How to Spin a radioactive bird during Chernobyl rememberance day using Google and Sciencedaily.com
Op Ed Arclight
Dated 28 April 2014
Posted to nuclear-news.net
Concerning the article authored by Science Daily;
Chernobyl’s birds adapting to ionizing radiation
The article begins with Summary:
“Birds in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl are adapting to — and may
even be benefiting from — long-term exposure to radiation, ecologists
have found. The study is the first evidence that wild animals adapt to
ionizing radiation, and the first to show that birds which produce most
pheomelanin, a pigment in feathers, have greatest problems coping with
This is a fair comment from Dr Galvan also.
One could claim that the readers attention span will pick up on the
this paragraph but if they read further key words such as “We found the
opposite” in paragraph 2. Once again a fair quote to the facts.
Then “limited to humans, two bird species and one species of fish” and “Laboratory experiments have shown that humans and other animals can adapt to radiation” at the 4th paragraph.
on the 5th paragraph a quick admission of harm to humans.. but this phrase
is inserted ” this limited data”
On the 8th paragraph a very interesting comment on a new Novel way to analyse data and one that should be used in humans instead of the statistical averages used by UNSCEAR and the ICRP..
“The method focuses the analysis on individual birds instead of species averages, making it a much more sensitive way to analyze biochemical responses to radiation.
The author of the Science Daily article (not named) seemed to put the copy together in such a way as for it to give the positive aspects of the report in regard to the effects of ionising radiation whilst the more negative aspects are not clearly defined for the reader. Adding the studies briefly quoted in the main report by Galvan et al.
Also as social media catches the top of articles and many people scan quickly to get the general idea as opposed to reading the whole article thoroughly, one might get the impression that studies showing deleterious effects on humans are old whilst the new studies actually show benefit.
The negative effects on humans are mentioned briefly and there is no mention of effects that Chernobyl Children International have found on the ground and still ongoing. I also find that the article being brought out on the eve of the disaster was in bad taste but also quite clever as the google search engines that are highly filtered in countries like Ireland would pick this up instead of this;
or indeed this;
Of course these brief references (from the full report by Galvan et al.)to the new found positive effects on humans, are correct and have even been supported by Dr Chris Busby but they are taken out of context in my opinion. I contacted Tim Mousseau and he very kindly wrote back to me a clarification of the study. I tried to find Dr Ismael Galvans email and Dr Anders Moller very kindly sent it to me but not before I got Dr Timothy Mousseau`s comprehensive and clearly put reply first;
(WARNING : Creationist need to close their eyes now! )
Hopefully there will be some more comprehensive coverage of this latest
paper that includes some discussion of the broader picture that includes
the context for how such “positive” responses have evolved and how they
are not unexpected given the intensity of “unnatural” selection (i.e.
Negative effects) imposed by the radioactive contaminants in the area.
Let me start by saying the Dr. Galvan is a very bright and hard working
young biologist whose scientific credentials are impeccable, in fact
beyond excellent. Through his hard work he has managed to find these novel
and potentially very important responses in natural populations that have
never been seen before. His credentials are beyond reproach in every way
and we are very grateful for his very significant contributions to this
evolving study of wildlife in Chernobyl and Fukushima. My only regret is
that we don’t have the resources to find more creative, bright, hard
working young biologists like him to help us with these studies.
Below are some quotes that I am sharing related to the current study on
adaptation that puts things into an evolutionary context:
“Our previous studies in Chernobyl show a wide array of negative
consequences of exposure to radiation for most species. However, the
species that are remaining appear to have either evolved or are
pre-adapted to the contaminants through increased allocation of
antioxidants as a defence against the radiation. Some of these birds even
show reduced levels of genetic damage in areas of intermediate
contamination perhaps reflecting an effect of acclimation to the
radiation. It remains to be shown experimentally whether all birds show
such a response, or just the ones that are surviving under these hazardous
“These observations do not suggest that these birds are not negatively
impacted overall – our previous studies show significant increases in
cataracts, tumors, reduced fertility, and smaller brain sizes, even in
these birds that show some level of adaptation. However, the “unnatural
selection” imposed by radiation appears to favor individuals with the
ability to allocate antioxidants towards protection from ionizing
radiation, and this is not surprising given the strength of the negative
effects in the hottest parts of the Chernobyl Zone.
“Comparisons between Fukushima and Chernobyl suggest that 20+ years of
selection has led to smaller negative impacts on population growth rates
in Chernobyl than for the same birds in Fukushima four months after the
disaster further supporting the hypothesis that natural selection has
favored individuals that have allocated antioxidants towards the defence
of cellular damage caused by ionizing radiation.
“This latest paper may be a little confusing to some as it appears to
contradict some of our previous findings. However, these two messages are
not contradictory and positive and negative responses are not mutually
exclusive when it comes to evolution by natural selection in the face of
environmental stress. These latest observations simply suggest that
evolution is proceeding as expected, all the more so given the intensity
of selection we have previously documented. Negative fitness consequences
of the radiation provide the evolutionary “pressure” for organisms to
evolve adaptations in the face of this stress.”
In short, “positive” (as in adaptive) responses are an expected outcome of
the negative pressures exerted by the elevated radiation levels in these
regions. Given all that we know about evolution, it would be surprising if
we didn’t see adaptations arising in this way.
I hope this is helpful?
Dr. Timothy Mousseau
Professor of Biological Sciences
University of South Carolina
Columbia, SC 29209
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