tv Panel Discussion on Disasters CSPAN March 29, 2015 2:00pm-3:01pm EDT
writers association and a member of the science book committee for this the seventh festival of books this morning's present, the catastrophe calamity and cataclysm, recording disaster 'manmade and narl is sponsored by cox communications and the -- if you or your could i would like to back friend of the festival your tax deductible contribution can help support literacy programs for southern arizona. information about the friends and how to join is available online or go to an information book on the mall. ...nd the sign, make sure you
pick them up before you go to get in line. please note, however that one of our speakers today, dan fagin, will be about 30 minutes late for the signing he'll be doing a live interview with c-span, as you just saw the ending of one with over here just after our session, and he should be in that signing area by 1:00. our other author alexandra wit city, will be there immediately -- witze, will be there immediately following the the session. this session and all the others here in the gallagher are being broadcast live on c-span2 with taped repeats later in the week,and i think here locally on come kass channel 19 you may be able to see this again tonight -- comcast channel 19. i should remind members of the audience you may also appear on screen so if you don't want somebody to know you're here today, i would get up and leave now. [laughter] out of respect to our television
audience but also our authors the moderator and the person next to you, please turn off your phones your ipads your gaming devices whatever. i forgot to do this myself yesterday. i will do it right now. i hope i serve as a role model for you with all. there we go. we'll have time for questions at the end of the session, and as you can see there are microphones in the aisle so at the time step down to the microphone, stand in line we'll call you in order. and remember, because we are broadcasting live please keep your questions short, succinct and loud and clear. disasters have always fascinated us. a flood that swept over the tigris euphrates valley some in 4000 portfolio c. entered the memories of all of the middle ian cultures. -- can eastern
cultures. long before the age of mass communications calamities were immortalized by folklore, and in the 18th and 19th century, gruesome catastrophes inspired barroom lithographs and popular plays and opinionny dreadful novembers -- penny dreadful novels. movies, television shows and in the 24/7 wall to wall coverage of our cable networks. no wonder, perhaps. i mean, compared to our confused national goals our anonymous international threats and somewhat inexplicable economics, disasters are very clean cut. they're easily-grasped events comprehensible by almost anyone. they make for perfect media events; pure facts time date place, cause effect and countable casualties. it's a gripping human drama in a
neat two-minute spot complete with vivid scenes of destruction, grim-faced rescue workers and weeping survivors. for most journalists that's enough. they fly in, shoot some film get some quotes, fly out. and this week's story, oil spill, tsunami, whatever is done and over and it's on to next week's story of death and destruction with new gory details and always a slightly different cast of characters or victims. but there is a very small group that realize the disaster story is much more complex. indeed too complicated to be simply reported and resolved in a few days a few months or even a few years. the long-term effects of disaster -- financial environmental and cultural impacts -- may be felt by affected communities for decades. even generation ares after the
event. generations after the event. we are very fortunate today to have alexandra witze, we have a mutual friend who pronounces his name slightly differently, and dan fagin who are among that small group of reporters concerned with both the far-reaching and often unexpected results of disasters and the very human costs paid not only by disasters' victims, but with survivors and sometimes even to a much broader population far beyond the immediate disaster zone. on the surface are two books and respective disasters would seem dissimilar. alexandra and her husband, who made a presentation yesterday afternoon here wrote about -- they're writing about an icelandic volcano that erupted measure 200 years ago -- more than 200 year ago. in "tom's river," dan fagin
talks about a disaster in a new jersey seaside city. but there are many similarities between the two stories. i'd like to let the authors themselves describe their reporting and the surprises they found either in iceland's lava landscape or along jersey's somewhat deceptibly tranquil shore. i'll start, perhaps, with alex alexandra witze, and "island on fire." as i mentioned she co-authored it with her husband. alex is an award-winning science journalist with a national reputation for elegant coverage of very highly complex topics. she began her career at earth magazine and "dallas morning news" and later served as chief of the washington news bureau of the british science journal nature. and after a stint with science news as a contributor she has now returned to "nature" as a contributing correspondent based in boulder colorado.
