Lies, pseudoscience and “journalism” in Japan’s current nuclear situation

The current situation at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant is a serious matter; and having family in close proximity of it makes it even more serious to me. For this reason, I appreciate the onslaught of emails and phone calls that friends and acquaintances have sent me to express their solidarity. Thank you!

At the same time, I am appalled by the way western media has represented the situation, which has led some people to send me distraught missives about the “imminent” crisis and the lies of the Japanese government. Since I haven’t posted in a while, I seized opportunity to type some words about risk and science communication. Since this is going to be a little bit of a rant, I apologize to my regular readership (that handful of patient people) for having digressed a little, yet again.

Here is my rant:

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Be social in your own terms

Since this post is a digression in this blog, I think I need to explain myself to the regular readers. Last year, I wrote a software manual for an application called Gwibber. Although the guide was originally intended for a local community of users, the Ubuntu Vancouver LoCo, it was later decided that the manual be distributed worldwide. This post is a comment on my experience documenting Gwibber, and it is intended, for the most part, to the Ubuntu community around the world. If you want to know what Ubuntu is, click here. To check my teammate’s post, click here.

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2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2010. That’s about 3 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 14 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 19 posts. There were 25 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 5mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was July 7th with 102 views. The most popular post that day was Playboy model is defeating scientists in PR battle over vaccines.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were WordPress Dashboard,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for rational decisions, cultural conflicts in vancouver, icon arrays, risk communication, and tak ishikawa.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Playboy model is defeating scientists in PR battle over vaccines July 2010
1 comment


BC Injury Prevention Conference: puzzles and answers November 2010


About me July 2010


My boyfriend was not a selfish, treacherous bastard… he was just Japanese April 2009


Statistics are lies!? Damn not! August 2010

BC Injury Prevention Conference: puzzles and answers

Last week, at the at the BC Injury Prevention Conference 2010, some presenters and attendants put forward interesting questions that manifest inconsistencies in people’s behaviour and perception of risk:

  • Why parents have their children wear bicycle helmets, but still refuse to use them?
  • Why more than 70% of Canadians think they drive better than others? Does this indicate that education campaigns have failed?1
  • Why gang related crime gets more police and media attention than road crashes, when the latter produces way more fatalities than the former?1

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Risk taking is a matter of format

Risk-taking is often associated with the character of a person. However, researchers have demonstrated that this behaviour greatly depends on the way people are presented a decision problem: most people decide to take risks when they face choices with negative outcomes (injuries), and choose safer options when they face positive consequences (dancing in the prom). Consequently, road safety, health promotion and injury prevention campaigns should convey risks in positive terms, and avoid communicating negative outcomes.

Risk-taking is often associated with the character of a person: some individuals are considered risk-takers and are said to lead risk-taking lives1. However, researchers have demonstrated that this behaviour greatly depends on the way people are presented a decision problem2, 3, 4. Indeed, most people decide to take risks when they face choices with negative outcomes3, 4 such as diseases or injuries. Conversely, most individuals choose safer options when they face positive consequences3, 4 like “dancing in the prom” or “playing with my children”.

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Statistics are lies!? Damn not!

Mr. Goldstein’s belief that statistics are lies is largely fuelled by misconceptions about statistics and its role in decision making. Sadly, this kind of uninformed opinions had a lot to do with the absurd proposal to make Canada’s census voluntary.

I know this post is two weeks late and I am sorry about that. Still, better late than never.

This is a reply to Lorrie Goldstein’s column, “Stats, smoke and mirrors”, in which he rants about crime rates and Statistics Canada―the Canadian statistics agency. In my opinion, his diatribe is foolish, unfair and uninformed.

In an effort to be straightforward, this is what I will discuss:

  1. If decision makers don’t know how to use statistics, then they are the problem; don’t blame statistics for that.
  2. Mr. Goldstein’s “analysis” of crime rates is useless and superficial.

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Impaired driving: Media is helping!

When reporters explain the causes of a collision and emphasize on drivers’ choices, they are also educating the public on how to prevent crashes, injuries, or fatalities. In fact, experimental studies have demonstrated that this type of journalism produces positive changes in the public’s perception of the problem.

Last week, I was glad to see that an impaired driving conviction was generously covered by the media and even made the front page of local newspapers1. In particular, Matt Kieltyka’s piece exhibited traits of what experts consider good road accident journalism: it contained a detailed description of the event, including its human context, antecedents, the aftermath, and it explained how drinking and driving led to the death of a little girl1.

Continue reading “Impaired driving: Media is helping!”