Friday, May 27, 2005

Russian Radiation Makes Smarter Kids?

In a recent post, Boing Boing refers to the so-called news that children who grew up in the radiation-affected areas in Chernobyl are smarter and healthier than their counterparts. As their scientific source, they quote - the tabloid newspaper The Sun! The original piece is here. (See Below for Cory Doctorow's comment on my post)

Hey, it's even in the Pravda, so it must be true! Pravda, after all, means "The Truth". Here's what it says about living close to the radioactive wreckages of strategic bombers: "Local residents collect metal scrap there, hunt for hares and pick mushrooms. Children enjoy playing on the territory behind barbed wire." Idyllic! Here's what the Pravda says about the Chernobyl children: "They have better reactions; their brain activity is more active as well." They quote one Professor Vladimir Mikhalev from Bryansk University. Sounds like Good Old CCCP propaganda - in the old days, Vlad would be on his way to receive the coveted Hero Of The Soviet Union medal, I'm sure.

This is all, of course, complete horseshit. We know that radiation damages the brain, especially the young, developing brain. Even relatively small doses of radiation (say, repeated CT scans) can cause a drop in the cognitive abilities of children, see BMJ article.

Because this happened in Russia, facts are hard to find. We know that after the Chernobyl incident, 300,000 people were relocated, and the incidence of thyroid cancer in children has increased, see Radiation Research.

PS. Looking at what's happening in Russia right now, and considering Putin's popularity, sometimes it seems the Russians are trapped in some sort of Soviet nostalgia. They are erecting statues of Stalin again, hey he only exterminated what, 50 million people, they refuse to acknowledge let alone apologize for the WWII atrocities they were guilty of (can you say Baltic countries, East Germany..). All they do is celebrate their greatness. Look at Germany - that's a nation come to grips with its past, and they've earned due respect for that.

Updated Jun-01: I got an email from Cory Doctorow, one of the editors of Boing Boing, he clarified that he did not think the above to be true, but considered it interesting from a science-fiction-writer point of view. I couldn't agree more!

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