Photographed fireball shielding by cloud cover in the 15 megaton Bravo nuclear test, 1954
Following from the discussion of urban skyline shielding of thermal radiation effects (fires, burns) by buildings in the previous post, please take a look at the cloud cover shielding of the Bravo fireball, seen from sea level:
This second photo (above, color) is taken from an aircraft flying at 12,500 feet some 75 nautical miles east of GZ, i.e. roughly in the direction of the inhabited atoll of Rongelap, where none of the 64 Marshallese were blinded by the flash. (Contrary to the hype popularized about the 15 megaton Bravo test blinding everything for a radius of 300 miles, in J. Schell's best-selling book The Fate of the Earth. In fact, Schell confused the Teak high altitude test with Bravo, and even then only rabbits flown in aircraft above the cloud cover and forced to face the fireball direction with eyes open on an unobstructed radial line to the fireball, received retinal burns. Furthermore, those retinal burns were only a small area of the retina, and did not result in blindness. We all have a "blind spot" in the retina where the optical nerve is, and we are not blinded. So nobody has perfect vision, but we don't panic.)
Above: there were no firestorms at the 2.4 psi peak overpressure level in a natural forest near the Bravo test, and the only reported fires that resulted from the Bravo test were due to an electrical short circuit on Eneman island (14 nautical miles from GZ) and in other tests, fires resulted from overturned gasoline electrical generators, causing fires in camp type fabric tents, rather than fires caused by thermal radiation (DNA 6035 F, Castle Series, 1954, Fig. 57, this photo is reproduced below), an analogy to the firestorm mechanism in Hiroshima where blast-overturned charcoal braziers in homes containing paper screens and bamboo furnishings caused the fires, rather than the popular myth of widespread firestorm/nuclear winter due to the fireball igniting wooden houses by the heat flash (wood only smokes during the thermal pulse).
In the low 19% humidity air of the 1953 Encore test in the Nevada desert, a house room full of combustibles with a windows facing an unobstructed radial line of sight to the bomb was immediately ignited. Most cities have been built near large bodies of water like rivers, coast, or lakes, which allows evaporation and keeps the humidity far higher (50-80% typically), than the Encore test at the Nevada desert. The large heat of vaporization of water, which must be supplied to heat up materials containing water to temperatures well beyond 100 C to allow ignition, curtails ignition. The brief duration of the thermal flash only allows thin damp kindling to be dried out and ignited, therefore the equilibrium moisture content at high humidity has a disproportionately greater fire-retarding effect for thick damp wood than it does for fine kindling like damp leaves. This factor was ignored in the 1957 Capabilities of Atomic Weapons, and the 1972 Capabilities of Nuclear Weapons, both of which treated the effects of humidity for all materials using data from damp leaves, which minimised and misrepresented the effect of humidity in retarding ignition of thick, damp wood. Thus, the Encore nuclear test data was falsely associated with modern cities, despite the higher average humidity and the greater shadowing effect by intervening buildings and trees, which occurs in most urban areas.
It is simply not necessary to continue to exaggerate nuclear weapons effects, and it is dangerous because it ignores the useful lessons of Hiroshima for civil defense protection against nuclear terrorism in the real world, where secrecy is debunked by people like the spy Dr Klaus Fuchs, and merely serves to undermine public knowledge, not to prevent enemies from building bombs!
