Monday, April 11. 2011
Some people have interpreted this article as being pro-nuclear. That is not the intention of this article. The intention is to analyse the evidence put forward by Helen Caldicott's recent article in the Guardian. It is that article that mentions only Iodine-131 and Caesium-137, and hence I limit my discussion to that. Anyone who strongly argues their position needs to put forward evidence supporting their position and that evidence needs to stand up to scrutiny. My opinion is that Helen's article does not present reliable evidence that supports her position. There is no doubt that radiation is dangerous to life, and I do not seek to imply otherwise. If the way in which nuclear powerstations are run and operated results in pressure on the companies operating those powerstations to cut corners and endanger the population then that is a fault that needs addressing, but it is a separate issue from the safety (or otherwise) of nuclear power as a technology.
The events at Fukushima have brought into the public's gaze three issues regarding the arguments surrounding nuclear power. The pro- and anti-nuclear groups themselves get attention and the ability to put forth their sides of the story, and the media's science correspondents get accused of knowing next to nothing about the various issues of nuclear power.
In Helen Caldicott's recent piece, which itself was in response to George Monbiot's decision to move from a position of ambivalence to one of supporting nuclear technology, Helen suggests that those in favour of nuclear power misinform the media, whilst many others (such as George) accuse the anti-nuclear lobby of the very same thing. What is clearly obvious is that for both sides to claim the high ground, there must be an awful lot of misinformation going around, and as with any complex issue, there are intricacies and subtleties that the media and the public at large do not have time to dwell on at length.
Comparing the two articles reveals some interesting differences: George states in the first paragraph that he previously defined himself as "nuclear-neutral", but now "supports the technology". In the fifth paragraph he further defines himself as a green who is in favour of renewable energy. Personally, I loathe the term "renewable": it suggests that you can get energy for nothing, which most secondary-school physicists will be able to tell you is a violation of the laws of physics. I would love to see a study considering what would happen if the earth gathered 100% of its energy requirements from wind power. I suspect that the moon would fall out of orbit and destroy human life on earth, but I digress.
Helen, by contrast does not state her position so clearly, although she does link immediately to an article in which she warns of the potential for a "medical problem of very large dimensions". That article very clearly starts by describing her as a controversial opponent of nuclear power. On her website, she describes herself as "The single most articulate and passionate advocate of citizen action to remedy the nuclear and environmental crises", a phrase that leaves little doubt as to what her position is on the matter. A "crisis" is not personally how I'd describe the world's use of nuclear power: famine is a crisis; AIDS is a crisis; the current unrest in the Middle East and north Africa is a crisis; class-A drug abuse is a crisis; and the 100 serious or fatal road accidents that occur in Great Britain every day is probably an oft-overlooked crisis. The ageing population is a crisis; the debt-ridden younger generations is a crisis. Our reliance on fossil fuels is possibly a crisis. I'm yet to be convinced our use of nuclear power is a crisis.
I should clearly declare my own positions at this point. I am a software engineer. I spend a lot of time thinking logically, and I took A-levels in Chemistry, Physics and a lot of Maths before studying Computer Science at Imperial College, London. After completing my Masters degree at Imperial, I completed 2.5 years of a PhD in Computing before leaving and entering industry where I remain today. I am in favour of rigorous science and an unemotional approach to numbers. For example, in 2008, research revealed that the cost to the NHS of treating smoking related illnesses is £2.7bn per year. In the very same article, it states "current UK tax revenue from tobacco is around £10 billion". Thus from a purely numeric point of view, the government seems to get over £7bn per year from smokers that need not be spent on smokers but can be put to other uses. Whilst smoking is a poor health choice on a personal level, is it bad for society given these numbers?
To return to Helen and George. One of the criticisms that George has of Helen in his April 5th article is that after requesting sources of information supporting her claims, there were very few if any peer reviewed papers that were sent back that supported her claims. In Helen's rebuttal, she has provided footnotes and links to studies.
She explains the difference between external and internal radiation. This can be summarised as "if you ate or inhaled something radioactive, you have are going to suffer internal radiation". She then states:
"Hazardous radionuclides such as iodine-131, caesium-137, and other isotopes currently being released in the sea and air around Fukushima bio-concentrate at each step of various food chains (for example into algae, crustaceans, small fish, bigger fish, then humans; or soil, grass, cow's meat and milk, then humans)."