she has a ba in geology from mut and is a graduate of the science communication program at uc san jose. santa cruz, excuse me. last year she was a journalist in residence at the santa fe institute, and among her honors is the science and society wared from the national association of science writers and the award for feature journalism. as a personal aside, as a writer myself specializing in astronomy and astrophysics i've known both alex and jeff for many years, so i was delighted to learn their book -- which was originally published in the u.k. last year -- would be out in america edition in time to qualify for the tucson festival of books. good timing, guys. [laughter] you're up alex. >> great. thanks so much for that lovely introduction jim. as native new jerseyan i'm al excited i decided to write a
book about iceland. i see some familiar faces from the presentation yesterday that jeff and i gave so i'll be short in sort of summarizing the reductions and then we can have a conversation more generally about catastrophes. i'd like to point out that i had a natural catastrophe to write about which is another bonus. not only do i get to go to iceland, but i get to write about a natural event. it's muchless of -- there's a lot of human intrigue in our story, but it is not human driven. it's driven, the main character is essentially a volcano in south central ice lambed. so this sol -- iceland and this volcano is called lockey. and in june of 1783 the ground ripped open, and it began spewing fountains of fire many tombs higher than the empire state building along a rift that extended for something like 16
miles along. over the course of eight months, these fire fountains continued along, just a massive sheet of flame. so you can imagine you wouldn't want to be living nearby. and part of our book part of our story is telling the story of people who lived nearby, the people who lived near this incredible eruption, what it's like obeysically have your -- like to basically have your backyard go down in flames. this is a rural community, this is iceland in the 18th century basically sheep and farms, and that's about it. you either fish or you farm, and that's about your only extent of living in iceland at this time. we have a character in the book who's a pastor a rural pastor who's basically in charge of this area, of in this district. which is remote even from reykjavik. it's not the kind of place a lot of people go. and we tell the story of his incredible chronicles. he was a pastor, but he was also
a scientist at heart. he kept a day-by-day diary of how this eruption happens. from the first day when he was riding on his horse to go to services one day and basically, black clouds started rolling over the horizon, and the weeks that followed the flames to the north, the smells finish the sulfur bitter nasty smells they could smell the earthquakes that were rending the ground. and then the lava started to pour. is so we have incredible stories from this guy from this pastor, pastor john, about the lava about to engulf his town and what he has to do to try and save it. i won't give anything way too much, but it does have a quasi-happy ending more john. but for the rest of the people in icehand the catastrophe -- iceland, the catastrophe continued. one-fifth of everyone in iceland died. it's something icelanders learned about in school it's kind of a national catastrophe
for them. again, even though we're talking about 178 3w, essentially what happened is the volcano poisoned the countryside. the ash killed the grass, it poisoned the grass the sheep died and there was nothing to eat, and iceland descended into famine. so lockey is a story about famine and a story about iceland specifically but it also has much wider repercussions as a catastrophe. not only did it pour lava onto the countryside and send ash acrosses iceland it also sent poisonous gases huge distances these massive gases got caught up into the winds carried across and made it all the way to europe. so in the somewhere of 1783 -- summer of 1783 people who lived in paris, in london, in germany reported this strange haze. it was like a white fog that rolled across the countryside. it smelled bad it looked weird it didn't burn off. people didn't know what it was. they called it a dry fog and
thaw puzzled over it. you wouldn't think that would hurt people a whole lot but if you breathed it in, people with respiratory problems started to get sick. so across europe people started to breathe in this in. it was basically sulfur dioxide. it was like acid rain from this volcano that settled across all of europe. so not only was the catastrophe, you know specific to iceland, it also sent this nasty poisonous stuff rolling across europe. and people across europe suffered. death rates started to soar that summer, in the summer of 1783, and people didn't know why. usually most people died back then in the winter when it got kind of cold and nasty, and you couldn't fight off your cold z or typhus or whatever you were going to get, but this that summer people started to die. and we talk in the book about natural scientists trying to puzzle out where this fog came from and why it was so dangerous. ben franklin plays a key role
