John Cook - The Debunking Handbook

December 19, 2011

Host: Chris Mooney

How do you successfully debunk misinformation?

The question is a deceptively simple one—which is precisely the problem.

Debunking is easy—just refute false claims, and provide corrective information.

Debunking successfully is something else again-you have to change minds, and make the corrective information stick. And how does that work?

Well, as it turns out, we actually don't know very much about the process. But what we do know was recently compiled into a brilliant short document, the Debunking Handbook, available free for download from the website Skeptical Science.

Point of Inquiry recently caught up with one of its authors, John Cook, in San Francisco at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

John Cook is the Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia. He studied physics, and maintains the popular global warming website "Skeptical Science," which refutes misinformation by explaining, in user friendly fashion, the findings of the peer reviewed literature.

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Skeptical Science
The Debunking Handbook

Comments from the CFI Forums

If you would like to leave a comment about this episode of Point of Inquiry please visit the related thread on the CFI discussion forums

I’ve begun a thread on Somasimple.com, a site devoted to therapy and neuroscience and linked the handbook there.

Here it is: http://www.somasimple.com/forums/showthread.php?t=12135

Posted on Dec 23, 2011 at 5:20am by Barrett Dorko Comment #1

I’ve begun a thread on Somasimple.com, a site devoted to therapy and neuroscience and linked the handbook there.

Barrett, it looks like your posts exist simply to spam your website, and are only tangentially related to the issues upon which you’re commenting. If you wish to remain as a member on this site you are more than welcome to engage in comment and discussion, but simply showing up to provide more of the same sort of links is against the rules and may get you banned. Thanks.

Posted on Dec 23, 2011 at 5:26am by dougsmith Comment #2

Barrett Dorko receives no commercial benefit from SomaSimple.  The site is run by Bernard DeLalande out of France.  SomaSimple is a non-commercial discussion forum attended regularly by skeptical health care providers, who seek out a broad range of resources to better understand how to overcome the myths and outright charlatanism that pervades modern health care systems.  This particular podcast and Dr. Cook’s book have valuable information that can help us all debunk anti- and pseudoscientific ideas.

I can’t speak for him, but I can assure you that if it wasn’t for Mr. Dorko, I would know nothing about this site or the POI podcasts.

I think you would be doing yourselves a significant disservice by banning him from attempting to disseminate the information on this site.

Posted on Dec 23, 2011 at 9:09am by John Ware Comment #3

Barrett Dorko receives no commercial benefit from SomaSimple.  The site is run by Bernard DeLalande out of France.  SomaSimple is a non-commercial discussion forum attended regularly by skeptical health care providers, who seek out a broad range of resources to better understand how to overcome the myths and outright charlatanism that pervades modern health care systems.  This particular podcast and Dr. Cook’s book have valuable information that can help us all debunk anti- and pseudoscientific ideas.

I can’t speak for him, but I can assure you that if it wasn’t for Mr. Dorko, I would know nothing about this site or the POI podcasts.

I think you would be doing yourselves a significant disservice by banning him from attempting to disseminate the information on this site.

I’d be willing take your word for this. However in general we would prefer members who are active participants rather than people who seem to post simply to direct people to some particular site.

Posted on Dec 23, 2011 at 2:01pm by dougsmith Comment #4

John, you may be a real person, or you may merely be a sock-puppet of Barrett.  I tend to be less forgiving than Doug, and since you showed up, became a member then posted that so quickly, I question your very existence.  Had you been a member with some standing both in time and number of meaningful posts, I would be far more likely to accept your opinion.  The fact that you posted so quickly after Adam’s posts and indicated that you knew of him and the organization also indicates that you are not an objective observer but just another facet of the same advertising.

Occam

[edited to correct name to Barrett]

Posted on Dec 23, 2011 at 2:36pm by Occam. Comment #5

Oh Brother. If there’s some advertising advantage to be gotten from pointing people toward this discussion, the podcast, the handbook and whatever else POI has benefitted from as the end result of my promotion I’d love to see it. So far, well, nothing.

