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The Geography of Sacrifice (Episode 2):  Alice Stewart, the Cold War Injuriat, and Thinking Like a State

Colloquium | September 13 | 3:30-5 p.m. | 575 McCone Hall

Iain Boal, Independent Scholar

Department of Geography

In the mid 1950s the bohemian epidemiologist Alice Stewart discovered unexpectedly that single, low-level exposures to ionizing radiation were the cause of a spike in childhood leukemias across the British Isles, especially in the wealthier postcodes. This finding challenged the post-Hiroshima orthodoxy concerning safe dose thresholds, and Dr Stewart found herself the target of a patriarchal and dismissive establishment (especially in the person of her colleague, the communist physician Sir Richard Doll), the nascent nuclear power industry, and the US and UK as manufacturers of atomic weapons. The case of Alice Stewart will be revealed as a classic study in agnotology, the burgeoning science of organized ignorance, and exemplary of the cold war culture of secrecy, the lethal contamination of workers at Windscale and Hanford, and more broadly the benefits and harms of 'population thinking'.