"Less than twenty seconds after zero, the entire building started slowly rocking ... I grabbed the side of the control panel for support. Some of the men just sat down on the floor. I had been in earthquakes before, but never anything like this. It lasted only a few seconds, but just as we were breathing easier, another ground shock hit us ... Grier came back to relieve me at the radio and I went outside, taking along a Geiger counter. The shot cloud had spread out and was pure white. ... [About 16 minutes after detonation] we were receiving radiation at the rate of 8/1000 of a roentgen per hour [8 mR/hr] ... While we watched, the counter went up to 20 mR [/hr], then to 40. ... By the time we were back in the blockhouse, the reading near the door was 1 R [/hr], and in the control room it was about 20 mR [/hr]. ... about H plus 1 hour ... I was most concerned as to what was happening to the radiation level outside. ... It read 40 R [/hr]. I quickly closed the door. ... A little over an hour after shot time ... our generator began failing and the lights gradually went out, leaving us in darkness ... We worked out a plan for a rescue operation to take place about 5:30 pm. ... To keep the "hot" dust off our bodies, we wrapped ourselves completely in bed sheets, cutting holes only for our eyes. Three helicopters were sent from the command ship. As we heard them overhead we left the blockhouse, got into our jeeps and drove the half mile to the landing mat. ... The whole operation took less than 5 minutes. ... None of use had received any harmful amount of radiation. ... However disconcerting it may have been to us at the moment, our experience proved to be a windfall for the Civil Defense people. ... Now, for the first time, humans had been in an area of lethal radiation and had been unharmed because of adequate protective covering ... shelter in an old-fashioned cyclone shelter with a covering of earth three feet thick would reduce the radiation level to about 1/5000 of that outside. ... Bulldozers were brought in to scrape off the top soil containing most of the radiation and push it into the ocean. This reduced the radiation level around the blockhouse enough so that we could use it again for part of the test work."
Bernard J. O'Keefe, deputy to Clark, later wrote his own account in his book Nuclear Hostages (Houghton Mifflin, 1983), which may be less accurate because it was written later from memory (O'Keefe states that he did not refer to classified documents while writing the book in 1983) but adds some details, pages 163-198:
"Important thought it was, the experiment was routine for us. It was predicted that the yield would be smaller than that of the Mike device ... The group in the firing party included five others in addition to Clark, Grier and me. Dr Harold Stewart, a Naval Research Laboratory expert in spectroscopic [fireball thermal radiation spectrum] measurements would be doing some experiments from the control bunker ... Would there be a shift in the wind? If so, how bad would it be and what damage would it do? ... The man to make the decision was Al Graves, the scientific director. ... Grier reached for the bench to steady himself as I stood bewildered in the center of the room. The whole building was moving, definitely now, not shaking or shuddering as it would from the shock wave that had not arrived yet, but with a slow, perceptible rolling motion like a ship's roll ... Generally, the ground shock was never felt, as it died off more rapidly than did the shock wave through the air; the fact that this one was evident at all was an indication that the explosion had been one of tremendous force. ... We waited 15 minutes. ... Suddenly the sky became filled with a whitish chaff. I stuck out my hand, which was soon covered ... The particles were bigger now; it began to feel like a hailstorm as larger and larger particles fell from the sky. At first they were finely divided like dust, but quickly small pebbles, then rocks began raining from the sky. ... We were preparing a fresh pot of coffee on the hot plate when the lights started to flicker and the coffee stopped boiling. ... The generators and main power plant were in a separate building ... One of the phases inside the generator had failed. ... Major John Servis, the commander of the Rad-Safe detachment ... was dressed in conventional radiation protective clothing - loose overhauls taped tight at the ankle, snap-on booties over his shoes, a cloth cap, and cotton disposable gloves. ... Our film badges showed that we had accumulated only a few hundred milliroentgens ... The area outside our bunker received 800 R."
Update 6 April 2015:
Alex Wellerstein, an historian and the creator of a misleading "nukemap" urban area nuclear effects radius calculator based on Carey Sublette's copyright equations here, which as shown in this blog are unsupported by the evidence from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and nuclear tests has been a little critical of this blogger so maybe a few words are needed on this post about the nature of objective research. If they make statements that seem to be analogous to the kind of uncritical unethical diatribe politics published by Scientific America, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and the 1930s Cambridge Scientists Antiwar Group, i.e. arguments substantiated only by consensus of ignorant opinion and claims that there are no alternative sources of information, then I think that's unhelpful. These false claims may then be aided by censorship and ad hominem attacks on those alternative sources who are "rude" enough to dismiss as "drivel" or "fascist", the groupthink "thuggery" masquerading as "popular science". President Truman's statement on the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, 6 August 1945, for the first time alloyed taxpayer funded groupthink science with political propaganda. Ever since then, we've had people calling for a Manhattan Project style "big science" project.