because he's one of the scientists who figures out that perhaps this weird haze comes from a sol volcano all the way in the north atlantic, so far away. ben franklin, of course, is in paris at the time. this is right after the revolutionary war ended, and he was will to help hammer out a peace treaty. so he's kind of one of these scientists at the forefront of trying to understand what this cats catastrophe is, where it came from and what it might mean. and then finally beyond that not only was it a catastrophe for people in iceland, not only for people in europe who were breathing in this gas and getting sick on it and trying to figure it out, it was also a catastrophe around the entire northern hemisphere. because not only did that fog roll across europe it got so high into the atmosphere and carried all around the northern hemisphere by the winds that their sulfur particles, they turned into sun-reflecting particles and acted like a giant umbrella, and they reflected
sunlight back and cooled the ground underneath. so we had global climate change for a couple of years after the lockey eruption. things cooled down for a couple of years and that may not sound like much, but it led to extreme winters. so you had incredible cold. you had these frost fairs everyone goes out onto the ice and does stuff because they're not used to seeing the thames freeze like that. you had crops failing all across europe, and also even down into africa lockey's cooling particles, those sulfur particles that reflected sunlight back cooled things so much in africa that the monsoon storms didn't come, there was no rain. the nile dried -- not dried up, but the nile dropped. the farmers couldn't farm, and famine fed in egypt and as many as a million people may have died in this famine in egypt that traces back again, to this one remote icelandic volcano.
so that catastrophe ripples outward from iceland into europe and around the northern hemisphere. even here in the states we had effects. in alaska there's amazing stories from the inuit from the winter of 1783-1784 and into the next summer about how cold it was over winter, how bitter and then how summer did not come the next year. the famous year without a summer in 1816 that's linked to an indonesian eruption. but back in 1784, the inuit were experiencing the same thing. it was so cold in the that along the mississippi river we had icebergs. there were iceberg withs coming out at new orleans in the gulf of mexico, it was so cold that winter. so again, we have that global effect from one little volcano. and some people have even linked lockey to social unrest. if you think this was 1783 1784, you had cooling effects, you had climate failures, you had crop failures across europe.
in france, of course we had a couple years of peasant rebellion, and in 1789 we had the french revolution. there are scholars who -- it's a bit of an environmental deterministic argument -- but there's psychological scholars who say hey maybe that was a contributing factor. so there we go, we've got the concentric circles. lockey was an incredible natural disaster, but very few people are aware of it, and we're just hoping when we tell the story of the people whose lives it affected, that we get to get a sense of what the earth can throw at us and maybe what we need to be prepared. [applause] >> thanks, alex. i did mention that we'll save all the questions until very end. there's, obviously, an environmental component in here, isn't there dan? dan fagin, our next speaker s is an associate professor of journalism at new york university and director of that school's master-level science,
health and environmental reporting program. before joining nyu in 2005, dan was for about 15 years the environmental writer for newsday on long island where he was tice a principal member of -- twice a principal member of pulitzer prize finalists. he won both of the top u.s. science writing awards the one that alex won from the national science and society award from the national association of science writers um, these are like, tong twisters aren't they? [laughter] the science journalism award from the advancement of science. but it's his book "tom's river," that has taken home the bacon. the 2014 pulitzer prize for general nonfiction as well as the new york public library's helen bernstein award for excellence in journalism the national academy's science book award and the society of environmental journalists
rachel carson environment book award. on another personal note, it's -- although we toiled in the same trait for year, i don't think we ever met face to face until yesterday. of course, i knew of his work and reputation, and there's a funny festival connection here because in 2012 one of his newsday colleagues beth whitehouse -- >> that's right. >> -- came to festival to talk about her book, the match, and beth was so entranced by the festival and soen joyed her experience that she suggested to me by e-mail that a good candidate for the future might be this guy who was writing a book on environmental pollution. and that book, of course, was "tom's river," and i'm glad i listened to her. dan is here today with his long tie back to the festival. go ahead. >> okay, thank you very much jim. yeah beth, by the way, is a new jersey woman. she grew up on the jersey shore
or nearby and worked there as well. so there's another "tom's river" connection. so thank you very much and thank you all for coming. it's really wonderful to be at a place where so many people love books. it's very affirming. and it just feels great to walk around and see so many people who are so jazzed about writing and it's great. i would like to, sort of, live at this it's value permanently. [laughter] that would be every author's dream, so thank you for coming. so "tom's river" is an ordinary place where extraordinarily -- where extraordinary things happened. and, well, that makes for good nonfiction for many reasons. i, as jim mentioned i was a newspaper reporter for more than 20 years, and most of that time was spent covering environmental
