On Tuesday night, after Cafe Scientifique, I was listening to a radio interview with Motoko Kakubayashi, from the Science Media Centre of Japan. She was talking about some of the hysteria that is brewing regarding the Fukushima nuclear power complex. (The link will download the interview from the NZ National Radio website – though I’m not sure how long it will remain up there for.)
It was a fascinating interview to listen to. One of her main themes was the lack of really clear science-based advice being received by the Japenese public. Getting news isn’t a problem – rather, the problem is discerning the reliable, trustworthy, useful advice in amongst the sea of information that is accumulating on-line and through the media.
So I heard that there are hotels that are refusing to accommodate refugees from the Fukushima area, because other guests fear ‘catching’ radiation from them. People don’t know whether to eat locally grown food or not. They hear a government spokesman say one thing in the morning, and then someone from another government agency somewhere says something else in the afternoon.
Motoko said that partly the difficulty was that the subject area was so specialized – she herself was a physicist but didn’t know (as indeed I don’t) the details of how the Fukushima complex is put together and operated. At university you learn about the general principles of nuclear fission and roughly how a nuclear power plant is put together, but it is a very specialized area so the details are left out completely. For example, I’ve been able to comment (here) on what a milliSievert means, but in terms of the details of what dose equivalent does exactly what to you in what way, I’m floundering. Not my area.
Another part to the problem is that there is simply so much stuff out there in cyberspace, so easy to access, that knowing what to believe is really difficult for the non-scientist.
So the Japanese Science Media Centre is doing its best, but it’s a tricky job.