Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fine Actor, So-So Anti-Nuclear Advocate

30 ROCK -- NBC Series -- Pictured: Alec Baldwin as Jack -- NBC Photo: Mitchell Haaseth We like Alec Baldwin, from his younger days playing both gentle fellows (as in Beetlejuice) or more frequently as a sleazy type (as in Married to the Mob and Malice). He seemed to just miss the boat, almost but not quite graduating to A-list status and the nineties were not kind to him.

But he acquired considerable good will anyway, by reconfiguring himself as a comic actor and moving into television. In some ways, he may be a model for young actors who have talent but not quite enough starriness to stay in the top tiers of show business – that is, if actors aren’t replaced with 3-D simulacra. His career suggests there are all kinds of paths that can keep an actor afloat and even thriving.

One thing Baldwin likes to do, and has for a long time, is pontificate on the issues of the day – he’s been reported to have an interest in politics, though it seems to have faded – and The Huffington Post has proven a reliable place for thoughtful Hollywood folk to share those thoughts.

But not all thoughts are golden:

I met many people while working on the [Brookhaven National Labs] issue, as well as other battles involving nuclear power. One of them was Randy Snell, a Long Island resident who raised his family near Brookhaven. Snell's daughter developed a rare form of cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma, which was found in several other children living near BNL. The total number of cases was fifteen times the national average.

Alarming if true, but annoying if false:

In 1998, a study released by the Suffolk County Environmental Task Force, a group that included some of the Laboratory's most ardent critics, found "there is no statistical evidence showing higher than normal rates in either Suffolk County or a 15-mile radius of the Lab. In fact, there were fewer cases of rhabdomyosarcoma in Suffolk County from 1979 through 1993 than there were on average in other New York State counties, including Nassau, Brooklyn and Queens."

The problem here is simply the constant replay of discredited ideas as though they had never been discredited. For example, it’s been a long time that we’ve seen this one:

The "Tooth Fairy Project" supports a simple idea. Strontium 90, emitted by conventional utility reactors, mimics calcium in the body and is termed "bone-seeking." It deposits itself in the bones and marrow, after the larger amount of food-ingested strontium 90 is excreted by the body. In the developing fetuses of pregnant women, strontium 90 (again, mimicking calcium) is deposited in the teeth. Once in the teeth, it decays into a "daughter element", yttrium, the element that researchers like Stenglass look for as the marker for elevated exposure to radiation.

NEI has a full fact sheet, including links to supporting evidence,on the “tooth fairy.” A taster:

None of the “tooth fairy project” claims has been substantiated by state and/or federal authorities. But during that time, the claims have been refuted or questioned by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Cancer Institute, the NRC, the American Cancer Society, and state and local health officials.

And so on. Now, you might expect us to pooh-pooh the dumb actor and his desire to be considered a serious, thoughtful person. Well, Alec Baldwin is a serious, thoughtful guy. We have to grant him that. But he’s engaging in a rather old-fashioned line of attack: because nuclear annihilation hung over people for so long during the cold war, there can’t be anything good about fission. It’s always malignant, in all forms. So any evidence of cancer near a nuclear plant must be caused by the plant – despite the dispersion of cancer in society.

So good for Alec Baldwin for engaging on the issue. But he really needs to do more research.



SteveK9 said...

You would think with all of his postings on this, that he would have time to learn a bit more. But, like many people I expect he lives in his own particular bubble on this and is fed these fairy (sorry) tales as part of his regular diet.

Sterling Archer said...

America: where moron celebrities are more trusted sources of information on autism, nuclear power, etc., than PhDs who've spent years studying the problem.

Jarret Adams said...

Good post Mark! It's amazing how a celebrity spokesperson can make things sound so much more true.

Anonymous said...

Baldwin is engaged, and that is not a good thing. He along with Christie Brinkley were responsible for getting the High Flux Beam Reactor, a perfectly benign, harmless, and incredibly productive and valuable research facility a Brookhaven Lab, permanently shutdown. It put a good many fine, capable, highly skilled people out of work, and in some cases ruined their careers. As a result, this country is falling further behind European and Asian countries in the important area of neutron scattering (no, spallation neutron sources can't do the job alone). Baldwin and Brinkley had a private meeting with DOE Secretary Richardson (try to get that as an ordinary citizen) and a couple of weeks later he shutdown the HFBR. I wonder what happened at that meeting...?

Sterling Archer said...

As a result, this country is falling further behind European and Asian countries in the important area of neutron scattering

Their goal. The liberals won't be happy until everything with the syllable "nuc*/nuk*" is driven from the country.