There are two things that are missing here: one is a discussion of half-lives, and the other is a discussion of the different types of radiation.
The "half life" is the time taken for half of an amount of radioactive substance to disappear. If you have 1kg of a radioactive substance that has a half life of 5 days, then 5 days later, you'll have 500g of that substance (you'll very likely have something that weighs more than 500g, because as a radioactive substance decays, it doesn't just disappear: it turns into something else, which may or may not itself be radioactive. But you will have 500g left of the original radioactive substance). Five days after that, you'll have 250g left of the original radioactive substance and so on: it halves every 5 days.
Iodine-131 has a half life of 8.0197 days. Thus if you start with 1kg of iodine-131, then you'll have about 500g of iodine-131 after 8 days. After 30 days, there will have been 3.7 halvings, and so you'll have just 74.8g left of it (1000 / 2^(30/8.0197) = 74.8). After 365 days, you'll have had 45.5 halvings: less than one-billionth of a gram of iodine-131 will remain. When iodine-131 decays, it turns into xenon-131 which is a gas normally on Earth (it becomes a liquid below −108°C), and is not radioactive in this form. Thus after 1 year, your initial 1kg lump of iodine-131 will have turned into almost 1kg of xenon-131. The xenon-131, being a gas and not being radioactive, will disperse into the atmosphere and will not cause any harm.
The other issue is the type of radiation. There are three types of radiation, given the exciting names of "alpha", "beta" and "gamma" radiation. Alpha-radiation is produced by radioactive substances that undergo alpha-decay. Alpha-radiation is very bad for you, but fortunately, alpha-particles are easy to stop: they can't get through a single sheet of paper, and your skin easily stops them. However, alpha-particles are extremely dangerous if ingested. Do not eat. Beta-radiation is produced by radioactive substances that undergo beta-decay. Beta-particles are harder to stop: something like a few millimetres of aluminium is necessary to stop beta-particles, but although they can thus enter the body externally, they are less likely to do you harm than alpha-particles once inside you. Gamma-radiation is produced by substances that undergo gamma-decay. There's no such thing as a gamma-particle as gamma-radiation is an electromagnetic wave: it's very similar to the electromagnetic waves that pass through you when you have an X-ray. They are very difficult to stop: you need quite a lot of lead to absorb gamma-rays, but they're not likely to do you much harm unless you're exposed to an awful lot of them. The Earth receives an awful lot of gamma-rays from the Sun all the time. The Earth's magnetic field (think of the Earth as a large magnet from the South-pole to the North-pole) extends out into Space and deflects a lot of this radiation from the Sun away from us. However, the higher up in the atmosphere you are, the more gamma-rays pass through you from the Sun as there is less atmosphere to shield you. This is why people have been comparing the amount of gamma-radiation workers have been exposed to to what you receive in a trans-atlantic flight, or a flight from Tokyo to New York.
When iodine-131 decays, it releases beta-particles and gamma-rays, but no alpha-particles. Helen doesn't just suggest iodine-131, she also suggests caesium-137. Caesium-137 has a half life of 30.17 years, thus it stays around much longer than iodine-131. Caesium-137, which was released by during the Chernobyl accident, still exists today and is present in, for example, pigs in Germany, rendering them unsafe for human consumption. Caesium-137, like iodine-131, decays producing gamma-rays and beta-particles, and no alpha-particles. However, much of the coverage to date has focused on the iodine-131 released by the reactor at Chernobyl that then got into milk which was drunk. Why has caesium-137, which lasts for much longer, not featured so prominently in coverage of the past and potential future dangers? One of the reasons is that in accidents like Chernobyl, lots of different radioactive substances were released and thus it is difficult to say with any certainty that caesium-137 in particular caused any of the illnesses associated with radiation exposure. It is only because it is known that iodine is absorbed by the thyroid that intake of iodine-131 is known to cause increased rates of thyroid cancer.
Thus the questions we need answers to are: 1) how quickly can iodine-131 pass through the food chain (if it takes too long then the relatively short half-live of iodine-131 will ensure that little iodine-131 reaches organisms high up the food chain)? 2) can caesium-137 and other isotopes similarly pass through the food chain (which requires them to be easily ingestible or absorbed by other organisms; e.g. caesium-137 is water-soluble which means it dissolves in water and thus can be easily ingested by drinking contaminated water)? 3) how much of these radioactive substances need to be ingested for any known radiological health consequences to occur? and 4) is this possible given the rate of contamination coming from the reactors at Fukushima?
