Monthly Archives: December 2017

Muddying the waters

The Welsh Assembly Government is reviewing the permission that it has previously granted to allow the dumping of mud from the Severn Estuary near Hinkley Point onto existing mud flats nearer to Cardiff Bay. The review comes following claims that the mud may be highly radioactive following years of exposure to low level waste from the old nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point. The scheme to move the mud now is part of a much larger project to build a new nuclear plant on the same site. The project is being developed by a joint venture of French and Chinese firms, with some direct UK government backing and a contract guaranteeing an eye-watering minimum price for the electricity that will be generated once the plant is operational.

The story is another example of the insidious erosion of trust in science and scientific data that has blighted many areas of life in recent years. Detailed reports by independent expert analysts have shown that the impact of additional radiation exposure to somebody sitting on the foreshore at Cardiff for four hours a day for a year, and eating many kilograms of shellfish harvested from the area, would be the equivalent to eating twenty bananas during that same year. Interestingly, people living in Pembrokeshire are already exposed to higher levels of radiation from naturally occurring radon that leaks from the geology of that county.

We have seen similar attacks on science and the scientific method by climate change deniers; by those who advocate for the efficacy of homeopathic remedies; and by those who claim a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. In every case, the scientific evidence is extensive and compelling; and yet there are still those who willfully choose to ignore it, denigrate it, and launch personal attacks on the scientists. It’s almost as if we are living in a kind of reverse age of enlightenment, where instead of broadening horizons and increasing the frontiers of knowledge, we are instead casting shadows and narrowing the influence of facts, logic and intellect.

It’s in this environment that those with the loudest voices can proclaim that smoking isn’t that bad for you, really; that Britain is some sort of terrorist nirvana; and that reducing the tax burden on the very richest is the best way of helping the poorest. It emasculates public discourse and reduces all debate to the level of the pub bore : “All tbose fancy qualifications are fine and dandy, but I gained all my knowledge from the University of Life.” It’s the mentality that leads people in areas where immigration is negligible to believe that they can’t get an appointment at the doctors because of all those people coming over here, swamping public services and filling all the houses. It’s illogical, irrational and flies in the face of the hard facts, but people believe it.

We have now got to the stage where half-truths, misleading statements and outright lies are given equal billing with objective facts; where the opinions of people who have a platform but no expertise are treated as equal to those who have studied the subject for years and have empirical data to support their conclusions. It’s a form of collective madness that can lead to no good whatsoever.

The old saying goes that empty vessels make most noise. Allowing that noise to drown out the quieter voices of people speaking from positions of authoritative knowledge, simply muddies the waters for everybody.