As soon as I heard this wonderful interview I knew that those of us who have tried endlessly, and, unsuccessfully, to dissuade several professions from archaic and harmful ideas regarding painful problems could learn from it and begin again.

That’s all this was about and that’s all this will ever be about. I have nothing to apologize for.

Posted on Dec 23, 2011 at 3:01pm by Barrett Dorko Comment #6

Oh Brother. If there’s some advertising advantage to be gotten from pointing people toward this discussion, the podcast, the handbook and whatever else POI has benefitted from as the end result of my promotion I’d love to see it. So far, well, nothing.

As soon as I heard this wonderful interview I knew that those of us who have tried endlessly, and, unsuccessfully, to dissuade several professions from archaic and harmful ideas regarding painful problems could learn from it and begin again.

That’s all this was about and that’s all this will ever be about. I have nothing to apologize for.

If you’re posting in good will, then no worries. I’ve made my point and hopefully we can move on constructively from here. Generally speaking, we have nothing against people pointing out useful material or discussions elsewhere on the web. But we do like members to be here for discussion.

Our concerns may seem to you petty, but we deal with spammers and scores of spam signups every day so this is a very real issue for us, and one we take very seriously.

Posted on Dec 23, 2011 at 3:17pm by dougsmith Comment #7

John, you may be a real person, or you may merely be a sock-puppet of Adam.  I tend to be less forgiving than Doug, and since you showed up, became a member then posted that so quickly, I question your very existence.  Had you been a member with some standing both in time and number of meaningful posts, I would be far more likely to accept your opinion.  The fact that you posted so quickly after Adam’s posts and indicated that you knew of him and the organization also indicates that you are not an objective observer but just another facet of the same advertising.

Occam

I don’t know who “Adam” is, but Barrett Dorko is a real person with a large body of work, some of it published in our professional journals.  Google him if you don’t believe me.  When he finds interesting and thoughtful presentations of ideas, such as this POI podcast, he will link these to the SomaSimple site, where I moderate as well (for free-the site does not take advertisers), and even (brace yourselves) facebook.

I hope you fellows don’t feel above all that.

I’m real, too.  And I also found the interview with Dr. Cook very interesting and certainly relevant beyond just the climate change issue.  I think Dr. Cook would agree that debunk-able myths abound in many professions that supposedly claim to be founded in scientific principles.

I also understand the caution towards potential spammers and trolls, but explicitly questioning someone’s existence in the age of Google sounds a bit knee-jerk cynical to me.  Perhaps my middle initial will help, it’s “W”.

Posted on Dec 23, 2011 at 4:56pm by John Ware Comment #8

Sorry, mistyped the name.  I corrected it to Barrett.

Occam

Posted on Dec 23, 2011 at 11:07pm by Occam. Comment #9

I remain convinced that the handbook forms a template for those of us who are trying to successfully change the dogma that leads to stagnation.

I’ve seen about 700 views and 38 responses to a single post about this wonderful interview. Surely others would find something similar.

Where is everybody?

Posted on Dec 26, 2011 at 4:48pm by Barrett Dorko Comment #10

John Cook,
Thanks very much for the debunking handbook.
It’s an excellent resource!

Also, I enjoyed hearing you on POI, but no doubt like many listeners, I was surprised to hear you self-identify as a god/supernatural believer.  In any event, while we don’t share theology, it’s apparent that we share many of the same values and a similar appreciation of scientific data. 
Best of luck with your website and with all your efforts to help people understand the science underpinning climate change.

Posted on Dec 27, 2011 at 2:53pm by Trail Rider Comment #11

Thanks Adam, for the link to John Cook’s “Debunking Handbook”. I have it in my library now and will reread it many times.
I tend to be a little verbose and this excellent guide hopefully will help me in delivering succinct responses to complicated issues.

Posted on Dec 28, 2011 at 12:39am by Write4U Comment #12

Like Trail Rider, I too was intrigued by Dr. Cook mentioning that he was a Christian, but not totally shocked.  The last I heard, the Pew Research Forum found that somewhere near 2/3 of scientists belief in some type of god or ‘spirit’.  It’s a fine example of how we have a tendency to compartmentalize our lives and attitudes.  Some scientists can apply an empirical view to their research, but not their own personal beliefs.

