Gayle Greene:: Sir Richard Doll and Dr. Alice Stewart

Monday, October 10, 2011
7:00 PM
Scripps - Hampton Room
Event Type
Scripps - Malott Commons
Malott Commons
Malott Commons Office

Gayle Greene, Professor of English at Scripps College, will present, "Sir Richard Doll and Dr. Alice Stewart: Gender Politics, and the Road to Fukushima". 

As the world watches the Fukushima reactors spew radionuclides into the sea and air and wonders about the effects this will have on us and generations to come, the warnings of Dr. Alice Stewart about low-dose radiation risk assume a terrible timeliness. As industry, governments, and the media attempt to quiet the alarms, assuring us that radioactive releases will dilute and disperse and become too miniscule to matter, the reassurances of Sir Richard Doll also assume relevance. Stewart and Doll made major contributions in the 1950s, he by demonstrating the link between lung cancer and smoking, she by discovering that x-raying pregnant women doubles the risk of a childhood cancer; but when she revealed that radiation at a fraction of the dose “known” to be dangerous could be lethal, she was defunded and defamed, whereas Doll, foremost among her detractors, was knighted, made Regius Professor at Oxford, and hailed as “the greatest epidemiologist of our time.” In 2006, a year after his death, it was revealed that he’d been taking large sums of money from industries whose chemicals he was exonerating, but his reputation survived, and so did the climate of complacency he created about radiation risk: his reassurances enabled the nuclear industry to resurrect itself from its ruins at the end of the last century, when it crumbled under its costs, inefficiencies, and catastrophes, to gain public acceptance as a viable source of energy. This story of two scientists is more than a clash of two striking figures who took contrary courses in their lives and work: it’s a cautionary tale about the power of reputation to shape scientific “knowledge” and public policy.

A book signing will follow the lecture. 

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