Game over for Chris Busby and the ECRR?

The alarmist and self-proclaimed radiation expert Chris Busby is portrayed by some people as a hero, and some of the comments/insults that several NPYP members have received after our scrutinies, or when referring to them in discussions on other blogs, clearly show that he still has his devotees.

But does Chris Busby really believe in Chris Busby? This is far from certain. He certainly displays a number of pseudoscientific traits, but how much of a nut is he really? He has surely figured out that he can make a living from scaring people about the health effects from radioactivity (not all attempts succeed), and some of his behaviour clearly shows that he is more keen on protecting the trademark Chris Busby™ than on making sure that he is correct in his statements. To admit errors does not seem to be on the agenda, and the dull road of sticking to the truth appears to be of little importance, in spite of all his philosophical litanias about ethics in research and the dishonesty of others.

After reading "ECRR-2010" and his book "Wings of Death" there are some things that could be well worth looking closer at. Among the usual nonsense and exaggerations Busby makes a number of claims that could have some substance, or even be as important as he says. Some of his serious claims of cover up and dishonesty from the nuclear industry and radiation protection experts could also be worth taking seriously. In NPYP we simply do not know if these claims are valid because we have not had the time to look closer at them, and in some cases we lack the proper expertise to judge them. On the other hand, when you throw out so many claims in all directions, a few of them are almost bound to be true, if only by pure chance.

If we would choose to trust Busby and assume that all the items on the list of  interesting statements are true then one important question arises. If Busby is correct and honest in these cases, why does he then cheat and exaggerate in so many other cases?

If he really is the honest and good rebel hero that he wants to portray himself as, a man who sincerely cares about people's health, then he would not:

  • inflate his CV:   The whole CV seems to be an attempt to compensate for some sort of inferiority complex. For starters, not even German professors with multiple doctorate titles get away with 24 pages long CVs. The only thing missing in Busby's CV are any awards from his boy scout years, but considering his behavior as an adult it is not very likely that he managed to get any as a boy. And as it turns out he makes a number of claims that are not correct.
    * For instance until recently he used to claim to be a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Somebody checked the claim and it turns out that he stopped being a member after 1984, which also means that he since then does not have the right to call himself Chartered Chemist. So in the latest version of his CV (August 2012) the claim is changed into being a member of the Royal Institute of Chemistry instead. This is quite amusing, since the Royal Institute of Chemistry ceased to exist in 1980 when it merged with some other associations to become the Royal Society of Chemistry. It is also noteworthy that Busby still claims that he was elected member of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1974, six years before it was founded through the merger of other associations. 

    * The rather long list of publications may look impressive, but many of the articles are self-published, and of the rest it is very few that have been published in recognised mainstream journals, and none in any of the major journals related to radiation health effects, save for a few letters to the editor. Furthermore, some of his more "important" articles are from the "European Journal of Biology and Bioelectromagnetics", a temporary web journal for which Busby was a member of the "Editorial board" and which is no longer accessible. It must be very handy to be both editor and "invited reviewer" (as his CV says) to your own articles. The fact that Busby often refers to his articles in this "journal" is probably very practical as it become very difficult for others to scrutinize articles that are published in a journal that does not exist. But he can impress people with having them added to the list of "peer reviewed articles".

    * In spite of the fact that his visiting professorship at University of Ulster ended earlier this year he seems to be very keen on using the title "Professor", it has still not disappeared from his CV (August 2012 version), and he never objects when anybody uses it incorrectly (for instance on RT 15 October 2012 and  RT 31 October 2012). Furthermore, every now and then (for instance as late as April 2011) he uses the University of Liverpool as affiliation although he has not been associated with them for a number of years.

    * The Talk page associated with the Christopher Busby Wikipedia entry is quite interesting, a harsh battle between different opinions whether Busby is a serious researcher or not, and what information that should and shouldn't be put on the entry. Then somebody points out that the signature "Profwoland", who is one of the most eager to defend Busby, actually is Busby himself...

