Exposing PseudoAstronomy

December 15, 2016

Podcast Episode 153: What Is Radiation?


“Radiation” is
As common in life as ’tis
In pseudoscience.

This is one of those basic science episodes where I tried to provide solid background to a typically misunderstood concept that is beloved by pseudoscientists: Radiation. I go through what radiation is and is not, different kinds of radiation, what it means to say that something is ionizing vs nonionizing, and the effects of thermal radiation. It’s a longer episode, clocking in at 51 minutes.

There are two additional short segments in this episode, the first being logical fallacies where I discussed the nautralistic fallacy, and the second being feedback where I finally addressed Graham’s feedback about the Catholic Church and a round vs flat planet.

"Caution: Radioactive" Sign

“Caution: Radioactive” Sign

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13 Comments »

  1. Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

    Comment by Vincent S Artale Jr — December 16, 2016 @ 7:24 am | Reply

  2. Thank you for this episode, especially the discussion of the naturalistic fallacy. I am going to add that the exaggerated fears about radiation beloved by peddlers of woo actually (and rather sadly) started out in the anti-nuclear weapons movement. I can understand why they did what they did, but the consequence has been just horrible.

    A classic example was covered by Skeptoid back in episode 61 on Food Irradiation, in which FUD coming from well meaning environmental lobby groups more or less eliminated a to all intents and purposes chemical-free method for killing off bacteria in food. (Link: https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4061)

    Snopes has plenty of examples of strange and exaggerated claims about mobile phones being able to cook eggs (A viral video created by a prankster.) or pop popcorn (A viral video created by a company selling mobile phone headsets.), Skeptoid covered similar claims in Episode 117 (Link: https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4117)

    And of course there is Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) which uses magnetic resonance to image a cells nucleus, it used to be called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (NMRI) but so many people were terrified they’d be irradiated by the process that they had to change the name.

    Comment by Graham — December 17, 2016 @ 12:36 am | Reply

    • Ah yes, I should’ve mentioned the genesis back from the 1940s.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — December 17, 2016 @ 11:07 am | Reply

      • Stuart,

        Saw on facebook you are doing a four part series on Climate Change. I have two disaster novels in the 1980s that feature Climate Change, on of them actually has a character blame Greenpeace’s opposition to nuclear power as being one of the causes of the 40 degree rise (in a week) that causes the disaster. I am not sure when the other was actually written, but given the number of supersonic transports that get mentioned I am guessing the early 70s.

        If you contact me by email I can send you scans of the front and back covers.

        Comment by Graham — December 30, 2016 @ 4:27 am

  3. About granite counter tops:

    1. A friend of ours just retired from our state’s Dept. of Health, the Office of Radiation Protection. He was a nuclear engineer, and this was the job he got after he retired from the US Navy where he served as the Safety Engineer for the nuclear reactors on submarines. One of his jobs at that office was to field the phone calls to their office from the public. When the news story came out that granite is very slightly radioactive he got many calls from concerned homeowners. His first question to them was “Do you sleep on your kitchen counters.” You need close contact for a long time, plus your basic house ventilation dissipates any radon gas. Radon is hazardous in closed in spaces, which is why the typical mitigation measure is ventilation.

    2. I got granite on my kitchen precisely so I did NOT have to seal it. You seal in marble because that stuff dissolves from soap and water, etc.

    Comment by Chris — December 17, 2016 @ 3:33 pm | Reply

    • ooops… “on my kitchen counter…”

      The rest is stainless steel. In our previous kitchen I cleaned the main working counter enough that the top layer of laminate was being worn off.

      Comment by Chris — December 17, 2016 @ 3:37 pm | Reply

    • I was watching an episode of The Peoples’ Court – actually this came up twice – and the granite counter tops discolored over time because, according to the manufacturers/sellers who were being sued, the owners didn’t properly and repeatedly seal them. The discoloration was due to very slight porosity and constant exposure to light for some part of the countertop, but not others (like an electric mixer).

