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Rants, Raves, Interesting Science & Awful Puns
March 12, 1998

Frog Fantasies

Nonsense in the Ultraviolet

The early part of this century witnessed the "N-ray" fiasco, in which scientific true-believers solmnly observed and recorded the behavior of a supposed new form of radiation shown subsequently to exist only within their own imaginations. These days, it's revealing to see how far politically funded and approved science will go to find politically pleasing results of causes that have never been shown to exist.

In the March, 1998 issue of The Energy Advocate (see ARCHIVES-ENERGY-March 26, 1997), Howard Hayden reports on a big flap that has been going on for some years over a certain species of frog that lives high in the Sierra Nevada mountains, whose population appears to have been declining. Investigators have jumped to attribute this to increased UV radiation due to ozone depletion--although without presenting any actual data of a UV increase, which is assumed unquestioningly to have occurred because the prevailing dogma says so.

Yet after all the arguing over CFC breakdown, chemical reaction pathways, Antarctic "holes," skin cancer, and so on, the one single fact that would follow if any of the scare stories had any merit, and before any effects could be experienced--a real, measured increase of ultraviolet at the Earth's surface--has never been observed. In 1988, Joseph Scotto of the National Cancer Institute published data from eight U.S. ground stations showing that UV-B (the wavelength band affected by ozone) decreased by amounts ranging from 2 to 7 percent during the period 1974-1985. A similar politically wrong trend was recorded over 15 years by the Fraunhofer Institute of Atmospheric Sciences in Bavaria, Germany. The response? Scotto's study was ignored by the international news media. He was denied funding to attend international conferences to present his findings, and the ground stations were closed down. The costs of accepting the depletion theory as true will run into billions of dollars, but apparently we can't afford a few thousand to collect the data most fundamental to testing it. In Washington, scientists who objected were attacked by environmentalist pressure groups, and former Princeton physics professor William Happer, who wanted to set up an extended instrumentation network, was dismissed from his post as research director at the Department of Energy. The retiring head of the German program was replaced by a depletionist who refused to publish the institute's accumulated data and terminated further measurements, apparently on the grounds that future policy would be to rely on computer models instead. (So much for a reality check, which used to be known as observatioal science.)

The whole doomsday case boils down to claiming that if something isn't done to curb CFCs, ultraviolet radiation will increase by 10% over the next 20 years. But from the poles to the equator it increases naturally by a whopping factor of fifty, or 5000%, anyway!--equivalent to 1% for every six miles. Or to put it another way, a family moving house from New York to Philadelphia would experience the same increase as is predicted by the worst-case depletion scenarios.

Which leads one to wonder why so much fuss should be directed to high-altitude frogs, when the layer that absorbs the UV supposedly affecting them exists high in the stratosphere, far above the world's highest mountains. Any change capable of affecting them would affect frogs at sea level equally. And if that were so, how could any survie at all, say, two hundred miles farther south, where the UV is and always has been way above anything experienced in the Sierras?

Howard does mention that lakes in sporting areas such as the Sierras have been stocked with fish in recent times. And guess what these fish love to eat. Frogs eggs. But saying so apparently doesn't get the glamor and the applause.

Howard's source for the above gem was Candace Crandall at the Science Environmental Policy Project, founded by S. Fred Singer who developed the backscatter photometer used for satellite measurements of atmospheric ozone. Those interested to learn more can check it out at http://www.his.com/~sepp

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