Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence . . . right?

25 January 2007

The above quote is a standard in discussions about how science works, and a valuable axiom in some styles of problem solving. An interesting (and slightly worrisome) application of the old saw to politics is worth reading in a discussion about arms control at Nuclear Mangos.

Good information about nuclear weapons hasn’t exactly been a big issue recently, despite the prominence of North Korean test and the three big I’s of Iran, India, and Israel. That the discussion remains on the level of style over substance isn’t surprising in most media, there is one where I had hoped for better. I spent most of today in my biannual refresher course for first responder certification, and recently added to the curriculum is a chapter on terrorism, including nuclear bombs and radiological explosions (dirty bombs). Unfortunately, the information presented in the class was really no better than that available on (and heck, could have been written by the same shmoes who brought you) the Homeland Security (theater) site Ready.gov. The Federation of American Scientists have a pretty thorough analysis of the site’s shortcomings; they also run the site ReallyReady, to show what a complete one looks like.

My impetus for making this comparison is that it seems that information distributed through the official channels smells slightly of scaremongering rather than actual advice. While they are discussing some scary stuff, is the best we have really to “stay away from the suspicious site. . . until specially trained teams [arrive] with special monitoring devices”? I think we could be trusted with a bit more, but that is a quote from my first responder textbook.

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