After making the earlier statement, Helen links to two studies: 1. J.U. Clark and V.A. McFarland, Assessing Bioaccumulation in Aquatic Organisms Exposed to Contaminated Sediments, Miscellaneous Paper D-91-2 (1991), Environmental Laboratory, Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg; 2. MS and H.A. Vanderplog, D.C. Parzyck, W.H. Wilcox, J.R. Kercher, and S.V. Kaye, Bioaccumulation Factors for Radionuclides in Freshwater Biota, ORNL-5002 (1975), Environmental Sciences Division Publication, Number 783, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN).
As the titles suggest, these two studies are both concerned with accumulation in organisms that live in water. Not humans, or cows. The first paper seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the accumulation of radioactive substances by algae, crustaceans or fish. The paper is about being able to predict the effect of toxic bioaccumulation in aquatic organisms exposed to contaminated sediments caused by dredging operations. It's a report from an army writer, it is not widely cited, and almost certainly not peer-reviewed. The second paper is much more useful, being the analysis of over 200 other "carefully selected papers" studying the bioaccumulation of radioactive isotopes in freshwater environments. We learn that caesium is easily absorbed into an organism from its food and it tends to stay absorbed about three times more easily than it is expelled, which means that if fish A tends to eat lots of fish B, then fish A will end up with a concentration of caesium 3 times higher than found in fish B. It says that "the bioaccumulation factor for caesium is highly variable from one environment to another". It says that iodine is easily absorbed by the thyroid tissue of vertebrates (and thus fishes), but goes to some length to explain that there is limited data available regarding iodine in fish thyroid and ovaries and thus at best, they are reporting approximations. As with caesium-137, fish can easily ingest iodine-131 through the food chain, but the authors report there are very few studies measuring the absorption of iodine-131 in fish, and no mention is made of the dosages required to harm the health of the fish. It should also not be forgotten that this second study, although being the more useful of the two, is nevertheless from 1975. I'm surprised there are not more recent studies in this area.
However, few of our questions have been answered: yes, it would seem iodine-131, caesium-137 and others can be absorbed by fish, but we've learnt nothing about how much of these substances is harmful to the fish, or, more importantly, is harmful to a human. If a fish absorbs some iodine-131, doesn't fall ill, and is then caught and eaten by a human, is that iodine-131 more or less dangerous in the human than in the fish? Given in both organisms, iodine-131 affects the thyroid, and given humans are much bigger than fish, it would suggest that human thyroids can withstand more iodine-131 than a fish thyroid. But this is extrapolation, and might well be wrong. I'm certainly not a biologist. But the fact Helen hasn't provided any references to studies on this subject is telling.
Helen's next paragraph is:
Nuclear industry proponents often assert that low doses of radiation (e.g. below 100mSV) produce no ill effects and are therefore safe. But, as the US National Academy of Sciences BEIR VII report has concluded, no dose of radiation is safe, however small, including background radiation; exposure is cumulative and adds to an individual's risk of developing cancer.
The report mentioned there would cost me $70 to buy, and I'm not going to do that. Yes, being alive on Earth carries the risk of dying from cancer caused by naturally occurring radiation. I'm not sure it's possible to do much about that. If the risks were significant then a) life would probably have not developed at all on earth; and b) all the perv-scanners that they're installing at airports which use ionising radiation (X-rays) would likely be banned because they'd increase the risk of cancer. The only thing that is of interest is: given the rate at which illnesses occur without exposure to additional forms of radiation, how much additional radiation is necessary before any of those illnesses become statistically more likely to occur? It is clear that the report she references here is not setting out to answer that question.
In Helen's third paragraph, she compares the 2005 World Health Organisation report on Chernobyl (which states 43 people died directly from the disaster, and about 4000 developed cancers caused by radiation released from the reactor), with the widely discredited report in 2009 which claims 980,000 deaths can be attributed to Chernobyl. This later report is published by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, but as George discovered:
'A devastating review in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry points out that the book achieves this figure by the remarkable method of assuming that all increased deaths from a wide range of diseases – including many which have no known association with radiation – were caused by the Chernobyl accident. There is no basis for this assumption, not least because screening in many countries improved dramatically after the disaster and, since 1986, there have been massive changes in the former eastern bloc. The study makes no attempt to correlate exposure to radiation with the incidence of disease.
