On several web sites there has recently been references to an article published on the web site Counterpunch with the title "Is the Dramatic Increase in Baby Deaths in the US a Result of Fukushima Fallout? - A 35% Spike in Infant Mortality in Northwest Cities Since Meltdown".
The article, published on 10 June 2011, is authored by Janette D. Sherman and Joseph Mangano, both renowned persons in the anti-nuclear movement. In the text the authors claim a statistically significant increase of infant mortality deaths with 35% after the Fukushima accident in eight selected cities on the U.S. west coast.
The recent CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicates that eight cities in the northwest U.S. (Boise ID, Seattle WA, Portland OR, plus the northern California cities of Santa Cruz, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, and Berkeley) reported the following data on deaths among those younger than one year of age:
4 weeks ending March 19, 2011 - 37 deaths (avg. 9.25 per week)
10 weeks ending May 28, 2011 - 125 deaths (avg.12.50 per week)
This amounts to an increase of 35% (the total for the entire U.S. rose about 2.3%), and is statistically significant. Of further significance is that those dates include the four weeks before and the ten weeks after the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster.
Furthermore, they try to link the releases of radioactivity from Fukushima and Chernobyl to the relatively high infant mortality rate in the U.S. A look at the data used by Sherman and Mangano does indeed seem to indicate an increase in the number of infant deaths in northwest U.S. after Fukushima, see the plot below:
The Fukushima events started on March 11, i.e. by the end of week 10. Then it took slightly more than a week for the first release of radioactivity to reach the nortwest part of the U.S. The data do show an increased infant mortality rate after Fukushima. The black line shows the average value for the 4 weeks before March 19, and the orange line shows the average value for the 10 weeks after that. The error bars on each data point indicate the statistical uncertainties.
But why are the 10 weeks after Fukushima compared with only 4 weeks before? There seems to be a reason for it, commonly referred to as cherry-picking, i.e. you select the data that supports your theory without showing the full picture. To show the full data set may falsify what you want to show. This is quite common in politics and by people who have an agenda that is more important than the truth. But here we have two persons in medicine, one Medical Doctor and one Master of Public Health, they should be trustworthy professionals who are keen on giving people honest information, right? Let's check their deck of cards closer.
So, if we include data for, say, the first 7 weeks of 2011, we get a very different idea about the situation:
Very interesting, the first seven weeks of 2011 actually has higher infant mortality than the weeks after Fukushima, quite different from what Sherman and Mangano wants us to believe. There is no spike after Fukushima, instead there is a dip during the 4 weeks before! A more detailed report on the closer scrutiny of Sherman and Mangano's article is found in our Deep Repository.
So, why does a Medical Doctor mistreat official data in this way? It is quite remarkable, and embarrasing, especially since Janette Sherman writes about herself on her web page (http://janettesherman.com/about/):
Dr. Sherman’s primary interest is the prevention of illness through public education and patient awareness.
She seems to have forgotten about her primary interest in this case, I fail to see how cherry-picking data can be part of public education and public awareness. And if anybody can see how you can prevent illness through scaring people with false statistics, then please explain it to me. Embarrasing, Janette Sherman...
Joseph Mangano already has a track record of handling data in not so honest ways, we may come back to that in other blog entries (a few links to examples, as requested by a commenter: http://neinuclearnotes.blogspot.com/2005/08/joseph-mangano-and-art-of-deception.html and http://www.nei.org/resourcesandstats/documentlibrary/safetyandsecurity/factsheet/scienceonradiationhealtheffectsdispelstoothfairyproject/).
What baffles me the most is that he and Sherman try to get away with this alarmistic claim by such a lousy handling of official data. Anybody can easily check it for themselves and see that Sherman and Mangano are wilfully interpreting data so that they agree with their already decided view on things. What is worse, they are scaring a lot of people with their claims, for no reason at all. Therefore: Shame on you!
/Mattias Lantz - member of the network Nuclear Power Yes Please
Follow-up blog entries on the same subject
19 June 2011: More bullshit from Joseph Mangano, take 2
27 July 2011: Sherman & Mangano admits errors – or do they?
Update 24 June 2011
Several other people have scrutinized the Sherman-Mangano joke (by now I do not want to mis-use the word "study" in connection with these people), most notably in Scientific American. Here is a list:
- Scientific American, "Observations" blog, by Michael Moyer, 21 June 2011: "Are Babies Dying in the Pacific Northwest Due to Fukushima? A Look at the Numbers"
- The sei-uno-zero-nove (6109) blog, by Antonio Rinaldi, 21 June 2011: "e-nucleare disinformazione" (in Italian)
- The xkcd forum, user signatures ++$_ and endolith, 16 June, under the post "8.8 Earthquake hits 250 miles from Tokyo"
- The Cliff Mass Weather Blog, 17 June 2011: "Fukushima Radiation and Infant Mortality in the NW? No way" (borrowing our plots)
- Chris Mooney on the Discover Magazine blog, 17 June 2011: "Nuke Scaremongering and the Left"
- U.C. Berkeley, Department of Nuclear Engineering, Berkeley Radiological Air and Water Monitoring Forum (comments in all directions, but a couple of people are checking the data for themselves): "Fukushima fallout caused significant increase in baby deaths?" and "Post-Fukushima Infant Deaths in the Pacific Northwest Update."
- My colleague Andrea Mattera have translated this post into Italian and it has been posted as a comment on the Come don Chisciotte web page, 18 June 2011: "PICCO DEL 35% DI MORTALITÀ INFANTILE DOPO L'INCIDENTE DI FUKUSHIMA" (in Italian)
- Mike, a physics student from Victoria (Canada?) have checked the data for himself, they are available here. (Mike linked to his data from the discussion on the Unsilent Generation blog post: "Infant Mortality on Pacific Coast Jumped after Fukushima"
- The Buzz Blog on Physics Central comments on the scrutiny done in Scientific American and asks the question why Sherman and Mangano is doing this nonsense: "Beware the Evil Scientists"
- The uvdiv blog has a guest post by Alexey Goldin that hopefully is enjoyable also for non-statistics nerds, and he shows data for several years back: A curious case of cherry-picking data for the greater good. I can only agree with his final statement: "At this point it is worthwhile to question either the scientific integrity or statistical competence of Sherman and Mangano. They might be decent people and believe in what they say, but allow themselves to say "small lies" in a service of "Greater Truth". This never ends up well. Because they are likely to kill some unstable people with their small lies."
- The newspaper Hawaii Reporter has an article about it by guest writer Michael R. Fox, 5 July 2011: Anti-Nuclear Fictions Continue
- British Columbia Centre for Disease Control have issued a comment both on the S&M joke, and the increase of infant mortality in British Columbia this spring. The latter effect is real, and was a great concern for the authorities (although media reported it in a bit scandalous manner by comparing only with last year when the infant mortality for the region was unusually low). It turns out that the unusually high level is the same for the time period before Fukushima as in the time period after, so any alarmist should better look for other things to scare with: http://www.bccdc.ca/NR/rdonlyres/5B6E918D-F306-4842-8EC9-32EBD4149715/0/infant_mortality_response.pdf
- Hank Campbell writes on the Science 2.0 web site: Anti-Science Beliefs: Babies Dying in the Pacific Northwest Due to Fukushima
- ...(to be updated)
Update 25 June 2011
Several persons have asked about how to get access to the raw data. I put a summary of the links I have used on the follow-up post regarding the strange results from the CounterPunch re-analysis of the data (here), but I will now put them here as well. The last link on the list is the one that is the easiest one to use. Some information will appear if you hold the pointer over each link: