Friday, July 1, 2011

Is it Statistically Signficant?

That is the biggest question that has to be answered in most nuclear, climate and economic debates. In some cases, radiation for example, any risk, no matter how small, is considered significant. In reality, there is always a non zero risk. It is irrational to believe otherwise. This short post, Statistically Significant, by James Annan is related to detection and attribution of climate change. You can correctly say that events like the spring tornadoes in the US or flooding in Pakistan, Brazil, Australia etc. are impacted by anthropogenic climate change. You cannot say to what degree they were impacted or even if they were more or less damaging due to man's impact on climate. To a lesser extent, there is the same issue with man made nuclear radiation.

Radiation can cause long term cancer risk. But cancer caused by radiation, natural or man made, is a small portion of the overall cause of cancer. The largest cause of increased risk of cancer is advances in medical technology and overall improvements in living conditions. If the average life span had not increased, fifth and sixth decade cancers would not be significant. What is significant is that changes in our lifestyles have given us the luxury of worrying about different causes of death.

Climate change is due to the same reason. If humans were not able to live longer and be more productive, there would be no concern about climate change. It is the fact that man kind has adapted to and has adapted the planet to his use so well that there is any concern. If were not for the advances made by man, there would not be the luxury of worrying about the damage that may be caused by those advances.

Fukushima is now the largest nuclear health experiment in human history. In the decades to come there will more and better data collected that will lead to better understanding of the risk of nuclear power. The experiment will show the the risk is much less than many expect and somewhat higher than some have predicted. That is just the way it is. Most of the anti-nuclear advocates have over estimated risk based on emotional and political feelings. Emotions, politics and "feelings" have no place in statistics.

Can risk be reduced? Of course, but reducing one risk just adds to the significance of another. At least we have the luxury of worrying.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pleasant Post. This record helped me in my college assignment. Thnaks Alot