Gofman Objects

I wish with all my heart that I could believe Bernard Cohen ["Radiation Fantasies," Mar. 1980]. I wish I could believe that nuclear power will be safe, for I do not enjoy spending one moment of my life span on this dreary subject. However, I am unwilling to cripple my brain with wishful thinking, and I cannot ignore the evidence which shows Cohen is wrong both about the toxicity of ionizing radiation and about the containment of the radioactive poisons.

It would take a "letter" just as long as Cohen's article to correct the errors and distortions in virtually every paragraph of what he wrote, and to make it possible for REASON's readers to understand why experts disagree. Since I was not offered the space, REASON's readers will have to go elsewhere to understand this issue.

If REASON had had any intention of helping its readers arrive at the truth, it would not have invited only a leading nuclear power advocate to present his views. By doing so, REASON's editors showed contempt for their readers.…

Now, here's a fair question: Why didn't Gofman protest when Libertarian Review presented only one side of the issue? The answer is that it is impossible for someone who respects the truth as I do, to insist that untruths be published. If nuclear advocates would stick to opinions and stop adorning them with scientific falsehoods, I would be an advocate of presenting "both sides.…"

In allegedly libertarian magazines, it is particularly astonishing to see the editors resorting to arguments from authority ("consensus of expert opinion," etc.), when all libertarians have to ignore the overwhelming consensus of expert opinion about economic truth in order to be libertarians!

And all scientists know that every new scientific insight starts with the insight of a tiny minority—usually a single individual. How fast a new insight gets confirmation by the work of other scientists varies from a few years to a century or so; acceptance takes even longer than confirmation, of course. My work is doing very well with respect to confirmation by additional evidence, and rather poorly with respect to acceptance. The latter is not surprising, since the part of the scientific community concerned with radiation exposure has a great deal to lose by the acceptance of my work.

One very important argument for libertarianism is that many humans are too corruptible, nasty, and unscrupulous to be entrusted with power over other humans. Scientists are certainly no exception when it comes to corruptibility, and intellectual honesty is very commonly sacrificed for grants and personal advancement.

It is the joke of the decade for REASON to present the BEIR, ICRP, NCRP, and UNSCEAR radiation committees to its readers as if these committees were something other than collectives riddled with conflicts of interest. Thoughtful readers will ask themselves, "When both motive and opportunity exist, will intellectual crimes be far behind?" Scientific evidence has thoroughly discredited much of the nonsense about radiation hazards put out by BEIR, ICRP, NCRP, and UNSCEAR committees. I have no doubt that further scientific data will decimate the remaining nonsense issued by such committees.…

John W. Gofman
San Francisco, CA

The editors reply: We have not asked Dr. Cohen to reply to the above letter because of its tone and its lack of content concerning nuclear radiation. But inasmuch as Dr. Gofman's target, anyway, is REASON, we thought we should answer his letter.

Dr. Gofman wasn't offered the space for several reasons. For one, he's had space already in other publications likely to be seen by our readers, publications that did not bother to feature anyone who disagrees with him. For another, REASON sticks by its name, and we have not seen Dr. Gofman produce any sort of calm, measured discussion of the facts and issues involved. We would not have accepted for publication an article that presented Dr. Cohen's analysis, either, if it were peppered with vitriolic accusations, argument by inference of suspicious motives, anecdotal recounting of uncheckable private conversations, and so on. Much of Gofman's letter has nothing at all to do with nuclear energy and the morality of producing it. If this is what he has to offer our readers, why should anyone think of him as a prime candidate for inclusion in a careful, civil discussion of an important issue?

To the claim that Dr. Gofman did not demand that publications where he has appeared also open their pages to other views of the matter, because "it is impossible for someone who respects the truth as I do, to insist that untruths be published," we might say, "Ditto." But we realize that in some cases—and maybe in this one concerning nuclear energy production—the truth is yet to be fully identified, so having different positions presented may be extremely useful to citizens who, because of the unfortunate politicization of energy production, are required to make a judgment concerning scientific matters. And while not only libertarians but the general public have plenty of occasion to read the views of those on Dr. Gofman's side of the issue, they are rarely offered the other side, let alone a nontechnical explanation of the facts and terms of the debate.

Perhaps the only apparent substance in Gofman's letter is his calling into question what he calls "arguments from authority ('consensus of expert opinion,' etc.)." REASON did not leave the matter at such consensus but explained how the various scientific committees were formed and who is involved in this consensus. This enabled our readers to go way beyond "argument from authority" in assessing the merits of Cohen's case. Moreover, for Gofman to invoke a view of scientific change and imply that, because his view is accepted by a minority at this time, it must be right, is simply the other side of the coin of the irresponsible reliance on authority of which he accuses REASON.

It is not necessary to go further. Dr. Gofman is great, we admit, at impugning people's motives, as his letter demonstrates. We trust our readers will not succumb to this tactic.

