Recognition of insufficiency in expertise

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by iceaura, Apr 2, 2013.

  1. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Some recent examples, news about troubles far enough back to allow a little perspective but near enough to be fresh in memory:

    First, updating Fukushima:
    Now I chose that link specifically because it is firmly industry friendly, a solid and eager proponent of nuclear power, and delivers all the false reassurance possible - everything downplayed, everything low key, all unknowns estimated favorably (they claim the plants suffered no damage from quake itself, no one anywhere has been seriously radiation afflicted from it, etc). So we can prudently and conservatively take alarm at anything alarming in it, be surprised at anything surprising.

    And we read the following: two years after the tsunami, nobody knows yet where the cores of the three meltdown reactors actually ended up, or where the leaks we have noticed are coming from. (We recall that it took ten years to obtain that information at Three Mile Island - the fact that some twenty tons of the core had melted and flowed from the reactor vessel into the outer minor debris containment shell, that what saved us from a Chernobyl in 1979 was five inches of steel not designed to take the stress it seems to have by some miracle withstood, was not established by the experts until 1989.)

    Elsewhere in the account we can read that Fukushima Daini, the sister set of reactors a few miles away, despite being hit by a much smaller wave, lost all cooling power except from one diesel generator by chance installed on higher ground, and for a few days it had been a "major challenge" (their term, in a consistently understated account) to prevent meltdown in those four reactors as well.

    We can read that 23 of the 24 radiation monitors at Daichi were taken out by the wave - no radiation release "information" from the immediate aftermath of the wave was or is based on actual instrument readings.

    And so looking back on what the industry and government experts were saying in the near aftermath of Fukushima, we see that they were pretty consistently misinforming us about most of the serious stuff. Just as the they were after Three Mile Island. And just as they had been about the safety and reliability of nuclear power plants for fifty years running. Do you recall the blow by blow accounts of the tense battle to save Daini from joining Daichi in meltdown? Neither do I.
    - - - - - -
    Honeybees : we read in last Friday's news that the continuing affliction of mysterious mass death in honeybees is worse this year, at least in the US and particularly among the bees scheduled to pollinate California's fruit and nut trees and other produce.

    The reason I mention this is to bring in the role of experts in the matter. Because the honeybee is one of, if not the, most thoroughly studied and researched organisms on this planet. And among the various proposed possibilities for the cause(s) of this affliction (which include pesticides, GM crops, etc) we find supposedly thoroughly studied areas of industry endeavor, about which we have been receiving high volumes of reassurances from experts (and of their mockery of critics). And yet these factors remain proposed causes, possibilities, unknowns: when serious trouble hits in the dead center of their fields of expertise - of a kind long predicted by these mocked critics and amateurs, btw - these experts not only did not predict and forestall it, they don't even know what's happening or what to do.

    They plan on researching the matter, and getting back to us - which would be an improvement on the actual misinformation we get from the nuke experts, if they were not still promulgating the very reassurances their current bee bafflements invalidate.

    So the question becomes: can we, finally, in the wake of the latest (those two are clear, but not exhaustive), competently approach the topic of risk in an area of valuable but unavoidably and visibly biased, inadequate expertise? Can we establish some acceptable and reasonable and adult way to keep inadequate expertise in its properly limited and advisory role, subservient to prudence and clearheaded recognition of the scope of the unknown?
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2013
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  3. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

    IcewAura: The following is not a valid comparision.
    The Three Mile Island incident was not in the same class as the Fukushina incident. Three Mile Island effects were minimal. The result of that incident did not cause harmful radioactive effects on any human beings or animals in the vicinity. There are cities (I think Paris is an example) whose background radiation level is the same or higher than that caused by the Three Mile Island reactor meltdown.

    Japan ignored the fact that Fukushina was in the Ring of Fire, where earth quakes & volcanic incidents are to be expected with a possible tsunami occurring. No special precautions were taken with the design of the Fukushina reactor. Reactors (if any) built in the earthquake prone part of California are surely designed with the possibility of an earthquake being considered.

    Chernoble was probably the worst incident in the history of the nuclear power industry prior to Fukushina. That reactor design was one of the worst & USSR safety precautions were almost non existent. Note that decades prior to the Chernoble incident, there was an English reactor which used the same design. It had a similar incident, but due to better safety precautions by the English, the adverse results were minimal. Due to the English incident that design was not used by subsequent reactors in France, England, & the US.

    You & many others have irrational attitudes towards nuclear power, which is the reason that the US has far fewer reactors than it should have. France gets a large percentage of its electrical power from nuclear power plants & has had no problems. I remember a Pennsylvania government official (Denenberg, I think) who made a statement similar to the following after the Three Mile Island meltdown:
    That idiot & other hysterical people do not know that a reactor is not equivalent to an atomic or hydrogen bomb. A meltdown is not a nuclear explosion. He did not even know that there was never a nuclear weapon which could destroy a third of Pennsylvania.

    BTW: The USSR built the most powerful nuclear weapon & it could not destroy close to a third of Pennsylvania. It was built for bragging rights as a political ploy/statement (probably for propaganda inside USSR). They could not deliver that weapon to a target other than by train or truck.
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  5. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    So after two months, no response to the OP (Dinosaur's ignorant irrelevancies being on a completely different topic).

    The matter seems to be central to a lay discussion of scientific and technological progress, an important feature of such forums as this one, however - I am unwilling to let it die easily. We have a series of clear cases of inadequate and consequently unreliable expertise,

    which does not recognize itself to be so

    in situations of major community interest (not to say significant risk). But we value, and cannot do without, such expertise however inadequate. We cannot and should not simply discard or dismiss the views of people who have great expertise in valuable technologies, simply because they don't know as much as we need them to know before entrusting them with power and control over the deployment of their favored technologies, even when they don't recognize the limits of their expertise.

    So how do we handle these situations?

    Another example: This is one of the many situations involving GMOs the experts at Monsanto assured us was so unlikely as to be no real risk, while more prudent observers considered them to be obvious and very dangerous possibilities. As with Fukushima and honeybee dieoffs, many non-experts have for many years observed that no such level of expertise as claimed was possible,and the reassurances of these experts were therefore empty and uninformed - they did not know (could not possibly know) what they claimed to know, and did not have the level of expertise necessary to be entrusted with deployment of this technology uncurbed by more prudent and cautious evaluations of the situations they were creating.

    The question before us is how to handle such situations in general. They are increasingly common, and we need an adequate language and procedure for dealing with them.
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