More dodgy science and dodgier Kyodo reporting

Japan Times reprinted a useless Kyodo press release bordering on Fookooshimar. Paragraph two starts:

One of the experts, Timothy Mousseau …

I think I can stop here. The article is here, but I don’t know what is the difference between a full article and a “symposium article” as this is entitled.

There’s also an interesting article on the Pale Grass Blue Butterfly – well, what is more interesting is this criticism – where in a sub-section entitled “Science and Politics” the author rails against the apologists:

The Nature News article (Callaway 2013) may be wrongly interpreted to imply that we (scientists who study this topic seriously) are mad scientists who do not care about people living in the Fukushima area (Steen and Wayne 2013), partly because our data may “scare people” there.

I cannot access the referenced articles, but that smells of a straw man!

  1. An interesting little fact about the lead author of the butterfly studies, Joji M. Otaki of the University of the Ryukyus, is that he is also a full-on homeopathist under his alternative name of Joji Matsumoto. Of course, that fact that he promotes utter pseudoscience garbage doesn’t meant his butterfly studies are invalid. (One can speculate why he feels the need to use a different name when he does his homeopathy promotion.)

    However, his response to criticism from his peers seems to follow a specific formula: “1. The critics are ignorant. 2. See my other (sometimes future) studies.” This vague kind of response is a huge red flag for me, as it’s typical behaviour of pseudoscientists in the face of criticism: you are ignorant, my book persuades everyone who reads it. You can see a detailed critique (and O/M’s response after that) in the comments to his 2012 paper here as an example.

    This is a big problem because his results from the field appear to be consistent with other less dramatic findings (such as a change in latitude for wing size), and his survey methods involve taking samples progressively south, and his lab results exposing butterflies to radiation apparently contradict years of established research results.

    A general critique of Otaki/Matsumoto’s work on Fukushima’s butterflies and other studies is here. I think the point about not publishing in journals with expertise on radiation biology is significant. The Journal of Heredity doesn’t seem to publish a great deal on radiation effects from environmental exposure: only one other article separate from this in their entire archive mentions Chernobyl.

    As for Mousseau, I found this critique of his presentation at conspiracy-theorist Helen Caldicott’s anti-nuclear bash in New York (it’s from a pro-nuclear blog, but the critique seems quite sound; you’re not going to find mainstream science journals even bothering with reviews of presentations at that particular jamboree). Mousseau claimed that the closer you got to the Fukushima plant, species diversity grew less. How he produced this, once you grasp it, is comical. If you use sampling areas marked at regular distances radiating outwards from a point, that’s what you’ll find anywhere in the world. The rings get bigger in area. He didn’t take this into account. Calculating the area of a circle is done by 11-14 year-olds in England.

    O/M relies a lot on Mousseau and his partner (who, it should not be overlooked, was found guilty of research fraud) Anders Pape Møller.

  2. homeopsychopath

    This group were invited to give a talk at some meeting, then write it up as a “symposium article”. So it’s basically an invited article, but it isn’t clear of how much oversight or peer review there is in this case.

    For those without access, the Nature news article referenced above briefly discuss this study as follows:
    What Fukushima data do exist are sporadic — and contested. One research flurry concerns butterflies…
    It then goes on to discuss the findings over several paragraphs.
    The full quote of the caveat they complain about is:
    Other scientists take issue with the reports of ecological harms from Fukushima. They say that Otaki’s research is flawed, because wing shape and other butterfly traits vary naturally with geography. “This study’s sensational claims should not be used to scare the local population into the erroneous conclusion that their exposures to these relatively low environmental radiation doses put them at significant health risk,” Timothy Jorgensen, a molecular radiation biologist at Georgetown University in Washington DC, wrote in a comment on Otaki’s 2012 paper.
    So, no, their claimed meaning of this isn’t really fair.

    There’s also a bit of conspiracy theory in the Nature new article, where they imply that they can’t get government funding for their work for politically motivated reasons. As opposed to the usual reasons that proposed science isn’t funded…

  3. @homeopsychopath:

    Indeed. It’s worth noting that the original butterfly paper was not a Nature Paper, but a in an open-access journal off-shoot of Nature called “Nature Scientific Reports” created for fast turnaround. It’s only been going for a few years, and its “peer review” consists of “at least one member of the academic community”, which I find a bit disturbing; it seems open to abuse by politicised science. There is a wider prejudice that heightened environmental radiation easily causes genetic damage to animals, but specialists in the field say otherwise. A non-radiological health specialist might easily be called to review such a paper because they’re an entomologist, and miss something of what’s so suspicious about this paper.

  4. In presumably a follow-up article (I don’t have a subscription) The Times moans why doesn’t the UN take some “experts” seriously?

  5. @Ken Y-N:

    Ah yes, because the plural of anecdote is, actually, data… :roll:


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