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — December 17, 2016 @ 3:45 pm | Reply

      • For an explanation of this phenomenon, I’d suggest this debunker-type podcast I listen to from time to time. Hosted by some sort of astrophysics type (who occasionally calls himself an “astrogeologist”, like that makes any sense). There was this episode once where he explained why footprints on the moon appear to be darker than the surrounding regolith. This is the same tape played backwards.

        Comment by Stan Rogers — December 18, 2016 @ 7:33 pm

      • “Although most granite countertops don’t need to be sealed, it does help the stone resist dirt and spills, which can cause etching and staining. By its nature, granite is moisture-resistant — however, it’s also porous. Sealants block liquids from seeping into the granite. A properly sealed countertop will cause liquids to bead on the surface. Liquids with color — like grape juice and red wine — cooking oil ­and fat can all discolor the countertop. Pizza grease can be a culprit, too, when it soaks through the bottom of the pizza box and onto the countertop.” — How Stuff Works

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — December 18, 2016 @ 8:27 pm

      • It probably depends on the type of granite, like its color. I have had this counter for more than twenty years, and no problems. It is very dark maroon/gray/black. And soon after we got it I noticed that is was used in one of the subway stations downtown. Oh, well.

        (stone yards are cool, and granite comes in so many versions, I really wanted the one where you can see the fossils, but is was very expensive)

        Comment by Chris — December 22, 2016 @ 1:13 pm

  4. Ooh, I got a mention. 🙂

    By the way if you are organizing a skeptic meetup, you might try calling your state’s department with radiation hazards. They are the ones that deal oversee radioactive medical waste, radon geographical distribution, and perhaps in the case for Colorado, the mining of uranium. There you might find someone who takes the calls from the public, and they will certainly have stories. Or it could be other things, like the one my friend spoke about years ago about this sculpture:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20010331182256/http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/pacificnw/2001/0114/cover.html

    Though, they may not be as gregarious as my friend who will start reciting his own poetry. Though when I met him in the university dorms forty years ago he often would recite some silly poems (the one I remember most is about Tigger from Winnie the Pooh). I actually came up with the idea to suggest my friend drive up from Olympia because our skeptic meetup had a speaker from the local air quality agency by the guy who fielded the calls about “chemtrails”, which was very interesting even though he was a bit more academic. Okay, my friend did do academic… I was dazzled by the more detailed periodic table that listed every single isotope, which is so vast he could only post a portion at a time.

    Comment by Chris — January 11, 2017 @ 9:37 pm | Reply

    • Forgot to mention: both my nuclear engineer friend and the air quality scientist were surprised by the calls they got about radiation hazards (some were actual tin hat quality) and chemtrails. When they went to school and did work they were not exposed to this kind of thinking, possibly because they never listened to Coast to Coast*. They both took it with patience and raised eye brows being very careful of how they responded. They are public servants, so they did not want to offend. My friend would ask those who were complaining about medical effects (often from being targeted by a neighbor or HAARP) that he was not a medical professional, and to have their doctor call him. Only one did, the doctor said that yes that person had psychiatric issues (but in much less polite terms).

      *About Coast to Coast. It is broadcast on our local talk radio station in the wee hours of the morning. This same radio station would broadcast CBS Mystery Radio Theater, which I used to listen to in college while writing lab reports (by the way, one of those stories is where I first heard about the “hollow Earth” stuff, then I learned more by subscribing to Skeptical Inquirer). But alas! It stopped, and when in a fit of insomnia tuned to it I encountered Coast to Coast in the mid 1980s. Yikes! I switched stations. Fast forward several years ago, and as part of our local Society of Women Engineers I had the opportunity to meet one of our members who was an astronaut. She flew in from Houston, but could not sleep so turned on the radio next to her hotel bed which was tuned to “Coast to Coast.” She was dumbfounded. I was amused.

      I truly really very very much, a thousand times over, admire your ability to listen to five minutes and especially several hours of that program… so I don’t have to. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

      PS: I do not mind being called “he.” A gender neutral name has its advantages.

      Comment by Chris — January 11, 2017 @ 10:07 pm | Reply

      • Sorry about that, I actually know a female Chris locally, so I should have realized it could be either-or.

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — January 13, 2017 @ 2:16 pm


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