Don't get me wrong. Dictatorship or "leadership" if you prefer (I believe that all sorts of power inevitably invoke corruption, so I'm personally suspicious of any political system based on dogma) of the Oppenheimer sort can sometimes work, particularly when the leader is hard working and is not given to paranoia. King Solomon is a good example of a forceful leader who was widely respected for working hard to achieve justice. On the other hand, groupthink often fails as Irving Janis documented, where it becomes corrupted, paranoid, and lazy, for example in using "shoot the messenger" tactics (as Stalin and Hitler did, together with many current politicians and media celebrities). In other words, if you politely publish the evidence they are wrong, you're ignored. If you assert the facts and point out that the definition of "lying" and "liars" are those who persist in making an error of statement even after they have been disproved, then you're dismissed as being "rude", with no serious interest being taken in the actual scientific evidence.
It's impossible to engage in any sort of discussion with people who just want to claim that thermal radiation effects measured in open deserts apply to built up cities, where the buildings intervening between fireball and target have a shielding effect that Glasstone and Carey Sublette ignore. Suppose that a terrorist detonates a nuclear weapon in a city tomorrow and few people duck and cover or shelter from the fallout because they've been put off civil defense by exaggerated data (of the "survivors envy the dead" sort) that are essentially synonymous with nuclear propaganda (either Glasstone and Dolan's approach to pro-deterrence via "maximising fear" of nuclear effects by presenting desert test thermal effects without corrections for urban areas, or alternatively pro-disarmament via "maximising fear" as is the way of the Scientific America, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and the 1930s Cambridge Scientists Antiwar Group). In this situation, unnecessary suffering may occur due to panic taking the place of protective countermeasures. Nobody in the popular media or popular politics, or even popular science will blame the culprits (we know that from what happened to the 1930s Cambridge Scientists Antiwar Group, when Churchill made many of them advisers during WWII!).
However, the fact remains that if there is a nuclear threat which is important, then surely it's important to face the true facts squarely? If there's not "real" threat, then again, what's the harm of knowing the truth? I'd actually argue that Alex's argument that anyone who disagrees with orthodoxy folk is rude or boring is really inverted. Put it like this, in England there was once a "fair play" tradition of "playing devil's advocate" in discussions to permit alternative views to be viewed and of "supporting the underdog", which is probably why we have a unit for energy named after a brewer, Joule, and a unit for capacitance named after a bookbinder's apprentice who was proud to claim that 99.9 of his experiments ended in failure. I personally choose to think it's interesting, not boring, to seek out and criticise errors, and if people ignore you and go on and on repeating the debunked errors, to remind them that the dictionary does contain some rude words whose definition just happens to fit their tactics in shooting the messenger:
An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"), short for argumentum ad hominem, means responding to arguments by attacking a person's character, rather than to the content of their arguments. When used inappropriately, it is a fallacy in which a claim or argument is dismissed on the basis of some irrelevant fact or supposition about the author or the person being criticized. Ad hominem reasoning is not always fallacious, for example, when it relates to the credibility of statements of fact or when used in certain kinds of moral and practical reasoning.
Propaganda is a much abused word, since like "groupthink" it can result in either the circulation of unfashionable or taboo facts, or errors. If you discover something that conflicts with an unproved but widely circulated assumption of orthodoxy, for example, your attempt to set the facts straight may be dismissed as "propaganda". However, the mainstream textbooks which circulate the fallacy are really bad "propaganda", so dismissing all marketing for a new fact as being "propaganda" is just an empty slogan. Nor do you need to spend equal time on discussing the merits of two rival alternatives.
