In light of the nuclear crisis in Japan, Ann Coulter appeared on Fox News to argue that “excess radiation operates as a sort of cancer vaccine.” Bill O’Reilly acts skeptical, but by having her on his show in the first place he is implicated in shifting a critical public policy debate into a deviantly absurd realm. He points out that the risks of radiation poisoning outweigh any benefits that might come from it- which necessitates risk management corresponding to worst-case scenarios.
But even this remedial point seems lost on Coulter. And for the record: according to the National Academies’ National Research Council, there is “no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionizing radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial.”
It is difficult to think of how such transparently manipulative positions can be excluded from transdisciplinary debates regarding critical public policy issues such as nuclear power or climate change without succumbing to authoritarianism. Who gets to set the terms of the debate? And by what means? Still, it seems clear that fringe views can be inimical to robust risk analysis, as demonstrated so clearly by Ms. Coulter.