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POST - a handy resource on big scientific issues

By DoubleEdd in MLP
Sun Jan 14, 2001 at 01:20:40 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

POST is the UK's Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. It's been on the web for quite some time, and its the recent story on mobile phone health that brought it to mind again. A rough guide to what it does is available here. Basically it provides reports on issues of science and technology for members of the UK parliament to bring them up to speed on current issues.

The UK Parliament's Office of Science and Technology provides these PDF reports on all kinds of issues from health issues like the mobile phone scares to the recent scares on the MMR jab, all freely available to the public for non-commercial use, and it also provides a whole load of further MLP.

Other reports of note cover fusion research, various satellites, US missile defense, human genome research, near-Earth objects, internet commerce and the like, all available as PDFs on the reports page.


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Related Links
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POST - a handy resource on big scientific issues | 3 comments (2 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
Good Stuff! (3.00 / 1) (#1)
by Seumas on Sun Jan 14, 2001 at 10:34:40 AM EST

They have some pretty concise informative pieces there. My first concern was that shoving papers in front of legislators would be a great way to bias them with one-sided or partially obscured data and opinions, but it appears that they do go through the effort to employ the opinions and experience of professionals and experts in various aspects of each area in question for each 'article'.

For all you middle-school and highschool kids -- keep the link handy; it'll be useful for some cool reports in school. Think of it as Cliff Notes for current events!
I just read K5 for the articles.

Correlations v. Causations (4.33 / 3) (#3)
by Signal 11 on Sun Jan 14, 2001 at 12:57:37 PM EST

I pointed this out in another article on cell phone radiation - still in the queue I believe - there is no conclusive evidence that cell phone radiation harms people. None.

If anyone remembers the big tobacco lawsuits in Florida last year, you might note that the tobacco industries lost because there was evidence they were selling to minors. But you may also remember that every lawsuit brought against the companies by adult smokers who had encountered health problems was dismissed, or the damages sharply curtailed. Why?

The answer lies in the difference between a correlation and a causation. A correlation would be going outside in the morning and dropping your garbage off at the curb and then coming back at noon and discovering it was gone. It is a reasonable conclusion that the garbage truck came by and somebody picked it up - but you can't prove it. It's indirect observation. A causation would be actually observing the garbage man take away your garbage.

Every study done on cell phones to date (that I am aware of) which claimed conclusive evidence of health risks has been debunked. Yes, there is a correlation - and a weak one - between cell phone usage and increased risk of cancer. Not many people dispute that. However, by the same token, there isn't enough evidence to justify a response yet. Lots of money is being poured into research here, I'm almost sure of that, but to date nothing conclusive has been shown. Infact, the current evidence is quite weak.

Radiation is a tricky thing - it is not predictable. If I bombard a thousand people with one hundred rad, statistically some of them are going to develop radiation sickness. As to who in particular will, nobody knows. The reason for this lies in how cancer is caused.

Cancer from radiation is caused when a high speed particle from the radiation source collides with a molecule of DNA inside your cell. Most of the time, this merely results in the death of the cell. Ocassionally, however, it modifies the DNA and it survives. In some of those cases, cancer is formed because the cell duplicates excessively, crowding out existing tissue. Even when cancer occurs, there are two types - malignant, and benign. Benign can often be treated by simply cutting out the affected tissue(s). Malignant has a tendancy to spread to other parts of the body - it is malignant cancer that is more common in fatality cases than benign, but both can be deadly if untreated!

As you can see, there are a good number of variables here, even if the radiation is uniform and can be recorded with accuracy. Even so, the radiation you are exposed to naturally every day far exceeds anything your cell phone can produce. Stepping outside into direct sunlight is bombarding you with many watts of energy - enough to cause a noticeable increase in your skin temperature, as everyone knows. In addition to the sun, we also have the Earth's magnetic field, which is so powerful it is difficult to put it in perspective - but the energy in it vastly exceeds every man made transmitter's output, combined. In addition, every atom is radioactive (if my chemistry teacher wasn't lying, anyway!) - It will eventually break down. Sometimes it'll take a few seconds, sometimes a few million years. Sometimes the time delay is so large we aren't exactly sure when it will break apart. What we do know is that eventually, it will. You are bombarded with radioactive particles every day by the trillions - every one contains the payload needed to trigger cancer.

You might notice most of us are still alive. Most of us don't have cancer. Even with all that radiation floating around, we're still here. Odd, eh?

Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.

POST - a handy resource on big scientific issues | 3 comments (2 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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