NEWS ; RESEARCH
Faults Laureate Over Toxins
B; P; ; ; B; ;; ;;
O;;; ;;;;;fall day in 1946, long before global-warm- ing fears and Tea Party anger, the Nobel laureate Hermann J.
Muller stood before the world’s scientists and confronted a thoroughly
modern political and professional
Mr. Muller, collecting his Nobel
for having found that mutations can
be induced by X-rays, was also anticipating the coming nuclear arms
race, and he greatly feared it. And
yet he had recently been shown new
data from a trusted colleague suggesting that low levels of radiation
exposure might not always cause
In his speech at the Nobel Prize
ceremony in Stockholm, Mr. Muller, then a professor of hereditary science at Indiana University at Bloomington, pressed ahead. Determined
to discourage the United States and
other nations from building and testing atomic weapons, he declared that
any radioactive fallout from test blasts
would certainly harm human health.
There is, he declared, “no escape
from the conclusion that there is no
threshold dose” of radiation below
which humans will suffer no harm.
Fast forward to 2011. Many leading scientists today are absent from
public debates, even in cases such as
climate change where the calculated
health threats carry potentially monumental consequences. There’s also
evidence of researchers aligning their
scientific views with those of industry
partners bearing financial and career
incentives. And in government, policy makers face escalating pressure to
relax rather than strengthen environmental regulations.
Into that arena has stepped Edward
J. Calabrese, a professor of public
health at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Mr. Calabrese has
long been using his research to make
the point that government limits on radiation and chemical exposure, dating
from the time of Mr. Muller, are overblown. In some cases, in fact, Mr. Calabrese believes exposures to environmental toxins may have beneficial effects, much like vaccines, as humans
and other organisms learn to adapt to
HERBERT GEHR, TIME LIFE PICTURES, GETTY IMAGES
Hermann J. Muller won a Nobel Prize in 1946 for his work showing that mutations can be induced by X-rays.
threats that could cause them signifi-
cant harm in larger doses. Mr. Cala-
brese has written 140 published papers
on the subject, and conducted an anal-
ysis of about 4,000 toxicology stud-
ies in science journals that identified
about 350 where chemicals showed
some beneficial effects.
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