Well Done

Congratulations on the March 1980 issue of REASON. The Bernard L. Cohen ("Radiation Fantasies") piece ought to be required reading for legislators everywhere at every level. It's the most down-to-earth, factual exposition of the true risks to the population from our nuclear programs that I've seen.

And the tritium piece by Marshall Brucer—what can one say? How utterly ridiculous and stupid can people be—including the supposedly unbiased press?

When will REASON undertake to survey and give us a factual report on the subject of nuclear waste disposal?

Robert W. Poole, Sr.
Fort Valley, GA

The editors reply: Nuclear waste disposal will be the subject of an upcoming cover story.

Free Market Power

I was impressed with your article in the March issue debunking the antinuclear forces who appear to be gaining influence in the libertarian movement. I'm anti-government-supported nuclear power just as I'm anti-government-supported coal or petroleum power generation, but this isn't the way the antinuclear case is often presented by self-proclaimed libertarian publications. Sure, libertarians can join with conventional antinuclear nuts in using absurd propaganda about the effects of radiation to get antinuclear votes. But is it acting on principle to use lies to manipulate the public into voting the right way (i.e., anti-government-supported nuclear power) for the wrong reason? I think not.

So, here is my three-year renewal. Please continue your advocacy of radical libertarianism in which the free market is free to choose the best type of power-generation as well as the best everything else.

Jim Cartwright
Austin, TX

Radiation Politics

Last year, I and a number of other writers whose articles appeared in the July/August issue of Libertarian Review were severely criticized by a group which included the editors of REASON for "taking a political stand on a technological issue" and "opposing nuclear power per se." Yet it seems that REASON has committed the same sin with its March 1980 issue.

"Radiation Fantasies" by Bernard Cohen rather blatantly endorses nuclear power "per se." Rather than politicizing the issue where it shouldn't be, however, Cohen totally ignores the very real and important political implications of the technological issue he discusses.

Nowhere, for instance, does Cohen mention that the people who are seeking government licenses to operate nuclear plants on the basis of safety assurances such as he offers are operators of public utility monopolies, not honest entrepreneurs seeking merely to be allowed to compete in the marketplace for energy consumers' dollars. Neither does he mention the Price-Anderson Act, passed after the relentless testimony of nuclear industry representatives that potential investors in their plants would not take the risks which Cohen asks the public to take.

A glaring absurdity is Cohen's appeal to authority about the dangers of radiation. Every one of the committees which Cohen quotes as certifying the relative harmlessness of radiation is a government-run and -funded agency. Most are creatures of governments actively involved in nuclear weapons and nuclear power development. Does Cohen—or REASON—seriously expect us to trust such people to tell us what is and is not good for us?…

The Cohen article clearly endorses a go-ahead for the existing nuclear power industry in this country—a cartelized industry fueled mostly with tax dollars and conceived and maintained under shrouds of government secrecy. This secrecy not only prevents private ownership of nuclear materials (something else which Cohen neglects to mention), but also keeps reliable, checkable information about those materials and the hazards associated with them from reaching the public. The growth of this industry will, further, imperil the privacy and other civil liberties of an ever-growing number of Americans, a hazard which, politically, is far more significant than any physical hazard from radiation but which, like the Price-Anderson Act, is always ignored by those promoting nuclear power on the basis of its alleged safety.…

Patrick L. Lilly
Colorado Springs, CO

The editors reply: Dr. Cohen's article was an attempt to explain in nontechnical language the extent of the risks associated with nuclear power generation, risks with which much of the public is quite concerned. Since Dr. Cohen is a nuclear scientist, and not a political theorist or pundit, to have asked him to amend the article he submitted for publication, to include consideration of political matters, would have been irresponsible on our part. We have, of course, published discussions of the political issues involved, including Sheldon Richman's repudiation of Price Anderson in our November 1979 issue.

Fear Fossil, Too

A friend passed on to me a copy of your recent feature on radiation fantasies by Dr. Bernard Cohen. I must commend you and the staff of REASON for your attention on this important subject.

Nuclear power is not 100 percent safe, but it is much safer than any other energy production system that exists. If John Gofman has such an incredible fear of radiation, I suggest that he try to also close all fossil fuel-fired power plants, since they discharge more radiation (as well as hydrocarbons) than the entire nuclear fuel cycle. Gofman would then be in an excellent position to lead all Americans on a quest to follow Iranians into the 7th century.

Having been impressed with your editorial stance on many other issues, also, it's about time to start a subscription. Please send me the appropriate form.

Jack Challem
Santa Fe, NM

Review Full of Holes?

John Hospers's review of Star Trek and Black Hole were fairly accurate. However, he misses the point of science fiction when he criticizes Black Hole for not conforming to current scientific dogma.