Posted on Dec 28, 2011 at 11:32am by The Curious Skeptic Comment #13

Like Trail Rider, I too was intrigued by Dr. Cook mentioning that he was a Christian, but not totally shocked.  The last I heard, the Pew Research Forum found that somewhere near 2/3 of scientists belief in some type of god or ‘spirit’.  It’s a fine example of how we have a tendency to compartmentalize our lives and attitudes.  Some scientists can apply an empirical view to their research, but not their own personal beliefs.

We can debunk reliigion but until science comes up with a theory of everything, we cannot debunk God. Even a scientist can say, we know what happened after creation, but that does not negate the concept of a Creator.

Posted on Dec 28, 2011 at 2:55pm by Write4U Comment #14

We can debunk reliigion but until science comes up with a theory of everything, we cannot debunk God.

Sure we can. See the Problem of Evil.

Posted on Dec 28, 2011 at 2:56pm by dougsmith Comment #15

We can debunk reliigion but until science comes up with a theory of everything, we cannot debunk God.

Sure we can. See the Problem of Evil.

True, to make an argument for a god who is good is problematic. However there are Deities which are unemotional or amoral in nature.

Posted on Dec 28, 2011 at 3:05pm by Write4U Comment #16

I don’t believe it’s a matter of “debunking” God.  It’s a matter of believing something without evidence.  Being scientific means that you can not do this; therefore, by definition IMO, a scientist should not believe in God. 

Also, it depends on your definition of religion on whether you can “debunk” it or not.

Posted on Dec 28, 2011 at 3:22pm by The Curious Skeptic Comment #17

Not sure how god got to be the center piece of this thread.
Allow me to bring it back to John Cook’s new handbook:

“The Handbook explores the surprising fact that debunking myths can sometimes reinforce the myth in peoples’ minds. Communicators need to be aware of the various backfire effects and how to avoid them, such as:

  The Familiarity Backfire Effect
  The Overkill Backfire Effect
  The Worldview Backfire Effect

It also looks at a key element to successful debunking: providing an alternative explanation. The Handbook is designed to be useful to all communicators who have to deal with misinformation (eg - not just climate myths).”

Free downloads are available:
http://www.skepticalscience.com/Debunking-Handbook-now-freely-available-download.html

Posted on Dec 28, 2011 at 6:31pm by citizenschallenge.pm Comment #18

Not sure how god got to be the center piece of this thread.
Allow me to bring it back to John Cook’s new handbook:

“The Handbook explores the surprising fact that debunking myths can sometimes reinforce the myth in peoples’ minds. Communicators need to be aware of the various backfire effects and how to avoid them, such as:

  The Familiarity Backfire Effect
  The Overkill Backfire Effect
  The Worldview Backfire Effect

It also looks at a key element to successful debunking: providing an alternative explanation. The Handbook is designed to be useful to all communicators who have to deal with misinformation (eg - not just climate myths).”

Free downloads are available:
http://www.skepticalscience.com/Debunking-Handbook-now-freely-available-download.html

Sorry CC, my bad….. :red:

I was actually trying to tie in how the art of debunking could be applied to debunking religion and the assumption of god.

I read the book and found excellent suggestions as how to present an effective debunking argument.

Posted on Dec 28, 2011 at 6:47pm by Write4U Comment #19

I wasn’t meaning for the discussion to turn towards god so much as to focus on how I find the irony interesting that he is discussing debunking techniques and yet many could be applied to his own belief in a god.  Bringing it around to include discussion of the debunking handbook, I believe the Familiarity Backfire Effect and the Worldview Backfire Effect could apply here. 