There's a wonderful example with Thomas Young's double slit experiment in physics, which justified the wave nature of light by diffraction experiments. Lord Brougham, who just happened to be the author of a major textbook on Newton's particle theory of light, apparently went ballistic when he read Young's well reasoned wave theory of light, launching a savage and paranoid attack on Young's character, personality, writing style, devious intentions in the widely read Edinburgh Review, and managed to convince the readers and editor that Young's work was such rubbish that they wouldn't print any response from Young (the same tactic was used in April 1961 by the Scientific American amateur mathematician and lawyer James Newman in censoring Herman Kahn by contrived ridicule of On Thermonuclear War and its author). Or perhaps, Lord Brougham only used such spurious pseudoscientific attacks because he knew in advance that he was in a relatively powerful position as a Lord, and could use his status to censor out what would be an embarrassing rebuttal from Young. Young was forced to publish his response as a private pamphlet, which only sold one copy and by his own admission was a public relations failure. But in fact there were some faults in Young's style of argument and even the substance of his claims:
"Commentators have traditionally asked aloud why the two-slit experiment did not immediately lead to an acceptance of the wave theory of light. And the traditional answers were that: (i) few of Young’s contemporaries were willing to question Newton’s authority, (ii) Young’s reputation was severely damaged by the attacks of Lord Brougham in the Edinburgh Review, and that (iii) Young’s style of presentation, spoken and written, was obscure. Recent historians, however, have looked instead for an explanation in the actual theory and in its corpuscular rivals (Kipnis 1991; Worrall 1976). Young had no explanation at the time for the phenomena of polarization: why should the particles of his ether be more willing to vibrate in one plane than another? And the corpuscular theorists had been dealing with diffraction fringes since Grimaldi described them in the 17th century: elaborate explanations were available in terms of the attraction and repulsion of corpuscles as they passed by material bodies. So Young’s wave theory was thus very much a transitional theory. It is his 'general law of interference' that has stood the test of time, and it is the power of this concept that we celebrate on the bicentennial of its publication in his Syllabus of 1802."
- J. D. Mollon, "The Origins of the Concept of Interference", Phil. Transactions of the Royal Society of London, vol. A360 (2002), pp. 807-819.
So there's another fallacy, the fallacy that all successful science is an immediately successful "born giant". New ideas, like babies, are generally born in a nascent form, which needs years of discussion and development and objective (if not constructive) criticism, so by preventing these essentials the thing can be stunted at birth. Objective criticism will debunk weak assumptions or poor presentations. Constructive criticisms will enable the development of stronger arguments and better experiments or calculations. Both are vital. But subjective criticism, attacking the person or the excitement level of the subject, instead of the idea, is just an excuse to ignore the substance of the argument, and this leads to time-wasting. People like Boltzmann worried unduly about peer-review politics and the acceptance of ideas, unlike Einstein and Feynman who just called bigots "idiots" and moved on. It's important not to try to both be a card-carrying member of the orthodoxy, as well as being a radical. You can't expect to me welcomed if you're a heretic!
If populist science media and forums are biased against really unbiased investigation of "alternatives" to mainstream orthodoxy (usually this occurs because of arrogance, conceit, corruption, a lack of genuine interest in objectivity, sometimes it is due to fears over funding and personal status of anyone taking seriously ideas which are generally considered to be taboo), then new data are given the Lord Brougham/James Newman treatment. We don't have a "free" mainstream media because publication costs money and must cater to some form of sensationalist populism in order to show a profit or even survive, and populism unfortunately caters to a sewer of fictitious populist myths which pass for knowledge. It's more sensational as well as quick and easy to the media to tell people that any nuclear explosion vaporizes everything within a twenty mile radius instantly regardless of buildings, than to tell the truth. At least Carey Sublette and Alex Wellerstein's mistakes and opprobrium at criticisms can act as a motivation for continuing criticism. The Edward Witten approach is to ignore all critics altogether to starve them of oxygen, and then celebrate a victory for a new kind of science, non-falsifiability.
A still worst situation is where a new religion evolves to assert that there is no sanity in anyone who merely questions a dogma. This occurred when N. Bohr asserted that anybody who questioned the single wavefunction collapse entanglement "interpretation of quantum mechanics" was the son of satan, including Feynman at the 1947 Pocono conference. Dirac's solution to Schroedinger's equation asserts that an electron has a single wavefunction amplitude which must "collapse" to a discrete eigenvalue corresponding to a quantized energy level when the electron is actually measured, but Feynman came up with a mechanism whereby there's no collapse of a single wavefunction but rather a superposition of many wavefunction phases which allows interference to cancel out paths of large action (lagrangian energy integrated over time). So, contrary to Bohr, there isn't a single wavefunction per electron, but rather one wavefunction for every potential interaction history (or Feynman diagram). Because all potential interactions are actually occurring, Feynman points out in his 1985 book QED that the electron's path is indeterminate simply because the small size of the ground state orbit is close enough to the electron's wavelength to enable the paths to interfere with one another. That's real heresy, and was dismissed in 1947 by Teller, Oppenheimer, Pauli, Einstein, et al.:
– Richard P. Feynman, QED, Penguin Books, London, 1990, Chapter 3, pp. 84-5, pp. 84-5. [*Arrows = wavefunction amplitudes, each proportional to exp(iS) = cos S + i sin S, where S is the action of the potential path.]
