Wednesday, November 23, 2011

CJR Criticizes AP for Reporting on Fukushima and Radiation

Our readers may recall that at the end of September the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) published a critique of an Associated Press (AP) series on nuclear plant safety. Overnight, CJR took the AP to task again, this time for alarmist reporting about radiation releases in Japan as the result of the incident at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear facility. The critique was published over at The Observatory, CJR's science blog edited by David Ropeik. Here are a few choice quotes:

With a long-term population study of the impact of just getting under way, the AP set out to do a bit of enterprise reporting, asking what it might find with regard to cancer rates. The answer: “cancers caused by the radiation may be too few to show up” in such studies because “the ordinary rate of cancer is so high, and our understanding of the effects of radiation exposure so limited.” As the AP reported, “that could mean thousands of cancers under the radar in a study of millions of people, or it could mean virtually none.” Yet overall, its article is clearly structured to induce at least a modicum of fear. After all, scary stories sell papers.
But that's not all ...
It’s also interesting to note that, buried down in the twenty-fifth paragraph, the story cites Japanese officials as saying “mental health problems caused by excessive fear of radiation are prevalent and posing a bigger problem than actual risk of cancer caused by radiation.” Excessive fear of radiation?! I wonder where that might have come from?
It all makes for a very interesting article. Read it all right now.

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