And Richardson is just a typical member of the political machine; he was busy running New Mexico into the ground when I moved away.

Phil said...

Isn't virtually all the strontium 90 in the world the result of open-air nuclear bomb testing in the 50s and 60s?



DocForesight said...

To paraphrase Laura Ingraham: "Shut up and act!" When these celebrity 'spokesmen' go/return to school and earn a degree in nuclear engineering or similar hard science, then perhaps we'll give your opinion the weight it may command. But until then you're no more an expert than Jane Fonda or Sally Field. Or the Muffin Man.

PS: Do you think he even knows how the Periodic Table works?

Anonymous said...

I didn't notice you all saying celebrities shouldn't speak out on policy issues when the late Paul Newman was saying how great nuclear power is.

Bash Baldwin because you don't agree with him, fine. But saying he shouldn't voice his opinion on nuclear power, or shouldn't be listened to, because he's just a celebrity is a double standard, given the fawning over Newman's statements a few years ago.

Brian Mays said...

Paul Newman didn't go around citing long-dead junk science.

If you can't see the difference, I can't help you.

Anonymous said...

"Paul Newman didn't go around citing long-dead junk science."

Maybe, maybe not. But that wasn't my point. Comments here are slagging Baldwin for speaking out BECAUSE he's a celebrity. That's a double standard, when it comes from those who supported Newman's statements.

"When these celebrity 'spokesmen' go/return to school and earn a degree in nuclear engineering or similar hard science, then perhaps we'll give your opinion the weight it may command. But until then you're no more an expert than Jane Fonda or Sally Field. Or the Muffin Man."

Paul Newman was one of my favorite actors, but he didn't meet any of those criteria. So why isn't it a double standard to laud him but bash Baldwin for speaking out as celebrities?

Celebrity spokesman are great when they're saying things you agree with, limelight-seeking know-nothings when they're saying things you don't like.

Sterling Archer said...


Now you're putting words into people's mouths. (1) I made fun of Alec Baldwin. (2) I had no clue Paul Newman endorsed nuclear until you said something.

Anonymous said...

I don't question Baldwin's right to say what he wants, celebrity status or not, influential or not. But I do think he should be accountable for the consequences of his actions. Specifically, what he did to the HFBR and the many fine people who dedicated their lives to building and using that facility. He ruined the lives and careers of many of them by his actions in getting it shutdown. He probably doesn't care since they are only workers in the nuclear industry and therefore "deserve" what they got, but it remains my belief that what he did was wrong, and, because it harmed people, immoral (evil).

Anonymous said...

"I had no clue Paul Newman endorsed nuclear until you said something."

OK. Now that you know that, do you still contend that "moron celebrities" should not comment on nuclear power? (This would also disenfranchise 99% or so of the general public from engaging nuclear power issues, if you care.)

Anonymous said...

Sorry for not being clear ... the general public would be disenfranchised not by Sterling Archer's comment, but by DocForesight's claim that only those with nuclear engineering degrees are qualified to comment on nuclear power.

Sterling Archer said...

I would have to say, "No, now that I know Mr. Newman endorsed nuclear power, I don't really care that he endorsed it." The next time I debate an anti, my arguments will involve millirems, not classic movies.

And I, for one, am personally woefully unqualified to comment on nuclear power (not that that stops me), because my doctorate is in material science, not nuclear engineering.

DocForesight said...

@Anon - Why do you make the leap from what I said about having an educated background in a topic and using celebrity influence in stating an opinion versus what you infer from my statement?

To me, the more influential a person is - by whatever means they acquire that influence - the greater the burden is on making accurate statements. Joe Six-pack can state an inane opinion and be ignored while Big Screen Guy is followed by the papparazzi (sp) and makes the news.

Anonymous said...

Yoga masters would be amazed at the contortions here, attempting to reconcile the fundamental contradiction.

Your position still comes down to, "Celebrities are laudable spokesman when they agree with me, but otherwise they're morons."

Paul Newman claimed he could jump across the Indian Point spent fuel pool. Is that well-informed?

Brian Mays said...

"Paul Newman claimed he could jump across the Indian Point spent fuel pool."

Yeah, and George Washington threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River. You're not naive enough to take those claims at face value too, do you?

There's no doubt that Newman was exaggerating, but was he exaggerating about the size of the spent fuel pool or was he exaggerating about how far he could jump? I guess only Mr. Newman himself knew.

Nevertheless, his claims of athletic prowess (especially at his age, when he made the claim) pale in comparison with Baldwin's blatant repetition of junk science.

