Keeping our (glowing) heads

One thing I loathe is extremism, in pretty much all of its forms. I don’t care whether you’re conservative or liberal, anti-war or pro-whatever, odds are if you’re at the far extreme of a position, you’re ignoring some sort of basic truth about a matter. I’ve never seen a single issue that was so utterly black and white that it didn’t deserve some moderation in approach.

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This is why the news drives me nuts. In the effort to drive paper sales (or gain TV watchers) reporters focus on details that will cause viewers’ and readers’ blood pressure to soar. They don’t tell you about mitigating circumstances, or put things in context. That’s why it’s so refreshing to stumble across something like the following article: Brazil Nuts: For That Healthy Glow.

In a bemused fashion it discusses the fact that Brazil nuts hold the dubious distinction of being the world’s most radioactive food, and goes on to discuss other surprising sources of radioactivity present in our lives. For instance, there’s the frightening tale of the “radium girls” early in the 20th century:

Created by the US Radium Corporation – which had a lucrative defense contract at the time – the radioluminescent paints used in their New Jersey factory were responsible for the deaths of many of the female employees. Unaware of the dangers, the female employees contracted to paint watches were encouraged by the corporation to keep the tip of their brushes well pointed by wetting and shaping with their tongue and lips. Many of these girls would also paint their teeth or nails with the radium paint for the novelty of having glowing parts. The corporation was sued by a group of five female employees who, along with the other employees exposed, became known as the Radium Girls. More recently, the US Radium site in Orange, New Jersey has been classified as a Superfund site.

However, the article also goes on to provide plenty of context for these details. Rather than letting us simply infer that Brazil nuts are going to kill us or cause cancer, it points out that “Despite the prestige of occupying the top radioactive spot, the amount stored and radiated is nevertheless miniscule and simply does not compare to the level of radiation found elsewhere in our daily lives.” And best of all, it serves up a nice little moderate reminder that it’s important to stay informed without simply freaking out based on little knowledge:

Need we worry? Probably not, and this article isn’t intended to frighten – though it may have unintentionally done so. But it does go to show that, though we may feel safe and completely removed from danger, the very act of living in a modern society brings with it untold dangers, often of the invisible variety. These consumer products may be nothing to worry about, but if you didn’t know about them before let it be a reminder that it’s always better to be informed. A well-rounded education and critical mind will forever remain our most powerful tools and defense.

And contrary to what modern reporters seem to expect, it manages to remain moderate while providing a significant amount of tantalizing and fascinating information, thus holding the reader’s interest.


“Life isn’t fair”

Posted in News & Musings

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