It's a good example of a continuing heresy over a basic dogma, and Nobel Laureate Feynman isn't alone either, since Nobel Laureate Gell-Mann debunked single-wavefunction entanglement using colored socks. Professor Clifford Johnson who authored a string theory book on D branes kindly responded that he simply hadn't thought about the gauge boson exchange process as being a mechanism for indeterminancy in quantum mechanics, while Professor Jacques Distler kindly responded that he had seen/read Feynman's twenty-years earlier book co-authored with Albert Hibbs, Path Integrals and Quantum Mechanics, and assumed that's what I was writing about. So there's no real discussion or interest in the path integral's interference mechanism as an alternative to the usual dogmatic or simplistic waffle from N. Bohr, even though these people are widely admired and considered great objective scientists (or perhaps because of it, i.e. egotism, impatience, intolerance to deviancy of worship to mainstream dogma, etc.):
That's a continuing heresy because it is neither debunked (the path integral is, after all, fundamental to the Standard Model with its thousands of confirmed predictions), nor used to replace non-relativistic 1st quantization single-wavefunction collapse dogma. The situation is akin to the fact that the small natural risk of leukemia (the cancer which shows the strongest function of radiation exposure for all types of cancer) exceeded the excess risk from radiation induced leukemia in Hiroshima for people who received less than about 600 mGy (or 60 Rads; whichever units you need). People who got leukemia in Hiroshima were more likely than not to have natural leukemia if their radiation dose was below about 600 mGy.
About 600 mGy doubled the natural risk of leukemia. For all other forms of cancer, even higher doses were needed to double the natural risk.
The popular media for the most part prefers to say that radiation causes all the cancer or even all the deaths in Hiroshima, essentially because that myth is "politically correct" if you want to abolish weapons that use radiation. So they want to ban a deterrent weapon involving radiation, because of their false statement of the effects of radiation. That is completely pathetic; it's not so much a "circular argument" as complete insanity, although I guess the word "insanity" will be deemed "rude" by the powers that be. One funny thing: I was once attacked by an historian of WWII who dismissed the facts about civil defense on the basis of my interest in objective science, QFT. His very obscure and vague argument appeared to be that anyone interested in objectivity in science, rather than groupthink dictatorship, should be bombed.
In some ways, it's best to get to the heart of a bigot's "reasoning" as soon as possible, so you know where you stand and can avoid wasting time in futile arguments. For instance, if someone believes in miracles because it gives them comfort when they're suffering from terminal cancer, it's not necessarily a good idea to enter an argument over the lack of objective evidence for miracles. Little good and plenty of harm may result. If the placebo effect reduces anxiety, it's doing a job of some sorts (although not by the claimed mechanism) and in some cases may therefore have some utility. Likewise, if someone hates civil defense because they see it as a "dangerous alternative" to disarmament, it's a waste of time trying to make an objective argument about the shielding potential of dirt to absorb/deflect blast and radiation. You usually end up in a situation where the critic of "civil defense" is found to be using "civil defense" as a proxy for another object of hate, usually something that has little to do with it such as capitalism, imperialism or war mongering. They see that civil defense has few defenders and is therefore a "soft target", so they bomb it!
It's often impossible to use objectivity to sway bigoted people because they have too much to lose socially if they tell the truth (e.g., losing the ability to publish in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists etc.), but while they provide a cloak to mysticism or even outright deceptions, someone needs to hold them to account somewhere on the internet, even if the populist media is too busy kissing celebrities to notice it.