issues. and be you write about environmental issues, you know almost immediately that one of the things that really consumes readers, that they're really concerned about are patterns of disease around them; on their block, in the place where they work. and so i tend to want to write about things that my readers are concerned about and sort of give them the scientific fact bs, and so i did that often. many forests were felled with the paper that we printed writing about cancer clusters and other issues involving epidemiology. epidemiology is a long word that stands for something very simple, it's the science of studying patterns of disease over space and time. and there happens to be -- it happens to be really interesting. it's csi science, you know? it's figuring out puzzles, making sense out of them. so i did that often at newsday
and i discovered i was with really interested in this and that my readers were really interested in it. so much so that there was actually a major study that was done on long island that that was in part, a result of all the work that newsday did, but even more importantly, all the work that local activists did on long island. that study was problematic. it had some big issues. and ultimately, its results were inconclusive i think because it was not designed well. but while i was investigating that, while i was writing about that study, i heard about place in new jersey where really terrific science was being done, and i went down there and met t the people involved and it was a very compelling cast of characters. really good science was being done and it was quite a saga. a 40 50-year-old saga of, like i said in some ways a very
ordinary all-american place a place that celebrates little league and parades. in fact, the ideal day in tom's river is when there's a parade for the little league. [laughter] that's like, the perfect day in tom's river. buts also a place where some really horrific pollution occurred and where there were also extremely high, unusually high rates of cancer among children in the town. so i resolved that someday i would write a book about that situation because in journalism we're always looking for what we sometimes call the microcosm, something maul that stands for something big. just as alex was explaining about the ripples from the lockey eruption, tom's river stands for something much bigger. it stands for this 2,000-year effort to try to make sense of what's happening around us to try to figure out what is the connection between the environment in which we live and
chronic decides, many of which have very long lay ten city periods. so it's very tough to figure out what really caused them. so i started digging into this story and just got increasingly fascinated. you know, what i thought would be a two-yearbook project became a is sick-year project. -- a six-year project. and i started realizing that to really tell this story well i needed to also talk about the history. you know how was it that a major grant wound up in -- a major plant wound up in, you know one of largest dye plants in the country wound up in this relatively small town in the pinelands of new jersey? what were the roots? and so i started to really delve deep into the history of end epidemiology and toxicology and the very dramatic events that led to the sort of very gradual
collection of knowledge that is helping us to try to decipher these environmental connections. and it's very difficult process. a friend of mine has a funny definition spooking of catastrophe -- speaking of catastrophes, since this is a disaster panel he says a good working definition of a public health catastrophe is a health effect so large that even an epidemiological study can detect it. [laughter] so yeah, that's a little epidemiology humor. [laughter] little geek humor there. and so what david is saying is that on one hand this pattern interpretation, which is what epidemiology is, we can learn a lot from it. and one of the big things i tried to do in "tom's river" was to try to show how important epidemiology is and all the lives that we've been able to
save because we've been able to connect cigarettes as an important risk factor for lung cancer or working in a dye factory for bladder cancer. anytime you're dealing with probabilities as opposed to definite causes, you can be led atray. it's murky. personally i like writing about the murky stuff. i think that's where the really interesting work is in science, but it does make for very tricky recording. and this book is my attempt to explain how that scientific detective work really occurs and also to explain what really happened in this town. and it's really quite extraordinary. and then thirdly and finally book is my attempt to try to bring out the lessons of tom's river in a way that we will hopefully not repeat them. because the chemical industry is gone from tom's river now, it's
gone from much of the united states with some exceptions. but it is very heavily in china today. and the last chapter of "tom's river" i go to china and talk about how this pattern is repeating, is repeating itself and what can we do about it. so my -- this book is my attempt to make sure that what happened in tom's river is not forgotten and that welcome learn from it. thank you. [applause] >> i'll ask you a couple questions. let me start with dan just because it's in my mind at this moment. in a recent issue of the national geographic, joel our back talks about the -- our bach talks about the war on science and this idea that clusters of cancer may just be wrap.com. -- random. but, in fact it wasn't. >> yeah. >> dud you get some pushback from people when you would say this is just a random effect? this really isn't real?