  • make up all these phony titles within his various organizations: For anybody who wants to be taken seriously, there is a limit to how many organizations one may be appointed "Scientific secretary" or "Scientific Director" for. Unless one makes up the organizations oneself and appoints oneself, in that case one could be taken seriously as a laughing stock.
  • cheat with statistics: As noted in several of our scrutinies, Busby is keen on finding results of statistical significance where he can claim very small p-values. But he is not so keen on displaying any statistical error bars on his impressive results. The reason why is clear, the error bars tend to ruin the validity of his bold claims. We have seen this in his claims about Hinkley Point and Fallujah, and his epidemiological methods have been questioned by others. Or he disregards the statistics altogether and settles for bold claims and accusations based on comparing numbers selected in not so serious ways. Regarding the Fallujah papers we also found that he tries to improve reality to fit his own view by omitting data points when he reproduces other researcher's work (see figure here where the red dots were omitted in Busby's version).
  • exaggerate the importance of his findings: His press releases, talks, and appearances on Russia Today are usually full of exaggerations, there he says clearly what he barely whispers in his few published papers. This pattern becomes very clear when comparing his two papers on Fallujah with the press release of the second paper.
  • make up conspiracy stories in order to look like a rebel fighting the establishment: After writing the blog post "Chris Busby -- Scary Rider" I got in contact with people working at the statistics division of Socialstyrelsen (The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare) in order to inform them about Busby's claims. In the Youtube video Busby is filmed outside of Socialstyrelsen, claiming that they are corrupt, before entering in order to request data on cancer near the Baltic Sea. It is followed by a video where he and Ditta Rietuma goes to file a complaint to the Swedish Justice Chancellor for being denied these data. I was not surprised about Busby not getting any data, my guess was that he probably wasn't able to write an application that was considered serious enough (according to researchers at the Cancer Society of Finland he could not even write a comprehensive research proposal when he tried to initiate a collaboration with them). To my surprise the people at the statistics division called me back a few days later and gave some interesting information: Chris Busby had not even filed a request for any data! So it was all a charade to make it sound like his noble pursuits were hindered by a conspiracy against him. How many times has this happened before?
  • tell people to stop donating money to research on childhood cancer: Yep, this one is really true! It was in April 2012 that he made a Youtube video where he actually asked people to stop donating  money to the UK-based charity "Children with cancer". The reason was that he had submitted some abstracts for their conference but none of them were accepted. It is reasonable for any researcher to be upset from such a response, but whereas real researchers would pull up their sleeves and try to make a better work for the next conference, a crackpot would instead scream about conspiracy and try to punish the organization. Busby chose the latter path, and one may ask if he was very close to the limits of sanity when he actually claimed that it is his theories about childhood cancer that are correct and that everybody else are wrong. It does not help his credibility that one of the submitted articles was co-authored with the Swedish cell phone alarmist Olle Johansson and the other two were related to his studies of health effects in Fallujah (which we scrutinized here). By the way, when the same organization had a conference in 2004, he had an oral presentation accepted but was kicked out of the venue due to "inapropriate behaviour". The staff of "Children with Cancer" seemed to be very uncomfortable with discussing this event when I asked them about it. But apparently he has managed to get kicked out of a conference earlier, it seems to be some kind of sport for him.
  • claim that the ECRR model gives the correct answer: Health effects from low level doses of any environmental pollutant are difficult to quantify, no matter if it is chemicals or radioactivity. Busby thrives on people's fear of radioactivity and claims that the ICRP risk model is worthless because it can not (or rather: it should not) be used to predict the number of casualties from radioactive exposure. By claiming that the ECRR model gives the correct predictions he is completely missing the point, unless the whole purpose is to scare people and boost the Chris Busby™ label.
  • make ludicrous claims: Besides all ridiculous claims when he embarked on selling anti-radiation pills to people in Fukushima, he also enters into weird reasoning about cold fusion bombs, 9/11-conspiracy theories (even at the human rights council in Geneva), and similar things. And to claim that Einstein was wrong, seriously Chris, isn't that a bit...dull?
    * Several times he has claimed that there are some secret uranium based weapon being used by the U.S. in Iraq, and when he in November 2011 had a talk in Stockholm about health effects in Fallujah he started his presentation with showing a video of one of these mysterious super weapons. If it was so secret then it is a wonder that you can find the very same film on Youtube, showing a test with the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile, used by the U.S. military since 1996. As a side note, the Javelin is the U.S. version of the earlier (and somewhat different) Bill anti-tank weapon invented by Swedish Bofors and used by the Swedish military since 1985. None of them contain any uranium whatsoever. It is noteworthy that during Busby's talk in Stockholm nobody questions any of his claims, in spite of the fact that we had tried to alert them about Busby's exaggerations.
  • insist that he is right even when proven wrong: To claim that everybody who does not agree with his claims are corrupted is a typical pseudoscience trait. It must become quite boring after a while to claim that everybody with differing views are crooks.
    * Of the more sad examples are his attacks on honest and concerned people, like Dr. Eckerman after she started questioning his reasoning. The fact that she dislikes nuclear power is not enough for him, one has to be pro-Busby as well, anything else is bad for business. 

