The Book of the Week is “Uranium, War, Energy, and the Rock That Shaped the World” by Tom Zoellner, published in 2009.

Now, as is well known, one element crucial for making an atomic bomb via the least difficult method, is uranium. It is radioactive– carcinogenic to humans. Without human intervention, an entire sample of it takes billions of years (yes, really, depending on the isotope) to break down into one substance after another, including thirteen heavy metals; ultimately lead.

In the early 1940’s, “The United States military moved quickly to squelch all news of radioactivity. There were worries in the Pentagon that the bomb would be compared to German mustard gas in WWI or other types of wartime atrocities.” Radiation sickness and cancer killed an estimated thirty thousand people in addition to the seventy thousand who perished instantly by the atomic bomb at Hiroshima in August 1945.

In the late 1940’s, radium– an element that helps make a nuclear weapon– was found to be harmful to humans. The (federal) Atomic Energy Commission gave regulatory responsibilities of health and safety to state agencies in Colorado, Arizona and Utah, making the excuse that private mining businesses were outside its jurisdiction. Of course, the states were understaffed and underfunded in regulating radium.

Nevertheless, the radium rush became a government-directed priority because it was a matter of national security. By the 1960’s, the greed was petering out, and Navajo country (in northern Arizona, and small regions of Utah and New Mexico) was a cancer cluster comprised of an eyesore of about thirteen hundred abandoned mines laid waste with radon gas. That was one aspect of the nuclear age. Another was that building fallout-shelters became trendy. The Kennedy family built one at their estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

In the mid-1950’s the “Atoms For Peace” program begun by president Dwight Eisenhower supplied nuclear reactors to Bangladesh, Algeria, Colombia, Jamaica, Ghana, Peru, Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, and Belgian Congo for the purpose of deterring the said countries’ enemies from using nuclear weapons against them.

In 1988, the United States supplied Iran with a five megawatt research reactor; China supplied uranium ore, and South Africa, a block of uranium and some plutonium. The Pakistani A.Q. Khan was hired as a scientific consultant.

Since 1993, the Atomic Energy Commission was supposed to have recorded incidents in which different forms of uranium (raw ore, yellowcake, hexafluoride, metal oxide, ceramic pellets, and fuel rod assemblies) have gone missing. Incident reportage works on the honor system. Unsurprisingly, the system hasn’t worked because the substance has a very complex, global black-market. Even so, the biggest hurdle to building a nuclear weapon is obtaining uranium in its highly enriched form. Then one must employ people with weapons-design and explosives expertise. Hiding the project (which in part, can be accomplished via a lead sleeve on the finished product– that would fool a radiation detector) might pose additional difficulties. It would cost a total of a few million (U.S.) dollars besides.

In the single-digit 2000’s, the author personally visited the country of Niger to see a uranium town for himself; a life-threatening trip. For, bandits or terrorists (likely of the Tuareg tribe who believe uranium mining has fostered inequality that adversely affects them economically, tribally and health-wise) appeared in front of his bus en route (a not uncommon occurrence). The bus driver was wise to the situation and drove away from the scene to a rural village with electricity, thanks to a nearby French power plant. The two main exports of Niger are uranium and onions. But the nation is still largely agricultural.

Read the book to learn much more about uranium in connection with: its sourcing in Australia, U.S. strategic interests in Soviet Georgia, Yemen’s goals, a Sierra Club legal fight, Vancouver’s ill-gotten gains, etc.

Betrayers of the Truth

The Book of the Week is “Betrayers of the Truth– Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science” by William Broad & Nicholas Wade, published in 1982.

Scientists have always emphasized that their ilk are “a rational, self-correcting, self-policing community of scholars.” They consider themselves to be superior because they believe their field of work is more “factual” and requires more education than other kinds of work. Yet even they behave in unethical ways– likely in the same proportion as the population at large– because they too, possess the unattractive traits of human nature.

The authors remarked that even some of the most famous scientists in history (such as Ptolemy, Galileo and Netwon to name just three) have fudged data, plagiarized, or lied about performing experiments they didn’t actually perform. The scientists wanted the data to fit their theories; they were lazy, greedy or glory-seeking, or a combination of those.

The authors lamented that the scientific community’s culture encouraged an atmosphere in which fraud could be perpetrated and perpetuated easily, and not be discovered for decades. In fact, the authors provided numerous, specific examples in which fraud flourished.

The reason scandals of misrepresentation in science are so dangerous is that they have a ripple effect on so many other areas of life– testing of food and drugs, matters of class and race, immigration, and education– to name a few.

At the book’s writing, publishing articles about their new discoveries in professional journals was the major way scientists furthered their careers. There was an avalanche of publications. The obscure publications had a decided lack of fact-checking of article-contents.

In 1962, and again in 1973, researchers sought to test honesty in the community. The results were less than stellar. “Fewer than one in four scientists were willing to provide raw data on request, without self-serving conditions, and nearly half of the studies analyzed had gross errors in their statistics alone.”

As is well known, science in academia has a hierarchical structure. The elitism feeds on itself. Big-name scientists at prestigious universities are necessarily trusted more for integrity than nobodies are, so their articles and grant applications are less carefully vetted, and they therefore get more prizes, editorships, and lectureships. Their reputations as “experts” become even more widespread.

However, history is rife with stories of nobodies who fought fiercely for recognition because they knew their methods or theories were superior. And often late in their careers, or posthumously, their contributions were recognized. Such greats included, but were certainly not limited to: George Ohm, Gregor Mendel, Alfred Wegener and Sister Kenny.

Sadly, it seems as though, now more than ever, many “science” shows on once-reputable cable-TV channels purport to educate viewers, but at best, convey trivia put out by profiteers, propagandists and attention whores.

