Wall Street Journal Japan Real Time: nuke scaremongering

I know it’s not the real newspaper, but I would expect some degree of reporting integrity from them even on their blogs, although given that their comment section seems to attract the usual tinfoil hat anti-nuke crowd, as it would appear that they have decided hits are more valuable than accuracy:

Now, let’s look at their story on radioactive tuna.

Soon after the accident, scientists were pointing out that it’s hard to say where the tuna on your sashimi plate has come from. Even if fish do pass through contaminated waters off the coast of Fukushima, it’s unlikely they would stick around long enough for much radioactive cesium to build up in their bodies, they said.

OK, let’s note that scientific opinion, presented in a manner suggesting that scientists were dismissing the risk.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration notes in a bulletin that radioactive iodine, which has a short half-life, would be gone by the time migratory fish arrive in U.S. waters, and that radioactive cesium hasn’t been detected in any tuna imported from Japan.

That’s facts, not opinion.

Many fisheries have been even more dismissive about the chances of contamination.

The Oregon Albacore Commission said Albacore tuna caught by the U.S. troll and pole fleet were expected to be "completely unaffected" since the tuna are migratory warm water fish.

"Ten years of tagging data show that these fish do not come anywhere close to the cold waters of Japan at this time of year and it is believed that these albacore tuna stocks are currently many hundreds if not thousands of miles away from Japan at this time," the commission said on its website after the accident.

That doesn’t sound dismissive, it is a solid evidence-based viewpoint.

To be sure, the commission may be absolutely right, and the albacore that make their way to Oregon may travel very different routes to the contaminated bluefins caught off the shores of Southern California.

The WSJ is suggesting that the commission is lying about their ten years of tagging data. :facepalm:

It also should be noted that the amounts of radioactive cesium found in the bluefins were only 3% higher than normal, and probably safe to eat, according to the Stanford scientists.

An extra 3% is reported as "probably" safe to eat. :roll: Just like the scientists said at the top of the article, "it’s unlikely they would stick around long enough for much radioactive cesium to build up".

So sushi lovers may still be able to enjoy their maguro for now. Until, that is, Fukushima Daiichi teaches us our next lesson about how much we don’t know.

"may"? "for now"? "until"? :roll: The unchanging levels of mercury are a more real, quantifiable (indeed quantified for pregnant women) risk.

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23 Comments.

  1. The long and short:
    “Is the tuna safe to eat”.
    “Yes.”

    What pisses me off about this (almost ubiquitous) style of reporting is that the writer has zero commitment to “proper” journalism. His entire goal is to interest and excite the reader (clickbait), without any effort whatsoever to say what he really thinks himself, and with any thought to the wellbeing of the reader.

    It reminds of the reporting on Fukushima last year – how it was damn near impossible to find in the mainstream English press any factual description of the scientifically understood dangers of the levels of radiation we were all experiencing (rather than, say, levels that cause acute radiation sickness) – particularly in Tokyo, ffs. Because the true story was “err…not much, really”, they didn’t go with it.

    Too many journalists seem to be too focussed on how their work plays with other journalists and media commentators. There is too little commitment to what they think is actually true. (And because of this, too little commitment to proper research and authentic opinion forming).

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  2. …By Phred Dvorjak?

    I’m unconvinced before I’ve got past the byline…

    (Nameism! Shameful microaggression.)

    The opening paragraph really sets the tone:

    After the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi last year spewed radioactive cesium into the sea, concerned consumers in the U.S. soon raised the specter of irradiated tuna from Japan swimming over to West Coast waters — a scenario pooh-poohed by many scientists and U.S. fisheries.

    “Spewed”
    [soon raised the?] “Specter” [Really? That was the first reaction?}
    “pooh-poohed” [OK, points for a scatalogical reference :grin: ]

    The whole piece is so vague and vacuous, that it is clearly contractual obligation (gotta file my blog entry).

    It does seem like blogs, even those attached to otherwise respected media like WSJ [and the Economist… Remember?] have a different editorial standard. It really is all about seeding a [controversial] conversation that will hopefully take off in the comments section.

    Finishing off with the helpful:

    So sushi lovers may still be able to enjoy their maguro for now. Until, that is, Fukushima Daiichi teaches us our next lesson about how much we don’t know.

    i.e. It’s fine. Unless it’s not. Maybe. Dunno really. What do you guys think?

    Perhaps the most relevant phrase from the post is:

    … caught by the U.S. troll and pole fleet…

    Blog entries like that, with their emotive but empty and inconclusive baiting are all “troll and poll”…

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  3. Damn it! TAGS! :oops:

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  4. Here’s another blog that looks at it from a different angle:

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/05/30/153925233/nuclear-tuna-is-hot-news-but-not-because-its-going-to-make-you-sick?ps=cprs

    If you are still worried about the cesium from Fukushima, Robert Emery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston says you’d need to eat 2.5 to 4 tons of tuna in a year to get a dose of cesium-137 that exceeds health limits. That’s a lot of sushi.

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  5. BTW, have you read the comments? Exceptionally racist – I’m going to drop them an email. :mad:

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  6. @Ken Y-N:

    Some nasty stuff there. See Level3 has already stopped by and called them out on it.

    I was all set to give the benefit of the doubt, assuming they would moderate when their editorial staff woke up US time — but some of those comments have been their a few days.

    It surprises me that, given the shift to consuming information digitally, mainstream newspapers give so much less attention to their online content. It’s almost inevitable to find online articles — and even headlines — riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes. The Daily Mail (don’t judge me for it) is a particularly glaring example. I assume they write like this: :headdesk:

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  7. beneaththewheel

    The nuke stuff is a great example of how our media system is fucked, and how polarizing it can make us.