>> right. well, this is a crucial issue with clusters. and it's accurate to say that some clusters are random. you know, the whole tricky part, you know we know that things cluster in nature. sometimes there's a reason you see birds flying across the sky sometimes they're not evenly distributed, they're in clumps. and so the question is, is there a reason for the clumping, or is it just random? there are all kinds of statistical tests that scientists apply to try to figure out whether or not a cluster is statistically significant. and there's huge controversy over how appropriate those tests are and how do we really know. the bottom line is that epidemiology is problem ballistic. -- probablistic. we can never say for sure, so a skeptic who says, you know what? i choose not to believe that
disease clusters occur, well, there's no real way to disprove that. but common sense tells you, you know, we know from -- we know chronic disease clusters, i mean ebola is a cluster of diseases that obviously, occurs in particular places over a particular time. so does the flu every winter. so obviously clusters exist. the real question is how do we know which clusters are random and which clusters aren't, and aren't clusters worth investigating? i feel very strongly that we can learn a lot from investigating clusters, and we have learned a lot. and the bottom line in tom's river is that while the findings were not -- were anything but crystal clear, ultimately a very serious piece of end chemoology -- epidemiology found a relationship between exposure to contaminated water and con tam mated air and unusually high rates of leukemia among young
girls in tom's river. and if they had used a little less rigorous version of thattist call significance, they would have found much, much broader, more many statistically significant associations than just young girls. something was definitely happening in tom's river. exactly what role pollution played is something that we'll never know for sure. >> thank you tom. by contrast you president bush know where the -- you pretty much know where the volcanos are, you can pretty much tell if there's going to be a disaster. i know that alex is the author of a recent article in "nature" called global volcano risks quantified which i'll let you describe because it answers this question. you can't predict them very precisely, but you've got a pretty good idea there's some danger lushing there, is that right? >> yeah exactly.
the article he's talking about is basically the first attempt by scientists or the most quantity tautive attempt today to figure out who is at most risk from volcanos worldwide. you go around and say where are these mountains, how many people live nearby them what's their record of erupting and what are their risks? and again just one way for scientists to look at risk and basically, you don't want to live in indonesia because that's where all the active volcanos are and lots of cities on the slopes of volcanos. but deeper than that, you get at this question of how do we know if we're in harm's way, and how do we keep ourselves fromming being in harm's way? it's a much more complicated question than just getting the science of what is the likelihood that this particular volcano is going to erupt? it's a complicated factor of, you know, where do people want to live? because volcanos are a nice place to live. why do they want to be there?
factors. >>rew up >> i corrupt in western new york down for most it cannot which may explain some bizarre behavior, but is there some and similar to alex is quantitative risk of environmental pollution sites in the united states are obviously in china, could people go to some registry before they use to hoboken? >> people always ask me that question. the short answer is no. not in effect one. people have tried. the epa collects a huge amount of environmental data and is often presented another big databases. in virus senses another one. all of those databases have big limitations. the program is itself a chance
to apply an algorithm and try to identify the sites that are the most polluted and therefore should be the highest priority. really, it's a very subjective process, very political. information is very incomplete. there is no satisfactory answer for how do i do my research to find out what is happening around me. that is one of the things are really motivated me so much in this book and i know an agency of the government that has an $80 billion annual budget and is absolutely aces at trying to identify patterns and therefore protect us. that is the national security agents do. they collect vast amounts of data. they don't just collect data. they use it to identify threats to the united states.
