season, it works just as well on the left as it does on the right.  Your liberal leanings offer you no protection.

The poison in the air isn’t coming from the reactor up the river.

In other news:

The female science and engineering staff at MIT is suffering from the same bias that women in industry face all of the time. (I actually think it’s gotten worse in the past 10 years).  A few years back, the female profs at MIT put together a study showing what they were up against when it comes to getting tenure.  They got less physical space, they didn’t get as many opportunities to consult, they weren’t added to leadership panels.  But here’s the thing that really got my attention because it’s something I see every damn day:

And stereotypes remain: women must navigate a narrow “acceptable personality range,” as one female professor said, that is “neither too aggressive nor too soft.” Said another woman: “I am not patient and understanding. I’m busy and ambitious.”

Despite an effort to educate colleagues about bias in letters of recommendation for tenure, those for men tend to focus on intellect while those for women dwell on temperament.

“To women in my generation, these residual issues can sound small because we see so much progress,” said Nancy H. Hopkins, a molecular biologist who instigated the first report. “But they’re not small; they still create an unequal playing field for women — not just at universities, and certainly not just at M.I.T. And they’re harder to change because they are a reflection of where women stand in society.”

This is very subtle but very real.  It just flies under the radar because no one is physically groping you.  I’ve seen more than one woman derailed by this crap.  You can’t be as assertive as a guy or you will be called “hard to work with” or “not a team player”.  But if you’re passive and demure, you’re ineffective and can’t get your work done.  Plenty of women have to be “coached” to walk a fine line.  It doesn’t seem to occur to management to straighten out the asses of the guys in the department who may be slowing down the pace of projects with their obstinate refusal to cooperate.

For women in the sciences, it’s like walking on eggshells all the time.  I’m glad that MIT is calling attention to the problem because I see very little effort to do so in industry.  It seems like industry thought it solved the problem when it dealt with sexual harrassment.  But my sense is that the power plays that exercised themselves as sexual dominance before have now gone underground.  The same hostility and gender discrimination still exists but has disguised itself as phone calls and emails not returned, not sharing crucial information or giving credit, refusing to meet or invite to meetings, and complaints about “temperament”. And the science world is just much more critical of women.  Everything they do is subject to more intense and punishing scrutiny.  It’s ruining our job prospects and careers. It looks like the women of MIT have gathered enough evidence to show that the discrimination is real and not a matter of sensitivity and perception.

Stieg Larson’s latest book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest has a subplot that describes this phenomenon when a female magazine editor takes a job as the managing editor at an “old boys network” newspaper.  The symptoms are all the same as the ones described by the MIT profs, advice given to women on interviews and to our general experience in science and finance workplaces.  It’s not just a few isolated incidences.  It’s systemic.  Before you know it, MIT will be able to show a correlation.

Can a country afford to treat half of its brains like second class gray matter?

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16 Responses

  1. Can a country afford to treat half of its brains like second class gray matter?

    No — it can’t. But we’re doing that … and possibly worse. There was a story on the evening news last night with graphics showing that men are getting hired for 90% of the jobs. And women are still losing jobs. I know a lot of women who are supporting themselves and their families …. A 90-10 hiring ration is really, really scary.

    I’ll see If I can find the story online (that’s one of the worst things about getting news from TV — it’s totally ephemeral)

    • This sounds like what I’m seeing first hand. The guys here really circled the wagon and protected their own.

      • I found it:

        Women Lag Behind Men in Economic Recovery

        Of the 1.3 million jobs created in the last 12 months, some 90 percent have gone to men, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women have gained just 149,000 jobs.

        They go on to say that men lost more jobs than women but, then:

        While you might expect men to recover more jobs since far more men were put out of work, there are some signs that things have gotten worse for women rather than better. Looking at the data since the end of the recession in July 2009, men have gained 600,000 jobs while women have lost 300,000 jobs.

        This is a non-recovery recovery. Oh, and they think gas could go up to $5.00/gal this summer. I wonder what happens then?

  2. I swore off cable news sometime during the run up to the Iraq invasion, switched to The Weather Channel as my background noise source. That was usually safe, sometimes a big weather system would get them agitated. But this Japan reactor has given me reason to dislike even the staid weather man. They’re all hoorahing about how the radiation is tainting everything and in the very next breath they assure us that it isn’t dangerous.

    Then why the hell did you waste our time with the goddamned report in the first place?!!!!!

    I hate TV people.

    • ya i feel ya been picking up the same vib .
      sometime if you look at things out side the box . you can figure out what going on . you just gota look at things diffrenty . but lets face it most people are sheep. we found that out in the the 2008

    • The “Pretty Faced Models” are all copying each others’ homework. It’s ALWAYS contaminated milk and spinach. None of them do any original research.

  3. dunno maybe 08 turned some of them sheep into lions 🙂

  4. My favorite news yesterday was that trace amounts of radiation have been found in the favre beans that arrived in the US from Japan.

    So, I guess they are farming again, and harvesting in the middle of winter, and managed to get a new crop to the US in under a week!

    Local news in Seattle this morning said they have now detected trace amounts of radiation from Japan in our air. And, they wonder why people with the ability to actually think haven’t any respect for their awesome news reporting.

  5. I’m not going to argue with you, RD, but I’m anti-nuke for lots of reasons — most of it having to do with waste and storage. And I have lots of time on my hands for research on the stories? If you had done research on the rods you’d know what I’m talking about. This morning read the piece on the groundwater in Tokyo.

    As for sexism in the workplace, hell yeah. Been there and experienced that

    CA has big earthquakes, and we have two big plants just like Japan’s. They are old. Nobody on the West Coast likes nukes. On the green side of energy we have wind, solar and tide — all much less toxic.

    Watch the movie On the Beach, RD. You’ll get an idea of the outcry, globally.

    • Oh yeah! On the Beach, one of the most terrifying films ever, at least it was to this 16 y/o trying to wrap her brain around that idea that all life on earth could (and very possibly would) be destroyed in the not-so-distant future.

      So far so good, I guess.

    • Saw the movie. Still not skerd of nukes.

  6. Going to have to respectfully disagree about the the media hyping the danger up, if anything I see a rather obvious propaganda campaign grossly minimizing the dangers of radiation exposure. This webpage nicely spells out the reality.

    http://www.psr.org/news-events/press-releases/psr-concerned-about-reports-increased-radioactivity-food-supply.html

    Are we in any danger in the US from the Fukushima reactor- no, and I’ve not seen one msm report stating we were, in fact, it was repeated constantly we are in no danger. But the Japanese people, as far away as Tokyo are. I also noticed our media is ignoring that the Fukushima plant emitted Plutonium as well.

    The reality is for the workers who stayed at Fukushima, this is almost certainly a death sentence- most will be dead from some form of cancer or leukemia in a few years. Within the 50km zone cancers and leukemia will spike upward in 20-30 years. Even as far away as Tokyo rates will show a statistically noticeable rise in 20-30 years.

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