Another indication of ignorance of science was highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic in America. Government at all levels ordered masking of all individuals while its propaganda machine squelched the fact that:

covering one’s face with non-sterile fabric and breathing in one’s own toxic exhalations more likely propagates illness rather than minimizes the spread of it!

According to NIH News, “Your mouth is home to about 700 species of germs, like bacteria, fungus, and more.”

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on how the scientific community takes care of its own, and other reasons dishonesty in science is actually more prevalent than it appears to be.

On and On

On and On

sung to the tune of “On and On” with apologies to Stephen Bishop.

There in D.C. they got lots of, witch hunters who,

steal your data, and they, abuse their power.

Nothing new in the world of political man.

James Bond wannabes and-the, prez’s evil plan.

On and on, they just keep on spying,

and they attack when they get caught lying.

On and on, on and on, on and on.

Much of history is fraught with vengeance,

audits, tapes, hard-drives and cams.

So they lawyer up when their plots come to light.

Get all righteous and childishly fight.

On and on, they just keep on spying,

and they attack when they get caught lying.

On and on, on and on, on and on.

Well, they act like, it’s the first time. They’re so shocked and appalled.

But they know how, to show it. The not-too-bright give them votes on election ni-i-ight.

Got the idiot box off and my nose in a book.

Won’t give the tabloids a second look.

Ah, but I’ll ignore the noise, I’ll just read and close-my-ears,

‘stead of fretting over their stupid smears.

On and on, I just keep on learning.

And I smile when others are burning.

On and on, on and on, on and on.

On and on, on and on, on and on.

On and on, on and on, on and on. Ooh, Ooh.

Appointment at the Ends of the World

The Book of the Week is “Appointment at the Ends of the World, Memoirs of A Wildlife Veterinarian” by William B. Karesh, published in 1999.

The American author traveled to exotic locales to participate in conservation projects for the Wildlife Conservation Society and other international aid organizations, which manage and study animals and their habitats and resources in tens of countries. He got special permission from governments to bring a vast quantity of supplies and equipment to jungles, savannas, forests, etc.

The author spent part of the year at the Bronx Zoo. In 1995, he flew to northeastern Zaire to treat an infection in one okapi, and was driven hours to enter a safari park to study white rhinos. His luggage weighed 220 pounds. It was full of sampling supplies (tubes, racks, pipettes, towels, etc.), drugs for the animals, immobilization / capture equipment (like oxygen and carbon dioxide tanks, cartridges and numerous accessories), animal-handling and marking equipment (clips, cards, etc.), books, cords, converters and other miscellaneous items, and camping gear. Not to mention, clothing.

In Bolivia, the author performed various tests to measure the amount of environmental contaminants in the bodies of wild caimans because they live thirty to forty years. Examining the reptiles at intervals can indicate changes in their aquatic habitats.

In Cameroon, the author encountered shenanigans. For, he had to hire local guides; the leader (a native Nigerian) was fluent in the English language, and allegedly skilled at finding forest-elephants. The leader led the group on a “wild-goose chase” for weeks. When the group finally got close enough to one animal at which to shoot a radio-transmitter dart and a tranquilizer-dart, the leader missed twice shooting the former dart. The adrenaline was pumping in the people too, because the territorial elephants can crush humans to death.

The author conceded that he was doing an extremely controversial job. He and his employers threw vast amounts of resources at animals to save their lives or help them survive. He behaved like a Darwin-award candidate at times, and at other times, ironically, over the long run– made conditions worse for his charges. Ecotourism, too, whose goal is profiteering (rather than sincere concern for endangered species)– has taken its toll on disrupting animal habitats.

The phrase “white savior complex” could now be applied to the way wealthy people condescendingly think that saving a few individuals will solve the extremely complex problems of survival faced by all of the earth’s organisms. It is fair to say that in recent decades, money has actually corrupted global efforts to save lots of them.

To boot, the decades wasted searching for aliens and Bigfoot have just muddied the waters more. Incidentally, as is well known, on the TV show Star Trek, the aliens always speak perfect American English. Lastly, people who bother animals to get attention are still a “thing” on the idiot box, despite Steve Irwin’s cautionary tale. Anyway, read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on the author’s career, and how it shaped his lifestyle.

Ghosts of the Tsunami – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Ghosts of the Tsunami, Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone” by Richard Lloyd Parry, published in 2017.

As is well known, cancer cases will cluster among residents near even peacetime nuclear facilities that are working properly. Sadly, Japan’s poor foresight on its energy policy turned it into a boatload of misfortune waiting to happen.

In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami in Japan reminded the world yet again how one disaster can lead to another, especially when it comes to the use of nuclear energy. After radioactivity (colorless and odorless) from its three melted-down nuclear reactors spread across Japan’s countryside, leaving a huge number of people sick and dead, it closed its remaining fifty reactors. Taking a lesson,–Germany, Italy and Switzerland stopped their nuclear energy programs.

The author, however, focused mostly on the no less traumatic deaths (some of them needless) and destruction in one small place, caused by the disasters. He spent an extensive amount of time corresponding with victims in the fishing village of Onagawa on the island of Honshu, where there occurred a large percentage of needless drownings at the local elementary school: 74 of 108 kids, and 10 of the 11 teachers.

The Kitakami river overflowed its banks, but school administrators failed to take precautionary measures to evade the flooding. “Within five minutes– the time it had taken them to evacuate their classrooms– the entire school could have ascended hundreds of feet above sea level, beyond the reach of any conceivable tsunami.”

Read the book to learn about the victims’ families’ quests for finding their loved ones and for the true details of how they died, and whether their deaths were preventable.