i don't begrudge them that. another agency has an $8 billion budget, collects environmental data and also some help data in the state agencies cancer registry data and does virtually nothing of it in trying to put the health and environmental data together to identify possible patterns worth investigating. we just don't do that. in my mind the only thing surprising about what happened in toms river is we found out about it because very brave individuals spoke up and use all the political leverage they could to try to draw attention to what was happening and finally ceasing protests in the political process attract enough funding to good epidemiological
study that sure enough found some connections. we don't have a satisfactory system right now when we can do better. >> i wanted to comment on one day. one of the wonderful things about the book is the people who took it upon themselves to bring attention and they are the real heroes of this book. it is a model for many of us who are under environmental danger whether it be a minor water pollution to see what a concerned citizen can do. and there's a lot of examples of ways people can change the way industry works. >> this quickly. that is one of the interesting things happening in china right now. there are many problems in china
for one good thing happening is an environmental consciousness rising. some of us in the united states could learn a few things from ordinary chinese citizens who are as ways more engaged on environmental issues than many of us americans are. >> could it be reclaimed up the environment just enough so we are happy with it? the chinese are eating and breathing the air. >> the environmental movement was full flower in the united states when it was most obvious. when they were catching fire and pollution was incredibly visible. and our environmental problems are more subtle. we have made progress in cleaning up our environment. we shouldn't ignore that, bush is also not pretend for working with them.
>> your volcano is 200 years old. maybe you like to remind the audience. we still have some problems within the last couple of years and want to completely surprise people and maybe remind folks this is still a problem. >> yet again, i have to say i'd rather read through epidemiological studies but that is a side point. to maintain our course this spring of 2010 man or not the one about it and air traffic was shut down across much of europe with volcanic ash. i make my husband pronounced that was later if you would like. youtube has a great ukulele song on how to pronounce a volcano. the other one which has more serious implications than
environmental catastrophe sorted view its last august in sort of north central eastern iceland in a remote area a volcano began arresting. one called our debunker which is fairly pronounceable and fairly fallible. the important thing is that it's essentially a miniature version of what happened in 1783 that we write about in the book. the new was the groundwork to open along a feature and sulfur dioxide started pointing out. from the ground itself the levels and of the towns not nearby, they are quite distinct that they would violate world health organization standards for breathing and told her dioxide. kids are kept inside at recess and people and elderly folk songs would stay inside with the
windows shut so they wouldn't read that name. >> we think of ourselves as being remote with this. you do mention some of the same problems exist. >> volcanic pollution highway is a big deal. even on a wahoo you can look in the paper and see what is expect it in terms of volcanic aleutian were of course the volcano has been interrupting since 1983. not 1783. >> that was a good year though. we would like to open it up to the public. i mentioned at the beginning, could both of you just respond to my comment where disaster so fascinating to the public into reporters? >> i will start and you can pick that up. my expertise and background is the natural disasters. what you talk about at the
beginning. the way in which an earthquake or flood or something cannot really change our lives in a matter of hours or days or seconds in terms of an earthquake there's incredible stories of drama and survival and terrible stories of death. the feeling of futility, what could we have done about this, what could we have known? is a compelling story and a new striven cycle. i would at go what you said earlier. >> ray. totally agree. disasters are the extraordinary occurring family in the context of the ordinary. that is just compelling. it has always and compelling. we have all sorts of emotions when we read about a disaster, natural or man-made. we are in a weird way to delete it. we are relieved.
we say take goodness that's me. as a journalist, i think i've disasters as opportunities. there are opportunities to eliminate underlying relationships that might not be visible where it not for the disaster. to me they are really an opportunity. a lot of journalists feel the same way. >> disaster sometimes exposed shortcomings in society in so many ways. i reported some in china after the earthquake in 2008. it absolutely exposed the seismology community, not to be monolithic, though we are getting better and we will tell you when the next big one comes and of course they weren't. when something happens that exposes where we need to be what is true and what is not true about what people are
saying. >> one funny counterpoint. in boston right now wrote in the globe that he wished boston be treated more as a disaster zone. everybody forgotten about it and they were all still suffering. the >> i agree with that. this is one of the problems with journalism. walter lippman said journalism was a searchlight forever shifting eliminating something briefly before moving onto the next. to me, the best journalism sees disasters as an opportunity to do more searching coverage. i really admire the journalism where i see it. >> of course the kind of journalism we talk about today. let's turn to the woman on the rates here. >> thank you.
