Science and Journalism in Society

Brandeis University JOUR 130B

Author: Xiou

Five Years After the Accident: Fukushima’s Reality Today

On March 11, 2011, a terrible tsunami destroyed the Fukushima power plant in Japan, causing radiation spewed in large dimensions. Although the Japanese government immediately decided to shut down all the reactors and started preventing future environmental damage and investigated into the exposure, according to the article by Madhusree Mukerjee, which is published on Scientific American website  on March 8, 2016, “major questions still loom today” and “the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), is reluctant to share information.”

Despite the efforts that the government and other related organizations have put into the series of problems, they certainly did not do a great job of protecting the citizens and environment, more importantly, the authorities are not open for detailed information at all. After five years, they tried to persuade people to believe that everything has passed already.

According to Mukerjee, this February Tepco finally admitted that “it had waited for two months after the accident before announcing the meltdowns—which possibly delayed evacuations and endangered lives” due to the widespread suspicions and public pressure. Though Tepco has put great efforts into cleaning up, it still has “‘no idea where and how much fuel debris is in the reactor now,’ says nuclear engineer Tadahiro Katsuta of Meiji University.”

Meanwhile, the collected contaminated water also brings a huge problem: how to isolate all the radioactive substances from it? While most of the substances have been removed after “painstakingly cleaning”, tritium concentration remains at high level as it is extremely hard to separate.

Since the accident, many Japanese citizens have gathered to protest against the further use of nuclear power. However both the Japanese government and Tepco did not react to the protests well as they restart several reactors again and keep trying to hind information from the general public. For people who has lived in the evacuated area around Fukushima power plant, the lack of responses is absolutely a much greater pain. According to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 2015, 3200 deaths have resulted from the accidents, ailments and trauma due to the evacuation. In the mean time, “Exile may be permanent, however, for tens of thousands of people from the most contaminated areas.” Conversely, radiation epidemiologist Yoshisada Shibata of Nagasaki University opposed the statistical result above and “dismisses as ‘nonsense’ the claim that the disaster is responsible for those cases” as he thinks that it is too fast since the cancers could not grow to such large size just after the exposure. Also, as another piece of evidence to reject the claim, Shibata compares the situation with that in Chernobyl and points out that “no Fukushima children who were infants at the time of the disaster have tumors.”

On the other hand, the water body and marine ecosystem are facing huge contamination problems caused by the leak. Although the clean-up works have showed their positive effects, the radioactive contamination is going to “stay put near Japan,” according to marine radiochemist Ken Buesseler of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

To view the results (problems) of Fukushima accidents from a brand new angle, the future of scientific research comes into play. An article published online in Nature on March 2, 2016 provides a valuable insights into the problem. As a well-known resource-poor country, Japan absolutely needs nuclear power’s support in order to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Since the accident in 2011, the article points put many of those decisions  on evacuation, clean-up and so on were made at “the science–policy interface.” and “scientists, especially those involved in giving policy advice, lost credibility and the trust of the public” due to all the concealment described in previous paragraphs and continuous arguments raised by people with opposite interests. The article states that the tragedy happened in 2011 has revealed a “fundamental problem” presents in Japanese scientific research field that the connections ” between disciplines and between Japan’s scholars and those working in other countries” are weak.

The article introduces two possible solutions to improve the interdisciplinary research in Japan after briefly describing two case studies: either “globalize the review process” or “globalize research.”

Overall, although two articles have taken completely different aspects of the Fukushima power plant, both admitted near the end of its work that problems “abound” even after five years of the disasters.


Monkeys Are Used For New Autism Research – A Comparison Between Different Press Release

A new research, published in Nature on Monday, 25 January 2016, using genetically modified monkeys to mimic autism-like behaviors is conducted in search for possible therapies for autistic human beings. The scientists at the Institute of Neuroscience at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai inject an autism-related humane gene, MECP2, which leads to an autism-like disorder called MECP2 duplication syndrome, into the eggs of female monkeys.


