Radiation, really big squids and cause and effect

You may have heard the hype around the Fukushima radiation issues in the US at the moment, with a good summary of what many people think given here:


It’s clear that Fukushima was a disaster, especially for those living close by in Japan, and there are some severe environmental issues in this area, which will be very long lasting. However, there are a number of people who believe there are effects of this radiation far beyond Japan, and manifest themselves in some pretty weird ways, even though there is little scientific evidence to support it.

A few weeks ago, there was a report of a giant squid washed up in California, initiated on this website:


I have to admit, I really like this story for a number of reasons. Firstly, people believed it. Have a look at some of the other stories on a site called ‘lightly braised turnip’ and see why it may not be true… Secondly, I like this as it really does raise some important points about how people react to the unknown. We know very little about the sea, especially the deep sea, and there are some pretty big squid in the sea. However, I don’t see the potential of these squid to demolish any beachfront blocks of flats in the near future. Thirdly, anyone believing this has a minor issue understanding the role radiation has on mutations (largely random, so why gigantism would occur across species is rather unclear).

Finally though, this story, and all the other ‘radiation’ attributed things illustrate an important point. It is easy to make the ‘effect’ fit the ‘cause’.  What I mean is this: lots of odd things happen, lots of highly improbable things happen. The fact that lots of highly improbable things happen isn’t unusual, it’s because a huge amount of things happen. Far more things happen which don’t seem odd, than do seem odd. We, as humans, focus on the odd things, and try to work out why they occur.

If I told you odd things happen on Friday (and you believed me, of course), then anything odd on a Friday, you would simply put down to the cause of it being Friday.  However, there are probably no more odd things happening on a Friday than any other day, but now they seem related, because they have a cause.

The same with the radiation in the Pacific. Giant oarfish – two of them, Siamese whales. Seems odd, must be the radiation. However, tests for radiation levels don’t indicate a cause for concern.

A simple lesson in probability there, but I’ve also learned two things:

1) Ramblings like this have no place in scientific journals (see here)

2) Perhaps I need that proofreader (see here)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.