Saturday, April 25, 2015

“Radiophobia” and the Politics of Social Contagion

The metaphors of “contagion” and “pollution” have long been deployed by political and mainstream media authorities to describe the mass media dissemination of oppositional discourses contesting dominant frameworks of risk. 

For example, recently, the National Science Foundation funded research aimed at studying “social epidemics” of purportedly propagating and misinforming “memes” (i.e., propagating ideas or “discourses”):
Ajit Pai (2014, October 17) The government wants to study ‘social pollution’ on Twitter. The Washington Post

Ajit Pai is a member of the Federal Communications Commission.

[excerpt] If you take to Twitter to express your views on a hot-button issue, does the government have an interest in deciding whether you are spreading “misinformation’’? If you tweet your support for a candidate in the November elections, should taxpayer money be used to monitor your speech and evaluate your “partisanship’’?

My guess is that most Americans would answer those questions with a resounding no. But the federal government seems to disagree. The National Science Foundation , a federal agency whose mission is to “promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; and to secure the national defense,” is funding a project to collect and analyze your Twitter data.

The project is being developed by researchers at Indiana University, and its purported aim is to detect what they deem “social pollution” and to study what they call “social epidemics,” including how memes — ideas that spread throughout pop culture — propagate. What types of social pollution are they targeting? “Political smears,” so-called “astroturfing” and other forms of “misinformation.” [end]

As illustrated here, the National Science Foundation’s metaphor of polluting, contagious memes functions ideologically to marginalize and de-legitimize oppositional discourses, often by deploying a form of scientific dogmatism that codes all dissent as irrational and non-scientific “misinformation.”

This type of calculating dogmatism was exemplified recently by a National Geographic cover story that defined social activism against GMOs, Vaccinations, and Global Warming as (semiotically) equivalent, labeling them all as inherently anti-scientific, although considerable scientific disagreement exists on the nuances of these contentious issues, particularly the safety of GMOs.

The nuclear complex’s concept of “radiophobia” also illustrates this strategy of labeling oppositional discourse as “misinformation” using metaphors of contagion.

The film “No Threshold for Fear” (see here ) aggressively propagated in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, demonstrates empirically how radiophobia is deployed to marginalize and deny oppositional discourses, both scientific and eschatological. Arguing against radiophobia, oppositional discourses posit catastrophic risks derive from long-term radionuclide contamination of the environment.

The discourse of radiophobia is also propagadated in more scientific genres, as illustrated by the internal contradictions in this “scientific” article appearing in Nature:
Brumfield, Geoff & Fuyuno (2012, March 7) Japan's nuclear crisis: Fukushima's legacy of fear. Nature, 483, 138-140,
Dose levels

It is already evident that rapid evacuation and careful screening protected Fukushima's citizens from harm, says Wolfgang Weiss, a physicist at Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection in Munich and chair of UNSCEAR. Early and informal analyses by his colleagues suggest that no members of the public received a dangerous dose of radiation….

The environment
Fukushima has stopped releasing radioisotopes into the air, and radioactivity in the sea seems to have dispersed with little effect. But some organisms may still be accumulating nuclear material from the plant.

Researchers at the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute in Tsukuba have found earthworms containing nearly 20,000becquerels per kilogram of radioactive caesium in Kawauchi, 26 kilometres from the plant. And local bird populations seem to have declined by about a third, according to Tim Mousseau, a radioecologist at the University of South Carolina in Columbia (A. P. Møller et al. Environ. Pollut. 164, 36–39; 2012). In the ocean, says Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, radioactive plutonium and strontium seem to be finding their way into fish and bottom-feeders living near the reactor.
This passage illustrates highly contested ideas and internal contradictions that fracture the radiophobia discourse. At issue are 1) the technological capacity for containment and 2) the scope and severity of biological effects. 

Through my blogging and published works on Fukushima I have collected and synthesized vast collections of scientific, technological, medical, and cultural discourses of nuclear risk that together deconstruct the premises of radiophobia, demonstrating the incapacity of containment and the catastrophic consequences of accelerating genomic instabilities.

I have demonstrated that the complex responsible for the radiophobia discourse has funded study-after-study and report-after-report (e.g., Project Gabriel and Project Sunshine) whose data points and conclusions deconstruct radiophoboia premises.

I contend the discourse of radiophobia is an integrally flawed discourse deployed cynically to operate prophetically, vaccinating against oppositional discourses, while also functioning to mitigate contagion after counter-discourses infect the social body.

Yet, the (discourse) infections of the social body combated by radiophobia are precisely those needed to ward off the imminent eco-collapse, whose disrupting ruptures, are fueling both scientific and eschatological discourses of collapse.


  1. The peasants' eye view versus the oligarch's eye view. The peasant who is informed sees the oligarchs as criminal; the oligarchs see the peasants as an inferior subspecies of homo sapiens.
    “promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; and to secure the national defense,” Unfortunately the progress of science seems largely to harm heath, undermine prosperity and endanger welfare and promote war. So this is just propaganda for the peasants. War is the main devotional activity of the oligarchs. We might just as well be back in ancient Sumeria. The machinery of civilization is operating to please the oligarchy. Radiation must be seen as good for the peasants. Until not so long ago you could poison the peasant without poisoning the aristocrat--but those days are gone.