The New York Times, instead of focusing on the new study itself, pays much attention to the usage of monkeys. It has drawn many outside comments from people, who are not involved in the research itself, to evaluate if the monkeys used are suitable for designated purpose of the research as well as if the monkeys are used properly as a model.

According to the article, previous research in this field, instead of using monkeys,  prefer using mice for many reasons, such as the lower price and easier accessibility of mice. Meanwhile, monkeys also have much more problems with animal right advocates than mice do. However, mice have significant disadvantages, too. First, mice are far more simple model for this kind of research, and their life spans are too short for observing the developments along the way. Primates, like monkeys, are definitely a better model in this case.

Dr. Huda Zoghbi, the professor of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine “who helped discover that mutated forms of MECP2 cause Rett Syndrome, a type of autism that affects mostly girls,” questioned if the behaviors, such as circling the cages, of those genetically modified monkeys used in the experiment are, indeed, similar to repetitive behavior appearing in the autistics since some crucial symptoms of MECP2 duplication syndrome have not been observed in those monkeys.

Scientific American first traces back to the history of the study, but it still mentions the credibility of using monkeys as a model in this research later by using the comment of Alysson Muotri, a researcher studying “stem cells, autism and Rett’s syndrome” at UCSD. Scientific American used Dr. Zoghbi’s comments as well and it wrote them in almost the same way as The New York Times did.

Scientific American, interestingly, also mentions another part of the research that the scientists are working with a hospital  at the same time trying “to identify the autism-linked genes that are most common in the Chinese population.” It then pointed out that “if non-human primates prove to be a useful model for psychiatric disorders, China and other countries that are investing heavily in research on monkeys, such as Japan, could gain an edge in brain research” since such non-human primates are “more expensive and controversial” in the US. While The New York Times only addressed that the price of monkeys are higher in the US as suggested by “Dr. Anthony Chan, whose research involves transgenic Huntington’s disease monkeys at Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta,” Scientific American pays attention to the future of research in the field; and therefore, provides its readers a totally different as well as broadened view on the problem.

The News & Comment section of the Nature has the same article as the Scientific American does and they uses the same video as well. When I saw the author information at the bottom of the Scientific American website that the personDavid Cyranoski, works for Nature magazine, people might not expect Nature to have the exactly same article at all since they are two independent media. Readers might hope to see another point of view by Nature, but it turns out that the same author attribute to two websites, or the Scientific American simply chose to use David Cyranoski’s work instead of creating its own piece.

The following video is used by both the Scientific American and the News & Comment section of the Nature.





Planet X: Exciting New Evidence For Its Existence

“There might be a ninth planet in the solar system after all, and it is not Pluto.” This sentence appeared as a headline in the The New York Times Science section on January 20, 2016.

A significant amount of scientific media, including Science Magazine, Scientific American and Nature News, all reported this exciting new scientific report in only a few hours.

In fact, the existence of a new planet next to Neptune,  namely, Planet X, has long been proposed.

According to the calculations, the planet should be nine times heavier than earth and have a size similar to Neptune.

However, some new evidence have just been found recently.


Firstly, where do these new evidence come from?

The answers are  Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, two planetary scientists,from Caltech.

Then, What are those evidence all about?

Astronomers observed 6 small bodies in distant orbitals. One thing which is extremely important here is that all these orbitals are tilted at similar angles “in the same quadrant of the solar system.” Statistically speaking, it is very hard to see this event happened randomly. In another word, the Planet X has a great possibility to exist.

Finally, What do we still need to confirm the ninth planet?

To answer this in a concise way: Find it!

We have to visually see it before make any step further. All the evidence we hold right now are indirect.

In a word, no solid confirmation can be made with only theoretical evidence, no matter how strong and persuasive they are.


The following video is a brief explanation of the new evidence from the Science Magazine.


Having many questions? Further reading…
Five quick questions and answers about Planet X by Scientific American:

5 Questions and Answers about the Proposed Ninth Planet




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