Along the topic of debunking and more specifically, changing minds, I conducted research for my undergrad (although thanks to a depleted subject pool, wasn’t able to complete) that showed that it’s fairly easy to at least temporarily change attitudes towards individuals with differing worldviews if you make the similarities salient between the subject and a person of another faith…for example if the subject was Christian and disfavored Muslims, give information focusing on the similarities between Islam and Christianity.  Later they seemed to be less judgmental of the differences between the religions, thus supporting the idea of an extended intergroup.  This would apply to the Worldview Backfire Effect, I believe.  Make them feel less threatened regarding a different worldview and they are later much more tolerant/accepting of the differences; therefore helping to avoid the Worldview Backfire Effect.

Posted on Dec 30, 2011 at 10:43am by The Curious Skeptic Comment #20

Well OK guess it’s a fair issue to bring up.
And I admit being a long time Skeptical Science fan I feel a bit defensive for John Cook, but you’ve got my interest going so when I get a chance I’ll try to dig up more on John’s religious attitude.

But, off the top of my head, seems to me there are many different ways of framing one’s Christian beliefs that still allow for a full respect and reliance on the scientific method and physical realities.

Posted on Dec 31, 2011 at 1:14pm by citizenschallenge.pm Comment #21

like i said, i’ve been chewing on this and have shared it at another forum.  In the interest of the discussion and because i’m wrestling with this and would love hearing more view points i’m going to share three quotes sans attribution - and am curious if anyone has any thoughts to add.
My opening post included: “... the incongruity of someone who “believes in a personified God” debunking other’s erroneous beliefs.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The original point is certainly reasonable IMO. I simply don’t understand how you can subject religious beliefs to proper skeptical appraisal and remain religious. But as long as you compartmentalize and the issue doesn’t threaten your worldview, I don’t think it’s a problem.
However, I wonder whether fundamentalists like Spencer could ever accept dangerous human caused global warming.

~ ~ ~

Regarding folks who claim “AGW is a religion in itself” 
So what they really are implying is that those who believe in climate science are taking it on faith.  And that the science itself is not knowable by the individual save through faith alone.  For they that utter that phrase have either not studied the science, not understood it if they did…or they are lying & seeking to dissemble.
Per Hebrews 11:1
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
So faith is believing in that which is unseen…and therefore unknowable.
Per Thomas Aquinas:
“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”
To those that state “AGW is a religion in itself” they then make it incongruous to be a believer, to have faith in a greater power…and to also believe in science.  More specifically, in climate science.  Such is anathema to their own faith and ideology.

~ ~ ~


So perhaps it is important to draw a distinction between the modern, emotionally hyped (and thus shallow) versions, and the older Christian traditions which for all its many faults, at least eschewed the modern cult of the individual.

~ ~ ~

Posted on Jan 01, 2012 at 8:56am by citizenschallenge.pm Comment #22

quick thought before having to run off:
There is a big difference between having “certitude” in one’s perception of “God”... being a “tool of god’s will/word”
and those who find in “God” a mystery relating to themselves and their world views… something ineffable.

In that case it seems easy to appreciate a separation between what’s in the heart (god - love) and a rational fact based scientific appreciation for our world and how it operates.

Posted on Jan 01, 2012 at 9:18am by citizenschallenge.pm Comment #23


There is a big difference between having “certitude” in one’s perception of “God”... being a “tool of god’s will/word”
and those who find in “God” a mystery relating to themselves and their world views… something ineffable.

well so much for ineffability  :cheese: 

anonymous

Indeed, faced with these difficulties, many recent theologians have started to assert an unlimited ineffability.  However, they thereby render their theory of God without content, so that saying you believe in that God literally asserts nothing.

Posted on Jan 02, 2012 at 11:52pm by citizenschallenge.pm Comment #24


There is a big difference between having “certitude” in one’s perception of “God”... being a “tool of god’s will/word”
and those who find in “God” a mystery relating to themselves and their world views… something ineffable.

well so much for ineffability  :cheese: 

anonymous

Indeed, faced with these difficulties, many recent theologians have started to assert an unlimited ineffability.  However, they thereby render their theory of God without content, so that saying you believe in that God literally asserts nothing.

