Supplement to the Oral History of John W. Gofman
March 20, 1995
An Overview in Retrospect of the "1945 + Human Radiation Experiments"
It is my opinion based upon some major studies I have accomplished in the past year that it is a grave mistake to consider "human radiation experiments" as a phenomenon peculiar to the advent of large-scale atomic energy.
In fact, the really significant events were in 1895 (Roentgen's discovery of the X-Ray), and 1898 (the Curie's discovery of radium). The true era of massive human radiation experimentation began very shortly after Roentgen's work, and by the 1940-1945 period, all the features were in place that ASSURED we would have precisely what has been found to have been the case in the post-1945 period. But there really was nothing special about the human experiments beginning after 1945.
Two Major Facts of Life Which Must Be Conceded Here
1. Humans in recent decades (last couple of hundred years) operate on the technological imperative. Whatever is discovered must be applied immediately. There has been no thought, until recently, about DISASTER CREEP which can occur as a result of looking only at the short span of time for consequences of exposure to new technologies.
2. A special example of disaster creep is the inordinately long latent period before the full flowering of cancers following exposure to carcinogens such as ionizing radiation. The time is clearly at least 50 years and it may really be 60 or more years.
THE RESULT: The bulk of cancers from x-radiation and radium gamma rays simply were not seen, partly because of the long latency and partly because the idea that long-term follow-up was essential was clearly dismissed in the half-century after the Roentgen discovery.
THE FALSE CONCLUSION: Doses of 200, 400, 600, and even over 1000 Roentgens of exposure to partial body radiation were erroneously exonerated as cancer producers. Millions of cancers were set in motion in the populations receiving ionizing radiation in the half-century before the A-bomb.
And this set the stage for all the events recently receiving notice. How?
Radiation below 500 to 1000 roentgens of exposure was ridiculed as being of no consequence by failure to look at the follow-up of persons exposed.
When the post-Hiroshima era resulted in the massive Atomic Energy Bureaucracy, with all the biases built-in from 50 years of having missed the boat concerning cancer production, WHO WAS PUT IN CHARGE OF THE PROGRAM ON HEALTH EFFECTS? THE VERY PEOPLE WHO HAD A TOTAL BIAS IN FAVOR OF "No Problem from Low-Dose Radiation." Although there should have been more thoughtfulness over the uranium miners and dial painters, somehow the idea became accepted that beta particles and electromagnetic radiation simply had shown themselves not to be a worry. Alpha particles, grudgingly yes.
Not that these people were correct. THEY WERE NOT. But I am describing the atmosphere in which these individuals came to be the dominant forces in setting up the post-war era of biology and medicine of irradiation. The bias was overwhelming, and with their short-sighted look at the problem, it seemed as though they really believed there was no harm.
That was the EARLY phase post-war. But once the bureaucracy was set up and the movers and shakers were told, "No problem with health issues," the door was opened wide for all sorts of proposals from nuclear power, massive uses of radionuclides in medicine and elsewhere, and even all the "Plowshare" ideas.
This set up a new phase. Once the biologists had told the high moguls there was no problem with health effects, all kinds of wheels were in motion and from there on out, the biomedical people had to try to have biology conform to their erroneous view of what the real truth was.
And all hell would break loose if the moguls had been embarrassed by the poor biological guidance from an inept biomedical community. And that community, seeing this golden goose of unlimited funds for research and grants, simply was not in any mood to say, "Go Slow," or that our prior guidance was wrong.
We are now slowly coming off that erroneous mountain --- but because so much prestige and so much funding have gone into the enterprise, the easiest path is denial that any problem exists at doses of a few rads. After all these same people just a couple of decades earlier were telling the Congress and the public that 500 to 1000
rads were "Safe" exposures. I have recently found even more evidence that this was the prevailing view at the bureaucratic top.
There is a fundamental rule that exposing persons to a potential poison, with an assurance of safety when that cannot be assured, is fraudulent. At the very least, this constitutes human experimentation, with its Nuremberg connotations. Such experimentation is commonplace today, with so-called safe standards being set for "tolerance" doses. The idea of safe doses was much much more in error for the 50 year period before the atomic bomb.
Now we can go into the Oral History, but I think failure to appreciate the 50 years before the a-bomb completely confuses the persons looking into the ethics of so-called "human experimentation." The outcome WAS CRADLED long before the post-bomb period, and was an inevitable expectation.
End of Prologue
I have felt these conclusions needed to be here. They have resulted from an in-depth year-long investigation of the extent to which ionizing radiation, primarily medical x-rays and radium gamma rays, accounts for the current level of breast-cancers. We estimate that 75 % of all breast-cancers were and are induced primarily by medical irradiation. Most of that was in the horrendous use of fluoroscopy and the equally questionable uses of radiation in the therapy of benign diseases --- from dermatologists to rheumatologists. There is some REAL human experimentation.
John W. Gofman, M.D., Ph.D.
March 20, 1995