'Its publication seems to have arisen from a confusion about whether Annals was a book publisher or a scientific journal. The academy has given me this statement: "In no sense did Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences or the New York Academy of Sciences commission this work; nor by its publication do we intend to independently validate the claims made in the translation or in the original publications cited in the work. The translated volume has not been peer reviewed by the New York Academy of Sciences, or by anyone else."'
Helen then tries to suggest that pointing out these flaws in the work is "shameful". Quite why that is shameful, but claiming deaths due to disease that have no known association with radiation exposure have nevertheless been caused by Chernobyl isn't shameful, is beyond me. She finishes by claiming the World Health Organisation is an advocate for the nuclear industry.
Nuclear submarines are very common: at least the USA, British, French and Russians operate submarines which have nuclear reactors within them. In the confined spaces of nuclear submarines, many hundreds of mariners are in much closer proximity to a nuclear power-station than any of us are ever likely to be. Should not the incidence rate of cancer (or other diseases that can be caused by long-term exposure to elevated levels of radiation) be much higher than of the general population? Sadly, studies of this area are few and if data is collected on this subject by the various navies, then it's difficult to imagine them releasing the data. However one report looking at the illnesses suffered over a 13-year period by various crews on board nuclear submarines suggest the majority of issues are dermatological and musculoskeletal with the most common serious issue being acute appendicitis. It is a shame there seem to be no studies I can find that look at causes of death amongst mariners who spent time on board nuclear submarines.
As with most complex subjects, the public on the whole is ill-equipped to understand the likely impact of an event such as Fukushima, and people with vested interests will try to bamboozle by only presenting a very choice set of papers and reports to support their arguments. The public must be able to trust neutral and diligent reporters in the media to present the truth: with something as well understood as nuclear physics, this is not an area where opinion or debate is of much worth: there are hard facts which are easily understood but have been seldom seen in print regarding the actual dosages of radiation that are considered "safe" (and these are several hundred times higher than naturally occurring background radiation).
If I die two years earlier that I would have otherwise, due to cancer caused by increased radiation as a result of nuclear bomb tests carried out in the 1960s and 1970s, before I was born, a) how will I know that's what caused it? b) how will I know I wouldn't have died the next day anyway when crossing the road? and c) will I really care anyway? I'll finish with one further interesting fact: in 2007, 7.075 billion short tons of coal were burnt on Earth. In America alone, 134,000 people are employed mining coal, of which about 30 die every year in mining related accidents (compared to 8000 deaths a year in coal mines in China). Nuclear power stations are mainly fuelled by uranium, which also has to be mined. The worldwide production of uranium in 2009 amounted to 50,572 tonnes. Every year, which form of energy causes more deaths: coal, or nuclear?
Sunday, November 14. 2010
A couple of weekends ago, I went to the Diaghilev exhibition at the V&A. I've not been to the V&A before, much to my embarrassment, even though I've spent a total of 13 years living in London, so we also wandered around the rest of the museum before becoming exhausted. The Diaghilev exhibition was, I felt, excellent and well worth a trip.
Serge Diaghilev was the artistic director of the Ballets Russes at the start of the 20th Century. The period from 1909-1929 is known as the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes, during which time Diaghilev commissioned ballets from the world's leading composers, most famously leading to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, which brough the Parisian audience at its primiere to riot, so offended were they by the concept of a girl dancing herself to death sacrificially, in order to secure the return of Spring. Later works commissioned and performed by the Ballets Russes had costumes and scenery created by Picasso. The Ballets Russes pushed dancing technique, the development of classical music, and the boundaries of ballet as a whole with such success that the world's leading composers, artists and dancers were drawn to collaberate with the Ballets Russes.
Whilst the Rite of Spring may have offended its audiences at its first performances by not only its thematic material but also its aural complexities, it has since become one of the best known compositions of the 20th Century, with Stravinsky's other ballet scores following not too far behind. Thus over time, and frequently without the dancing, Stravinsky's music has grown on audiences and become thoroughly acceptable fare. As a musician myself, the energy, power and emotion of much of what has become the well-known 20th Century compositions I find extraordinarily evocative.