Yes, I am aware of only one word which adequately explains the ultimate Causality. It is defined as a Latent Excellence. The word itself is Potential. While it’s meaning is still vague, IMO, it is much more definitive than the word god (in its common form), which is completely unknowable.
But we do have a word for being good to yourself and to others. It is called Morality. But we cannot call that a god,  unless one wants to subscribe to the many gods and goddesses of virtues and vices in mythology.
Morality and moral values are a human recognition of the value of a symbiotic relationship with nature as opposed to predator/prey relationship.

Posted on Jan 03, 2012 at 12:24am by Write4U Comment #25

I came upon this quote from John Cook that touches on the balance/dance between personal faith in a higher being and appreciating scientific knowledge.  I really like the way he phrased it, and believe it is worth sharing so have taken the liberty of posting it here:

“...  My view, as I’ve articulated many times, is that on scientific matters like climate change or evolution, one looks to the empirical data. So when someone says “AGW is religion”, I say “AGW is based on empirical evidence, which is the heart of science. Making accusations of religion is just a way of avoiding the evidence”.

“My experience with climate change denial, learning of all the rhetorical techniques and misleading strategies of climate deniers, is what made me realise that the same rhetorical techniques were employed by creationists to deny evolution. When I took the time to investigate the scientific case for evolution, I realised it was based on many lines of empirical evidence, the same as AGW. It was not an easy journey to take, I can tell you. Being fully aware of the cognitive biases that come to play when your worldview is threatened, I could feel all those biases alive and kicking in myself. But I came through it with a much clearer picture of the whole evolution/creation debate and the fallacies held by both sides…”

Posted on Jan 03, 2012 at 8:57am by citizenschallenge.pm Comment #26

John is doing excellent work.  He deserves the attention he’s drawing to his ideas.  But it seems to me he could learn something about how hard it is for anyone to change their mind about something by studying his own beliefs.  At least I take it that what is in his book “Climate Change Denial” about nuclear power consists of what he believes.  The section on nuclear starts on page 143. 

Nuclear is “more expensive than renewables such as wind”, and is only presented to society as an option because of “powerful nuclear and mining lobbies”.  I thought I heard Chris Mooney say a while ago that the Democratic Party is no longer anti-nuclear.  Would Chris agree with John that although “the left” is no longer knee jerk anti nuke, they actually believe this rubbish, i.e. that nuclear power is so prohibitively expensive?  Why is the Chinese low carbon energy program dominated by nuclear power?  They aren’t deploying the solar panels they are the largest producers of in the world at anything like the scale they are deploying nuclear at. 

“Its not carbon neutral anyway”  - neither is solar.  Science published http://theenergycollective.com/david-lewis/41986/science-mag-special-section-bleak-future-without-nukes-and-ccs saying solar was more carbon intensive than nuclear last year. 

“Nuclear energy is too slow to deploy anyway”.  He cites Amory Lovins to support this.  Lovins is as credible, as seen by pro nuclear types, as Morano is as seen by climate activists.  Cook hasn’t scratched the surface of the nuclear debate enough to understand this.  An example of Lovins shovelling out lies is here:  http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=11-P13-00012&segmentID=2  At that link, he’s interviewed on “Living on Earth” a Public Radio International program and at one point says that since 2005 the entire cost of building nuclear reactors in the US is paid for by the US government.  This is how Lovins distorts the loan guarantee program.  Its cloud cuckoo land.  Lovins idea of “debunking” follows the model perfected by Goebbels, i.e. The Big Lie.  According to his former friend Stewart Brand, Lovins is the most responsible person in the world for the line Cook and so many others use, i.e. nuclear power is too expensive to use. 

And naturally, Cook uses the Lovins line:  “Nuclear power is not cheap”.  Cook cites the MIT Future of Nuclear Power study that found that new nukes could produce power at 6.7 cents kWhr and then he tells us this is too expensive for anyone to contemplate using.  Again, he cites Lovins to confirm that this figure makes nuclear prohibitively expensive.  Does Cook understand anything about the cost of the various competing electricity supply options?  That MIT study concluded that nuclear would be competitive now with fossil fuels, i.e. coal, if it could borrow capital for construction at the same rate, and that a $25 a tonne carbon tax would make it competitive at current financing rates.  Renewables, if you are looking at how to provide the bulk of the power you’d need to run the grid (i.e. add the cost of storage to counteract intermittency and the new super grid to transport the power from long distances in the spread out network)  aren’t even in the ballpark. 

