I was honored to be asked to contribute a chapter to the collected works within Tortured Science: Health Studies, Ethics and Nuclear Weapons in the United States, compiled and edited by Dianne Quigley, Amy Lowman, and Steve Wing, published 2012 by Baywood Publishing Company, Inc, Amityville, New York. I am very grateful that Baywood has allowed me to reprint the chapter in its entirety. The chapter is reprinted as a series of excerpts.
And so the critiques began, by citizens and scientists alike. Articles and letters to the editor were appearing in regional papers from members of the American Nuclear Society and their allies, portraying these conclusions of the HTDS as final, irrefutable evidence that Hanford’s I-131 had caused no harm to those exposed . It was through the efforts of Dr. Owen Hoffman and his colleagues at SENES Oak Ridge, Inc. Center for Risk Analysis that we were able to begin to understand what had gone wrong and how to discuss the scientific fallacies of this study publicly. Dr. Hoffman and his colleagues at SENES were able to translate complex statistical concepts into understandable terms, thus enabling us to raise these important issues with the HTDS researchers and the media. Thus empowered, my colleague Tim Connor, an investigative journalist and Hanford activist, and I, armed with a letter of protest co-signed by more than 22 representatives of citizen groups from around the country, went to meet with Dr. Richard Jackson, then director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the CDC. This letter we hand-carried raised serious concerns with a number of scientific issues within the HTDS, and with the communication and interpretation of the findings of this study by FHCRC and CDC to the public, Congress, and the media. The concerns included:
FHCRC scientists’ presentation of this study as if it were conclusive proof
• of no thyroid or parathyroid harm from Hanford’s I-131 releases,
• FHCRC’s blatant exaggeration of the statistical power of the study, and
the uncertainties in dose estimates and confounding Nevada Test Site
atomic tests and global fallout I-131 dose were not specifically addressed for the HTDS cohort.
The letter went on to discuss significant problems created by the information blackout that kept even those citizens who had been following the study through- out its history from learning about the results of the preliminary draft of the study until we read about it in the New York Times on the morning of January 28, 1999.
Tim and I met with Dr. Jackson in a small conference room, down a long hallway, past empty cubicles and deserted copy machines in an underused area of the Humphrey Building of the Department of Health and Human Services Building in Washington, DC. We asked Dr. Jackson to support a precedent- setting extended review of the HTDS by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), National Research Council (NRC) a review that would address both the scientific and communications aspects of HTDS. This would be far more exten- sive and public than the normal NAS review of CDC’s studies . Dr. Jackson, to his credit, listened to the anguish in our voices and quickly understood the importance of this review to those of us whose lives had been so impacted by Hanford .
53. Cary, A. 1999. Thyroid study to continue. TriCity Herald. 29 January 1999. See also: Hanford downwinders up against study results. TriCity Herald. 29 October 2004. http://www.hanfordnews.com
54. The NRC is the principal operating arm of the NAS (chartered in 1963) and the National Academy of Engineering. Its work is funded by the CDC. It is a private nonprofit organization that provides advice on science and technology under a congressional charter. As part of the extended NRC Subcommittee review of the HTDS draft report, the CDC included both communications questions and scien- tific questions within the charge to the NAS committee. The three communications questions asked were:
A. Was the material accurate and appropriate in providing guidance to the public in
understanding the study’s findings?
B. If these messages needed to be amended, how should the revised messages best be communicated to the public?
C. How can the CDC improve the public communication process in the release of future study reports?
55. This is one of the first such extended reviews to be carried out by NAS, requested by people affected by Hanford’s I-131 releases, reviewing not just the scientific components and qualities of a study typically involved in such a review, but con- centrating as well upon the way the study’s preliminary findings were communicated to the public, Congress, and the media.