i offer it to you a disaster of oil transportation from the balkan oil fields for railroad cars throughout our country, which continues to blowup every so often it montanans usually. that doesn't mean that is the only place that's going to happen. a limited amount of journalistic interest in what is going on with that and yet it's very dangerous to our whole country. >> yeah that is a very legitimate point. there are lots of things that are concerning. in some ways it is just postponing and making more painful the inevitable decarbonization of our energy decisions and decisions we have to make. tracking expands another 10 20
years and makes the transition even rougher. in the meantime so significant exposures to be concerned about. people are aware of possible contamination, but there's also major issues assist you to the transportation. it is clear the regulatory network we sat out is overwhelmed by the speed at which the revolution has occurred and we need to get a lot harder about the oversight we do to hydraulic fracturing. i don't think there's any doubt about that. >> with them last month the report came out from the u.s. geological survey that the frequency of earthquakes in the united states is now oklahoma directly associated with tracking as far as i can see. >> hi on the street for at
least my family about 150 yards, six of us adults contracted cancer. i'm the only survivor. two of my daughters have tested positive. is there someone i should be to report this? if so where should i start? >> start with your state health department. it is their job to respond to questions and can turn. it is very difficult. the epidemiologists would tell me a few things. they would tell you cancer is not one disease. it is 200 plus diseases with its own ideology. certain income and that they all have different risk theirs. that is one thing and eat the -- epidemiologists would also tell you the six cases of concern but it's a very small number. it is such a small number that
it's very difficult to figure out whether it's random or not random. this is a difficulty. i am terribly sorry that this has happened to you and you are going through this and the uncertainty of what this means is compounding the pain you're going through. we don't have a status that we answer. we don't look correct or delete. we tend to wait until he popped up. it is a little bit like epidemiologists are like a fire marshal, not the fire inspector. they are the calm after it's learned -- burned down. they investigate the process ahead of time and say here at the risks and here's how you reduce your risk. i don't have a good answer except our system is not set up to help you. >> all right.
thanks. >> a question on toms river. i know you reported on the children's cancer rate. do you have any information about earth defects at that time? >> there are some anecdotal talk about that. the truth is no one took a comprehensive analytical look at whether there were unusual number of birth defects. or if they did i'm not aware of it. as far as i know the information was never actually analyze. we don't really know much. it was all very fluky that we know what we know and it's really all directly related to the very brief strenuous efforts of the folks involved. >> some lines of contracts are so clear.
one is a definite disaster. the other one goes on and on and never gives quite the answer. it's really bringing two tips together. they complement each other in a weird way of how we do that disasters depending what the event days. both of these books capture the contrast between the two. >> i think it is pretty important that we need to rethink the idea of how we feel about uncertainty. if we hear a shot we don't win i'm positive they let me try to calculate the re-premises that headed my way. maybe was a car backfiring. we instinctively take some kind of precautionary measure. in some parts of public health we seem to require certainty instead of a preponderance of
evidence. i think we need to become more comfortable with the idea of insurgency and weighing evidence is that of waiting for certainty because we are not going to get certainty. >> two areas i might like you to comment on. one is how it is eerie and businesses choosing to move select the most desperate communities far away from scientific communities that could help them establish and what parameters to set on that. we've spent an awful lot on treatment for a lot of indian disorders. the pollutants and a healthy. in europe there are thousands
of chemicals that they are not allowed to have in their skin care products, cleansing products. readily available to people that we use every day because of our government just doesn't set any limits on what is out there or not study and the long-term effect of these things. those are two separate questions. >> so those are two different but both really good points. your first question refers to the race to the bottom and that is a disincentive to provide environmental protection if you think that you can attract industry and short-term economic growth. this is a problem. we have federalism, which
basically means devolving power to the state can create real problems within the u.s. or you have different standards in different ways. there is not an easy answer to that except we want to try to make standards as uniform as possible so we don't have the race to the problem. is really important that we have fair trade agreements and international labor standards labor and environmental standards and in this rash to create free trade all over the world we need to think carefully about environmental standards and labor standards and try to normalize as much as we can. if we don't again we have this race to the bottom. to your second point. remind me what that was again.