“It is doubtful that there are enough uranium reserves”  MIT is saying there are enough uranium reserves.  Cook cites MIT on cost but ignores what they say on availability - isn’t that classic cherry picking?  The argument John employs also ignores breeder technology that would not require mining any new fuel for hundreds of years

“The nuclear fuel cycle produces weapons grade uranium and plutonium. (I realized my initial argument on this statement was based on the fuel cycle as it exists in the US, so I edited this paragraph.)  In the US because there is no reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors, the fuel cycle doesn’t produce “weapons grade” material.  If you want to produce weapons grade U-235 or Pu-239 you have to purify it beyond 90% pure, whereas reactor fuel is 3 - 5% U - 235.  The Pu coming out is mixed isotopes that deter would be bomb makers.  The reprocessing technology used in France or Japan can produce weapons grade material if you want it to.  Its simplistic and inaccurate to argue against “nuclear power” in this way.  Proliferation is the most serious issue that can be raised when thinking about nuclear power as far as I can see.  I didn’t put enough thought into my initial comment on this point, taking as my excuse the fact that the statement in John’s book appeared to be deliberately inaccurate, which I don’t know is the case. 

“Nuclear power stations…. can melt down like Chernobyl”.  They can’t actually.  Unlike every design in the West, and all reactors in the US, Japan, or China, or anywhere else near where John lives, Chernobyl didn’t have a containment.  After Fukushima, we should expect people to stop telling us that a meltdown is the end of the world.  Three reactors melted down there and the containments prevented a Chernobyl scale release.  A lot of the area that is evacuated now as an exclusion zone is less radioactive than a city in the state where I live, i.e. Spokane Washington.  Radiophobia is what is going to kill Japanese, not radiation. 

And on and on.  “We should not fall prey to the spin and propaganda of the nuclear and mining industries” Cook concludes.  Perhaps he might pay attention to Dr. Barry Brooke, Professor of Climate Change at the University of Adelaide, who advocates breeder reactors as the solution to climate change.  Or perhaps John can tell us why Dr. James Hansen promotes the use of nuclear power.  What Hansen said when he toured New Zealand, when asked about nuclear was this:  ” “it’s really a case of you should be examining that, along with all the other alternatives, because we have an emergency situation.

Posted on Jan 15, 2012 at 2:34pm by David Lewis Comment #27

David I read your post with interest.  I myself am no fan of big nuclear power seeing it as a Faustian bargain that will bite us in the end.  But admit to having only superficial knowledge since I haven’t spent any real time studying it.  That said your post was interesting and thoughtfully written so I decided to email John Cook and ask him about it. 
Mr. Cook was kind enough to reply:

“That section was written by Haydn and he has very strongly held views on nuclear power. He has been an environmentalist for decades so I’m guessing he has campaigned against nuclear power in the past - this might be an ideological sticking point for him. Personally, I’m still agnostic about nuclear power - I thought Haydn’s arguments nuclear power were mostly sound but I haven’t fully investigated both sides of the debate.

Posted on Jan 16, 2012 at 4:32pm by citizenschallenge.pm Comment #28

I realized I needed to change what I’d written on “weapons grade” material not being produced by the nuclear fuel cycle, so I edited the original post.  I live in the US, and I guess I was letting myself think what’s happening here is what’s happening everywhere, which in terms of reprocessing as part of the normal nuclear fuel cycle is not the case. 

Thanks for getting the response from John. 

I’ve been involved with the climate issue since 1988 and spent many years in the political wilderness in Canada arguing that civilization needed to act to limit its impact on the biosphere in any area where what it was doing was not sustainable.  The climate policy I advocated that voters should vote for was to return the atmosphere to its preindustrial composition.  But I remained “agnostic” that there would be a role for nuclear power. 