    * A more entertaining example is his Dishonesty page devoted to me. Besides the ridiculous claim that the Swedish town Avesta was affected by depleted uranium from the second Gulf War he also uses my plot of the Swedish sex ratio and claims that there is an obvious effect due to the Chernobyl accident. One can discuss the validity in the way he draws the lines in order to convince the reader of a jump in the sex ratio after Chernobyl (see screenshot below). Harder to digest is the fact that Busby has cut out the x-axis from my figure so that nobody will notice that his invented jump in sex ratio actually occurs about 10 years after the Chernobyl accident (as shown in my original plot). Well, we did notice, how embarrassing for somebody who is so keen on accusing others of dishonesty...

    * Busby's theory that Secondary Photoelectron Emission (SPE) gives a significant enhancement in detrimental health effects when heavy elements such as uranium enters the body was investigated by Pattison et al in 2009, who came to the conclusion that although there is a physical effect it is not as large as Busby claims. Busby was of course not happy with that and released a Green Audit report with debunking of the study, of course with the usual claims of dishonesty. To be fair, some of his complaints about the modeling actually seem valid. Too bad for him then that there have been two more studies (Eakins et al., 2011 and Tanner et al., 2012) that through different approaches also come to the conclusions that any negative health effects are more or less negligible. And to add further salt in the wounds, the abstract of the PhD thesis of Andreas Elsaesser, who performed the Monte Carlo calculations that Busby always refers to, reads "In conclusion, this work confirms the size and energy dependent production of secondary electrons by nanoparticles at the physical and chemical level. In a biological context, however, and with the parameters used in this study, secondary electron production seems to play a minor role with little impact for therapeutic applications or potential carcinogenic effects of background radiation." This must be very bad for business; A large fraction of Busby's ECRR game, and all his claims about depleted uranium, depend largely on this effect. Now, will he attack Andreas Elsaesser as well?

 

Busby's version of my plot for the sex ratio in Sweden. Now, what happened to the x-axis...?

So with all of this taken into account it is very likely that the claims that we have not had the time to look closer into are false as well. If he cheats and exaggerates so much, then there is no reason to take anything that he says seriously. But if he really has a message for the world, he would need to make amends for his past erroneous claims, he has cried "Wolf!" too many times to be listened to. But that would indeed be a long journey for him to embark on, and we do not expect that it is possible to teach an old dog to sit.

So there's not much left then, except for the entertainment value (not the least when he teams up with comical sidekicks like Richard Bramhall or Roland von Malmborg). But he is still scaring a lot of people in order to maintain the attractiveness of the Chris Busby™ label, and there are various academics and politicians who are still willing to trust in him. That is indeed less amusing.

 

Mattias Lantz - NPYP