The premiere of the Rite of Spring was in 1913. That was 97 years ago. What will be the corresponding exhibition at the V&A in 97 years from now?
The prospect of a V&A exhibition celebrating the work of Simon Cowell somewhat terrifies me. I remember an Art teacher at school, when questioned as to why there wasn't a modern day Monet suggesting that many artists were going straight into popular music. John Lennon, for example, went to the Liverpool College of Art, before going on to form the Beatles. It is however difficult to see the connection between many of the exhibits at the Tate Modern and popular music: the dearth of originality and expression in any "Pop Music" at all is in sharp contrast to Modern Art, regardless of personal tastes of modern performance art. The commercialisation and packaging of popular music is no doubt a substantial factor here, but not one I want to dwell on now.
Instead, there is maybe a strong possibility that such an exhibition, in 97 years time, might choose to celebrate film directors: Polanksi, Kubric, Scorsese, maybe Oliver Stone. It seems possible, even likely, that even as classical music and modern art developed to speak ever more directly to audiences about the nature of humanity, film nevertheless overtook them as the dominant story-telling medium. Certainly the advent of the TV would have aided this, but the sheer ease of comprehension and non-existant barrier of entry makes the format vastly more accessible. For example, whilst a basic understanding of Tchaikovsky's personal life and the contested nature of his death explains much when listening to his 6th and final Symphony (premiered just 9 days before he died), it is not as clear to me that any knowledge at all of World War II is necessary to better understand Polansky's The Pianist. From the sublime to the ridiculous, whether it's Hillcoat's The Road or any of the Harry Potter films, film as a story telling medium seems to be more successful in the absence of contextual knowledge than other art forms. There are of course exceptions: Stone's Natural Born Killers may not make a great deal of sense at the best of times, but as a commentary and reductio ad absurdum of the thirst to be ever more shocked, it is singularly effective.
It is then extremely interesting that in the week that the government's spending cuts are revealed to hit arts and humanities at University disproportionately hard, a celebrated school headmaster speaks of the importance of protecting the extra curricular activities, such as theatre trips and visiting art galleries as being essential in narrowing the class gap. The idea that exposure and subsequent appreciation of music, art, live acting and other cultural experiences aids class-levelling, is a powerful one. Looking back on my own experience at secondary school, I have absolutely no idea why we studied so much maths and comparatively so little art: the idea that any pupil leaving school at 16 gains from being able to do trigonometry but does not gain from being able to enjoy some Mozart, or from being able to tell a Rembrandt from a Picasso, seems absurd.
The problem though is always going to be the difficulty in quantifying the gain from such cultural consciousness. However, given the complete absence of any research-led setting of school curricula, it seems bizarre that the arts as a whole should be dismissed under these terms. The reliance on parents to supplement their children's education in these areas is shocking: London is the only city in the world that can sustain so many professional orchestras, and in the BBC Proms has a classical music festival that is in its own right a tourist attraction. In the West End, it has theatre productions and musicals which are the envy of any city in the world, with the possible exception of New York's Broadway. Yet this cultural strength is apparently so worthless that the provision for education of the Arts and Drama at school tends to be reliant on extra-curricular involvement, and University courses that produce the next generation of actors, musicians and artists suffer horrific cuts.
Whilst Tim Minchin's Mitsubishi Colt beat-poem may ironically mock the assumed enlightenment that a career as a musician may bring over material wealth, there is a stronger point too to be made about the nature of higher education as a whole: it is increasingly assumed that the purpose of a university education is to allow graduates to command higher salaries. That entirely dismisses the original point of universities, that of being able to provide an environment for education, for education's own sake. In the current economic climate, the idealistic principles of higher education certainly do not sit well with the harsh realities of attempting to run a business such as a university. However, the judgement that subsidising the education of future stockbrokers is more valuable than future artists, actors and musicians, is highly questionable.
As David Cameron likes to tell us, we are indeed all in this together; yet some seem more "in this together" than others. The 50,000 students that protested this week are certainly going to be "in this together" more than Cameron and indeed a substantial proportion of his cabinet, containing 18 millionaires. If arts education is indeed a class-leveller, then Cameron should consider the effect of cutting it back: his descendants may not take kindly to the thought that the V&A exhibition on Simon Cowell would have been instead to the greatest playwright the country had ever produced, were it not for the misguided priorities of their forefather.
Sunday, November 7. 2010
This week, in response to the Air Freight Bomb Plot, we've had the Home Secretary, Teresa May, announce that we're no longer allowed to take printer cartridges over 500g as hand luggage on aeroplanes. As a friend of mine said, "if this is the knee-jerk reaction of our current government, thank goodness they weren't in charge when the underpants bomber tried to set off his device, otherwise we'd all be flying naked by now". Of course, that's not to say it's not going to happen anyway, and if recent changes to pat-down searches in the USA are anything to go by, we're all going to want to go through the optional nude-imaging sensors unless we're particularly drawn to the security personel.
The absurdity of the restriction is hardly worthy of much comment: how often do you actually need a printer cartridge whilst flying, which weighs 500g or more? Personally I find the ones that weigh merely 376g more than sufficient for my airborne printing needs. The fact that I can take vast numbers of such cartridges on board, safe in the knowledge that they can't be rejected, even if they're full of undetectable explosive, is neither here nor there: I'm clearly utterly thwarted on this attack vector by these restrictions.
Late 2009, I flew to America from the UK, just a couple of days after the underpants bomber had tried to do his thing. There were secondary searches and everything was taking a fair bit longer. As usual, I had my French Horn with me. During the secondary search, I had one person search me (cavities excluded), whilst the other went through my coat and hand luggage. When they got to my horn case I explained it's a musical instrument and would it be okay if they allowed me to open the case? They said yes, and I did so. They pretty much took one look at it and decided it was just fine, which rather suited me. However, there's about 20 foot of tubing there. I suspect most musicians are going to be able to hide large amounts of PETN about their instruments as, indeed is anyone else: the ease with which one could adapt a laptop, iPod, iPad or mobile/cell phone is astonishing - halving the battery, or removing it completely, or taking out the CDROM drive and using the space there. It's really not challenging. But of course, governments aren't going ban laptops or phones or media players on aeroplanes: the uproar from business class would be deafening.
A week later, and we have Rolls Royce being assumed to be at fault for the engine failure which led to an A380 safely landing, albeit not at its intended destination. In reality, almost all failures on aeroplanes are due to maintenance failings (though I don't have much to cite on this, and to be honest, this is mainly informed through Crichton's Airframe novel, which whilst he probably did do substantial research for the novel, is hardly a sensible source from which to make such a claim) and there is already finger pointing going on at Lufthansa Technik who last serviced that engine and Rolls Royce who designed it, whilst the Australian aircraft engineering union points at the outsourcing of maintenance work.
Which really brings us to the central irony of the whole saga: whilst there have been several attempts to blow up aeroplanes since 2001, none (that I can think of, targetting western nations) have succeeded in detonating. However, aeroplanes continue to crash due to poor weather, poor decision making by the pilots, cost cutting in maintenance and maybe poor aircraft design. If the Qantas A380 had actually crashed, it would have very likely spelt the end for Rolls Royce, but corporate manslaughter cases are historically very tricky to prove (even assuming Rolls Royce are to blame here which is an unreasonable assumption at this stage). Whilst there may indeed by a backlash apparently growing against Rolls Royce there nevertheless always seems to be more outrage at the possibility of a terrorist taking lives rather than corporate irresponsibility. The former creates apparently endless thoughtless restrictions for travellers which are clearly ineffective (certainly there's been little evidence they've made any difference: the would-be bombers have been defeated either by tip-offs (as in the Air Freight case) or the passengers on board, not by the "increased security measures"). The later is shrugged off as cost of business, or an inherent risk of capitalism.
As ever, we are saved far more by the incompetence of terroists than by security measures. But the security measures increase in our consciousness fear of terrorists, fear which seems to be increasingly used for self-serving political means. The false reporting that goes on when covering such events merely contributes to the problem. This though, seems to be an increasingly well-covered issue: eventually, surely, people en masse will start to question some of the unverified claims they're being told. Won't they?
Unfortunately for some, the facts, rather than the conjecture, frequently admit far less hysteria than seems to be desired.