I had despaired that anything I was doing was making the slightest bit of difference by around the late 1990s, and was “burned out’ for some years.  But then I heard that Hansen was saying he had concluded there was too much CO2 in the atmosphere already and I heard him saying things like he expected to be called to testify at the trials for crimes against humanity of CEOs of fossil fuel companies.  Perhaps now that scientists were speaking out as forcefully as that, I thought, there would be new possibilities. 

Hansen started touting nuclear power, specifically a breeder reactor design that had proved itself at prototype and was ready for full scale testing in the US before the program was suddenly cancelled when anti nukes around President Clinton came into power in Washington. 

I followed Hansen’s lead and took up the study of nuclear power.  The design he was touting creates more fuel than it uses, is safer than anything currently operating, reprocesses its used fuel on its own site always keeping it in a form unsuitable for weapons, produces waste that decays in hundreds of years instead of hundreds of thousands of years, in fact it could burn todays waste piles converting it into a hundreds of years problem from what it is now, and as such could totally replace fossil fuel generation worldwide.  Of course, people would have to change their minds about nuclear and allow this or similar designs to be built at scale then deployed in numbers to prove this out.  But it isn’t like fusion - the designers felt ready to build a first of a kind large scale plant as their last step before commercialization when the program was cancelled.  It was the biggest nuke R&D program the US had at the time.  When it was conceived it was supposed to produce the prototype for the next generation nuclear fleet and the aim was to replace fossil fuels.  The designers say they took it upon themselves to find design solutions to the biggest problems the current fleet had.  Then the tide turned on nuclear in the US and suddenly they couldn’t even build reactors of any type any more. 

You can see the Sierra Club nuke policy online, its no nukes, no research, no fusion, no nothing we don’t care we know all we need to know about that and we don’t want it.  And it was all written before it first dawned on them that climate was even an issue

I studied the debate around nuclear.  No wonder the pro nuke types are in trouble promoting their favorite technology:  the US nuclear industry has a climate science denier as one of their most prominent lobbyists.  They tend to argue that radiation is good for you.  It seems that most pro nuclear types have no perception that there could possibly be a limit to how large of an impact human civilization can impose on the biosphere, and most don’t buy that there is a climate problem.  They want civilization to use more nukes for electricity generation, but they love fossil fuels for their cars.  Some think the only reason anyone is an environmentalist is they are totally corrupt morons only interested in all the money environmentalists get for obstructing reasonable things.

So I don’t know.  I am appalled at the pro nuclear types and hardly interact with them any more - I used to study what they were saying to try to learn more about nuclear technology but at some point you get tired of hearing you are mentally ill because you believe the NAS is capable of assessing the state of present knowledge in a scientific discipline such as what radiation does to human beings.  And the anti nukes are preposterous - Helen Caldicott proclaimed during the heightened press attention she got during the Fukushima event that Japan, that’s the entire country, was going to be uninhabitable, forever.  Romm is actually telling his readers that nuclear is more expensive than solar power now.  And he assures everyone he isn’t anti nuke. 

I have reservations about proliferation.  But what is clear is that the scientists who first discovered that fission was possible, i.e. that the atom could be split to produce energy in the form of bombs, and controlled to produce heat and electricity, didn’t believe it was possible to keep this “genie” in the bottle.  They understood it wasn’t going to be possible to keep others who were determined to understand this physics from figuring it out.  If you want a bomb today, it seems Iran is showing what someone would do:  you get uranium from wherever, it can be ore from the ground, learn how to enrich it, they are using centrifuges, they don’t need reactors or anything from any fuel cycle for this, and once you’ve got enough enriched to 90% or so U- 235, after that, I hear its very easy to make a bomb.  The US apparently felt it didn’t have to test the first U - 235 bomb it made it just dropped it and it worked.  Its something like a sub critical mass with a hole in it and you fire the rest of the critical mass into the hole when you want it blow up.  You’d need some physicists.  What banning breeder reactors in the US does to slow this down is not clear.

Posted on Jan 16, 2012 at 10:15pm by David Lewis Comment #29