Science's Genuine Controversies
Are We Wrong About Radiation & Cancer?

3 of 11

‹‹ Is There Physics Beyond the Standard Model? What Is Life? Where Did It Come From? ››

It has been long assumed that any dose of ionizing radiation -- even a very small one -- is bad for you. It sounds like a reasonable assumption; high-energy radiation causes mutations in your DNA, and those can lead to cancer. A good deal of evidence supports this concept, known as the linear no-threshold model, and it forms the basis of radiation safety policies issued by governments worldwide. But what if it's wrong?

Instead of the "no-threshold" model, it could be that below a certain threshold, radiation is mostly (if not completely) harmless. A good deal of evidence supports this interpretation, as well. Other data suggests that low levels of radiation are actually beneficial, an effect known as "hormesis." The idea is that a small dose of radiation prepares the body for a bigger assault, loosely analogous to the way a vaccine works.

But the controversy doesn't end there. Toxicologist Edward Calabrese claims that two influential scientists purposefully withheld evidence that contradicted the linear no-threshold model. As a result, the world adopted the model, even though it wasn't completely supported by the evidence.

The debate rages on.

(Image: Radiation via Jacksonville University)


‹‹ Is There Physics Beyond the Standard Model? What Is Life? Where Did It Come From? ››

Recent Lists