    The side of “rationality” just happens to not make things look too bad, and therefore people scared lump it together with the evil corporations, governments. This isn’t helped by the governments and TEPCO’s past coverups, and how they dealt with Fukushima in the beginning.

    So..

    1) Distrust of Japanese government and TEPCO
    2) Side of “rationality” similar to Japanese government and TEPCO’s stance
    3) A significant number of people distrust the “rational” stance because the government and TEPCO have lied.

    I am really happy that the media is reporting on the cesium in tuna. I do think it is a big deal, and that the people have a right to know. The problem is (as Ken showed) how they run with it for fear-mongering. Just as it’s important not to lump together the government/TEPCO with the scientific opinion, I think it’s important to not lump together the fear-mongers and media reporting on details like this.

    I think arguing about the nuke crisis is basically futile. Kudos to Level-3 if he tried (didn’t check). I’m happy with thinking things are basically alright, and enjoy looking at multiple sources to confirm that on a regular basis. :razz:

    If anyone wants to attack how I’m using rationality, go for it. I felt with the audience it wasn’t necessary.

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  8. My recent pet peeve is the even-more-useless-than-normal Kyung La reporting last year’s news last month, treating it like it was still current, making statements that were patently false: “radiation fell on the tea plants, the leaves were made into tea, which found its way into Japan’s tea cups!!”

    Well no, Kyung, it didn’t, because they tested the tea leaves! Not to mention even the contaminated leaves were really only unsafe to eat, not necessarily unsafe to make tea from.

    And the concrete – 10 times higher than normal background levels, which means…? Nothing, actually, at least in terms of health risk. But does CNN explain that? Nah….

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  9. Seeing Jes’s link, what’s the policy on new tangential articles that pop up in comment threads? It happened a lot before that some good tangents would be found but end up buried… or discussed in the thread such that future Googlers would likely never find the analysis.
    New post?

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  10. That WSJ post is also a sign of a recent media narrative about how “3/11” is starting to wash up on the Pacific coast and posing a kind of foreign threat to American consumers; an evolution of that panic about prefectures accepting debris from Tohoku. But well done, that NPR blogger.

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  11. beneaththewheel, why do you think it’s a “big deal” that there is a barely measurable amount of caesium in tuna? It is a minor scientific curiosity, nothing more.

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  12. Has the WSJ employed Norimitsu Onishi? If not they should.

    Onishi is an experienced anti-Japanite, literally the go to man to spin any particular story to inform us about the Japanese devils.

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  13. beneaththewheel

    I think when a nuclear accident affects the environment in any way, it is a big deal. Radiation levels 10 times higher than usual should be reported, and it should be reported what that means. If these things are not reported, then the public can be unaware of the meaning.

    This level of cesium in tuna does not pose a health risk, but it shows that steps should be taken to calm public worries, and set standards for fish consumption if they weren’t already set. As we have all learned the limits for different types of vegetables, as well as how JA operates, I feel the general public should be able to do the same with fish and the media’s role is to let that happen.

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  14. @beneaththewheel:

    While it should be reported, it would be best if there were some context. Say, reporting that burning coal releases more radiation into the environment than nuclear power.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste

    Or just the whole issue of Potassium-40 and other radioactive stuff already in our bodies at about 70Bq/kg.

    Or the whole concept of dilution. Fukushima dumped a shitload of nasty crap in the ocean, but the ocean is BIG. Very big. The result is probably as diluted as homeopathic “medicine”! :wink: (Explanatory note: homeopathy is based on diluting things with water to make “remedies”..diluting so many times that when you do the math, there shouldn’t even be a single molecule of the original chemical left in the mixture! Yeah, it’s nuts.) Lots of people just don’t grasp the concept of scale.

    But context makes it harder to make those alarming headlines that generate ad revenue.

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  15. @Level3: Good point! I think I should spin off more short posts – I think I’ll also look for co-authors, so let me put out a call later on… :mrgreen:

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  16. beneaththewheel

    @Level3: Agreed 100%. Reporting given with the context you mention would be perfect (and would calm public fears). My point was that context is the answer, and not reporting on it is not.

    The town I live in has city hall warnings about going outside in summer because of too many chemicals in the air from factories and incinerators. That’s at the top of my list of things in the air I’m afraid of.

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  17. This site has a fan base already! :mrgreen:

    passerby wrote:
    Please don’t anybody be taken in by Level 3′s post. He belongs to a website that is ‘unapologetic (read; ‘shameless’) apologism (their words, not mine)’ of Japan’s wrongs.

    Source

    Not a very literate one, though… :cry:

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  18. @VK: Glad to see everyone spreading their wings. The old topic(you know what I mean) was tiresome.
    Cesium in fish is bunk but I’d say mercury isn’t, I wouldn’t eat tuna on a daily basis.

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/chem-chim/environ/mercur/merc_fish_qa-poi

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/media/advisories-avis/_2007/2007_14-eng.phpsson_qr-eng.php

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  19. @iago: Seems a rather familiar writing style… Anyway, I’d like to thank them for the publicity. :lol:

    Oh, and not surprisingly, they didn’t get back to me or take any action regarding my email pointing out the offensively racist comments. :cry:

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  20. Hm continuing with the hard-hitting investigative journalism, Japan Real Time is asking for readers in Japan to send or tweet in pictures of their lunch. :shock:

    Before or after, isn’t made clear, but should be good for a wry smile or two…

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  21. Well, it appears the Japan Real Time blog is going to be another news source jumping on the Fukushima for hits bandwagon, as anything remotely anti- is going to get links from a million and one tin foil hat sites. :headdesk:

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  22. @Ken Y-N:

    And they’re seriously moderating the comments too.

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