Anonymous - Why don't you either produce evidence that either (1) the claims put forward by the "Tooth Fairy Project" have been substantiated by any credible scientific body or (2) Paul Newman had made any real claims that are untrue?

The only contortions here are attempts to equate one celebrity's enthusiasm with another's shameless promotion of fundamentally flawed science.

It's no wonder that "Mr. Anonymous" is afraid to use his or her name. I would be afraid too if I were putting forward such stupid nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Brian, Washington didn't throw a dollar coin across the Potomac. He threw it across the Delaware. Big difference, you see...:-)

I wouldn't put it past Newman to jump across that pool. He and Redford mad a pretty good jump into that river in Butch Cassidy. Get him a running start off of a high enough point, he just might do it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - Why don't you either produce evidence that either (1) the claims put forward by the "Tooth Fairy Project" have been substantiated by any credible scientific body or (2) Paul Newman had made any real claims that are untrue?

Because that's not my point. Read more carefully.

Some posters here (see comments from Archer and Foresight) are saying celebrities should not comment on policy issues because they don't have the appropriate degrees, or just because they're celebrities. Their criterion was NOT whether the data cited was accurate or not. It was the celebrity status of the person making the statement.

All I've been saying, though some choose to ignore it to pick a fight, is it's hypocritical to laud/defend Paul Newman as a high-visibility PRO-nuclear celebrity proponent, while at the same time saying Alec Baldwin should keep his mouth shut solely because he's a "moron celebrity."

As for anonymous posting, this isn't junior high, so save the manhood challenges please. My employer does not allow me to comment on such topics using my name. So live with it.

"Stupid?" Oh yeah? Well, YOU'RE stupid. (Is this really the quality of discourse to which we want to aspire?)

Brian Mays said...

Washington crossed the Delaware (to attack the Hessians on the other side). His apocryphal dollar supposedly went across the Potomac.

Anonymous - You're letting your imagination get away with you. I've read these other comments, and the common sentiment that appears to be expressed here is that Alec Baldwin's opinion should carry no more weight than the opinion of any other recipient of a Bachelor of Fine Arts.

Since Mr. Baldwin has no qualifications from any accredited body that are relevant to the topic at hand, we are forced to judge him solely on what he has said, and clearly, he relies on discredited junk science as a foundation for his opinion. Thus, it is perfectly appropriate to criticize him; Mr. Baldwin's celebrity status does not make him immune from criticism. If someone thinks that he is a "moron," then Mr. Baldwin's own words have made him one.

This type of criticism is not limited to Alec Baldwin or nuclear power. For example, Jenny McCarthy deserves similar criticism for being taken in by a bunch of pseudo-scientific quacks who are spreading dangerous nonsense about vaccines and autism.

Meanwhile, who is defending Paul Newman? Who needs to "defend" Paul Newman? You still haven't made a case that he needs defending. As far as I can tell, all the late Mr. Newman had done was to express publicly that he had a favorable opinion of nuclear power.

Yet, somehow by your twisted logic, people are hypocrites for not attacking Paul Newman for this?! Huh?

Nobody is claiming that Mr. Newman was some sort of technical expert. His opinion should carry no more weight than the opinion of any other recipient of a BA in English.

Anonymous said...

Aw, gee, Brian, now you ruined all those childhood memories spent at Washington Crossing State Park (PA and NJ), scouring the banks of the Delaware looking for George's silver dollar. Another myth shattered. Alas.

Here is what The Collectors Society website (collectibles) had to say about the famous Washingtonian dollar toss:

"Did George Washington really throw a silver dollar across the Potomac River?

Being quite capable of doing a feat of significant strength, George Washington was a large and powerful man. He stood 6 feet, 2 inches tall and in later life weighed more than 200 pounds. He wore large shoes (size 13), and stood with an erect military bearing. His face was long with high cheekbones, and he had a large, straight nose, a firm chin, and blue eyes beneath heavy brows.

But alas, his famous coin toss is apparently not the whole truth. This popular myth is often told to illustrate his strength, but the river was not the Potomac (about a mile wide) nor was it the Delaware. Looking at his childhood homestead, perhaps it was the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg, Virginia. According to myth, Washington threw a piece of slate, about the size and shape of a dollar, not a actual silver dollar. This account took place according to Martha Washington's grandson, George Washington Parke Custis. While the story has never been verified, historians concede that the feat is a possibility. At the site of the Washington family homestead, the Rappahannock measures only 250 feet across, an impressive but not impossible throwing distance.

Moreover, there were no US silver dollars available when Washington was a young man.

The first US Silver dollar wasn’t minted until 1794 five years before Washington’s death."