Faster-than-light travel, time travel, direct transmission of matter, etc., are old hat to sf readers and all impossible by establishmentarian views of reality. I would not be the first to point out that space travel and atomic power were likewise "impossible" two generations ago, when Hospers was young. Also, there are reasons to believe that it is possible to ride down a black hole and emerge somewhere else from a white hole (a "cosmic gusher"); see, for instance The Iron Sun by Adrian Berry. As far as the ability of the Disney studios to outpace current technology goes, one need only consider that in 1953 it was they who commissioned Wernher von Braun to be science advisor for their movie Man in Space.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the concept of a black hole was originated by Immanuel Kant in 1750. He posited it as a reductio ad absurdum to Newtonian mechanics; his analytic-synthetic dichotomy would not allow a body so massive that even light could not escape its pull. Please let it be noted that in 1980, John Hospers stated that traveling through a black hole is impossible.

Michael Marotta
Lansing, MI

Tax Information Helps

Your January tax tip on investment dividends [Taxes] allowed me to deduct $271 as a tax credit, which as you know means that I could reduce by that amount the tax determined from computations from the tax tables. My congratulations on allowing us that tidbit of tax saving!

Charles J. Eggerstedt
San Luis Obispo, CA

Point Taken

In the February 1979 issue of REASON I had an article on Sweden. The main topic of the article was government interference in private life, and continued socialism, in spite of a nonsocialist government. I also criticized an overambitious bureaucracy.

This very bureaucracy found its opportunity for revenge when REASON sent me a number of extra copies of the issue. These were free extra copies, given to the author of an article free of charge. Nevertheless, the customs authorities found that I had to pay value-added tax as well as an administrative fee for customs clearance. This was completely against the rules, which allow minor gifts to be imported without paying value-added tax or fees. I thus refused to pay the fee and asked the post office to return the magazines to the customs office, in order to get them classified as goods free of value-added tax. When the customs official refused to change his mind, I appealed to the Royal Customs Board ("Royal" in Swedish administrative practice meaning national, as opposed to local). At the same time I asked the post office to keep the magazines in the country until the case was resolved.

After two months I received the decision of the Royal Customs Board. My appeal had not been tried because "the goods have been reexported by the Royal Post Office." The board, however, said that all facts were in my favor, the magazines were free of import duties, but as the magazines were reexported, the board was not able to make a physical check on the contents of the printed matter sent from REASON magazine and thus was not able to make a legal decision. I found this ridiculous, and very much supporting my claim in the article, that we had too much bureaucracy.

I wrote to the solicitor general, not with a formal appeal, but to question whether the Royal Customs Board and the Royal Post Office had handled my appeal according to the rules. The solicitor general asked both agencies to give their views on the matter. The Royal Customs Board said they were sorry but that the Royal Post Office was to blame. The Royal Post Office, on the other hand, said that they were not to blame at all and that the only chance of a person receiving goods charged with incorrect fees was to pay the fees and make the appeal afterward. If the ruling was in his favor, which was very unlikely, he might get his money back.

The solicitor general found that the authorities had handled the matter according to reasonable practice, although the Post Office could be criticized for a number of faults. With a promise that planned negotiations between the directors general of the Royal Customs Board and the Royal Post Office would very likely solve any future problems, the case was dismissed.

Carl G. Holm
Stockholm, Sweden

Money Matters

I would like to add a clarification to a point made in the April Trends about gold backing of the dollar. The "chief economist" of the French bank Societe Generale was quoted as saying that "today's high gold prices make…US gold reserves equal to half the US money supply." This depends on what one takes to be the US money supply. As of the end of October 1979, the gold price had to be about $400 for 100 percent backing of "currency in circulation;" about $1,430 to back M1 (currency + checking accounts); about $3,900 to back M4 (M1 + savings deposits + large CDs); and about $6,400 to back M5 (M4 + deposits at mutual savings banks + S&L and credit union shares). And if you add in $965 billion "Eurodollars," the figure comes to $10,035! Thus, it is obvious that this economist had in mind M1, which is the lowest measure used nowadays.

Comparing these figures with those at the end of 1928, just before the Great Depression, is startling.

Gold Price for 100% Backing
1928, 1979 (Oct.)

Currency: 23.49, 397.53
M1: 186.52, 1428.00
M4*: 338.54, 3884.00
M5**: 444.63, 6395.00

* Same as M2 until 1961 (now M2 + large CDs)
** Same as M3 until 1961 (now M3 + large CDs)

(All data based on Banking and Monetary Statistics (FRS, 1943), Milton Friedman and A.J. Schwartz, Monetary Statistics of the United States (1970), and various issues of Federal Reserve Bulletin).

The table also shows that M1 is a misleading indicator, since it has increased only about half as much since 1928 as the other measures (currency, M4, and M5). But this is only to be expected, as more and more people take their money out of non-interest bearing checking accounts and put it elsewhere. This point can also be seen from a comparison of 1921-28 and 1957-79 increases in the money supply (as measured against US gold reserves).

Money Supply Growth
% Increase, % Inc./Yr.
Currency: ? 8.5, ? 1.3
M1: +37.6, +4.7
M4: +59.5, +6.9
M5: +69.6, +7.8
1957-79 (Oct.)
Currency + 817.4 +10.7
M1: + 586.2, + 9.2
M4: +1212.2, +12.5
M5: +1451.5, +13.4

Bruce K. Bell
Santa Barbara, CA