It took the award-winning British surgeon Dr. Joseph Lister more than half a century to convince surgeons working in the morgue to wash their hands before helping women give birth. Given the struggles endured by this 19th century pioneer of antiseptic surgery, another clear-thinking scientist, world-renowned toxicology expert Dr. Ed Calabrese, should not be surprised that he has had to spend much of the last 40 years of his career in genetics convincing his peers that the Linear No Threshold model for nuclear radiation damage makes no sense whatsoever. 

When applied to nuclear radiation, the Linear No Threshold (LNT) model asserts that even small or infinitesimal amounts of radiation can cause cancer. The idea originates with Nobel Prize-winning physicist Hermann Muller who, in 1927, demonstrated that radiation may cause genetic mutation, suggesting mutation as a cause of cancer. Muller spelled out his extreme opinion in his 1946 Nobel Lecture that mutation frequency is:

“directly and simply proportional to the dose of irradiation applied” and that there is “no threshold dose”.

This is ridiculous, of course. Via a process called hormesis, it is now known that low levels of radon exposure can actually protect against cancer. Indeed, low radiation doses help animals and humans ward off illness or actually cure cancer and other diseases. 

By obtaining decades of correspondence from the numerous committees and panels who have promoted the LNT hypothesis, Calabrese can now prove that the LNT idea was fraudulent from almost its very inception.

The bottom line is that years of research on as many as 70,000 survivors of the atomic bomb blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their new-born children was ignored in favor of dealing only with data arrived by exposing fruit flies (drosophila) and mice to radiation.

As a consequence, besides giving rise to costly, overly restrictive regulations, the LNT model has actually harmed patients by greatly precluding the use of radiation in curative medicine.

Here is the inside story of this travesty. 

Calabrese reveals clear conflicts of interest in the advocacy for LNT application in order to maintain funding for animal studies rather than human studies. The National Academy of Science’s Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission human genetic study, reported by Neel and Schull in 1956, showed an absence of genetic damage in offspring of atomic bomb survivors, thereby supporting a threshold model. However, it was not considered for evaluation by the National Academy of Science’s Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation Genetics Panel. The study therefore had no impact on the Panel’s decision to recommend the linear no threshold dose-response model for risk assessment, now well-known as the LNT model.

Summaries and transcripts of the panel meetings, now available, failed to reveal an evaluation of the Neel/Schull study. Despite its human relevance and ready availability, they instead relied entirely on laboratory studies where radiation was applied to common fruit flies and mice.

Correspondence among the panel members now shows that the failure of the genetics panel to consider years of human exposure evidence meticulously attained was due to several factors: 

    • First, all panel members held strong beliefs that a single unit of radiation would cause damage to humans. They were confident that there was no threshold below which no damage would occur. And, of course, prominent scientists do not like to be found incorrect on major issues.
    • An activist anti-nuclear population views all radiation as evil, whether that view is rational, irrational or actually harmful to people’s health and welfare.
    • Last, and more despicable, is the fact that there was a strong vested interest among panel members in maintaining the status quo in which animal studies were the standard modus operandi. After all, panel members were heavily invested in animal studies in their primary research and so naturally they wanted to defend their bread and butter. Muller himself apparently tried to block the publication of the Neel/Schull study back in 1956, when he communicated the following to Neel: 

“I cannot indicate my own approval of the publication of the working paper as part of the WHO report if this attack upon the credibility of extrapolation from animals to man…is to be included.”

Muller and his allies clearly feared that human genetic studies would expose the limitations of extrapolating from animals to humans, particularly using flies. This would shift research investments and academic grants from animal to human studies. Ignoring the Neel/Schull atomic bomb study served both the purposes of preserving the LNT policy goal and ensuring continued dominance of the followers of the Muller dependence on fruit flies and mice.

If readers find this degree of scientific skullduggery hard to believe, recall how scientists studying climate change have been fudging the data to support their pet theories for decades. Those of us who question the politically correct narrative on global warming are shunned by the mainstream science establishment in favor of absurd alarmist claims. As a consequence, the world is pouring billions of dollars a day down the drain, funds that could have made a real difference to improving the living standards of the poor, or simply not taxing us as much.

The LNT scam applies in other fields besides radiation. Cancer risk assessment was built upon assumptions that carcinogens are mutagens, that radiation induced mutations follow a linear dose response down to a single ionization and that chemical carcinogens, which also act via mutagenic processes, should be assessed in the same way. This has proved disastrous as the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted LNT as their policy in 1975 creating a variety of unnecessarily alarmist positions regarding chemicals far less harmful than advertised.

And what did the EPA base its linear foundation for cancer risk assessment on? On mouse studies, of course, while ignoring 30 years of human studies involving radiation exposures that exceeded background levels by many orders of magnitude delivered at an extraordinary high dose rate. Yet today’s research consistently contradicts a linear dose response, supporting instead a threshold response. 

We are therefore faced with the strange history of how the world came to adopt the Linear No Threshold-based cancer risk assessment approach. Those in the position of power implemented an ‘ends justified the means’ philosophy and even committed scientific misconduct to ensure the adoption of LNT. So, it all boils down to money, power and influence. Magnifying these universal common denominators was heightened societal fear of nuclear confrontation and continuing nuclear fallout from atmospheric testing.

All of this should be a profound embarrassment to the US National Academy of Science, regulatory agencies worldwide, and especially EPA, and the risk assessment community whose founding principles were ideologically determined and accepted with little, if any, critical reflection. It is time this all changes. The Linear No Threshold model dealing with nuclear radiation needs to be disposed of in the dustbin of history.