[inaudible] so it is true europe is increasingly moving to a more precautionary type of regulatory system in many products that are either under strict than the u.s. or restrict the glass then they are in europe. i am of two minds about that. europe has a better system than we do, the europe system is not as rigorous as it should be and we have a lot we can learn from each other. as an american, i am offended we have lost our edge in developing smart, effect of environmental regulation. that concerns me and i think we need to do significantly better. there's a lot we can learn from europe. i know that no politician would ever say that.
>> assenmacher, i am sure you want your books to read. i'm wondering after writing a book, do you ever get the feeling that government officials, politicians are taking notice in any way? >> i can address that a little bit with regards to the u.k. government at least. the u.k. government has a list of things that worries about officially. the national risk register stuff like terrorism and things like that. but the cabinet office has an active program right now in evaluating both will happen if a lucky style goes off again. air pollution modeling suggests 140,000 deaths across europe if something were to happen again. it is stuff to worry about with the very active research program right now. to cabinet office officials went
to the eruption going on last year to research the high sulfur effects. that is a very narrow escape all. >> i certainly heard from a lot of activists and political people and industry people who have read the book and are asking what could we do, what should we do? you know, in terms of specific reforms when i talk about in the book are such big ideas that it would really take years to develop a proactive approach to start looking for and analyzing disease patterns. there's some talk on various those in congress that attempt to do that. as everyone in this room knows that the national level we are afflicted by complete paralysis on so many issues including environmental issues that it's almost impossible to get through
any environment related legislation. we are seeing this now concerning the most important law. all kinds of maneuvering going on i will it be possible it may have been in a way that is not particularly helpful. it is just difficult to change anything at the natural level given the political paralysis gripping as. >> it sounds like both of you approached a very scientific way. wondering if you could describe your general approach to writing about the human nature whether it's the natural disaster or the
industry regulation type issue. if you found a way or hadaway before you started. >> i can start and you can pick up maybe. we had some amazing interviews who lived in a town affected by this eruption. to go the people whose ancestors had been killed or affected by this was kind of an incredible story to talk to the hotel manager and it turns that his ancestors were the ones who the couple was found dead after many months having starved to death. the attacks of these people, their generations removed from the disaster. we had an amazing interview with the wise man who talks about remembering it. the way back to the eruption. but to get the stories but because it was so distant in the
past it was linked in their lives but it was not found and they themselves had experienced. i didn't have to interview people who have lost people in my lifetime. >> that's a really good question. the nature of the two if we write for large audiences as they combine empirical world with narrative. humans are storytelling species. we love to tell stories. it is hardwired in our dna. that is the way we are most interested in information. it's the way we retain information the best. those of sms business try really hard to get the science right into explaining carefully but to do it in the context of a human story and at the very best science writing merges those two
worlds. it is difficult to do. it requires constant compromise on both ends. make sure you are flat team the scientific reality as closely as he possibly can. but also make sure you read a story people will read and people will be interested in and people will retain. we are constantly figuring out the balance and that is what we do. >> we have time for just one more. do you think the technique you talk about right now, do you know anyone working on issues related to the dead zone in the golf, that impacted the drinking water for people in toledo ohio? >> i know lots of people who cover those issues and i've covered them really well. i can't say i know if anyone writing a book but many reporters who work hard in this
issues and they do the best they can and the daily journalism we don't have a lot of time or a lot of space. journalism has a lot of problems, but there are better journalist today than ever. science journalism right now is that it than it ever has been. the environments in which we operate is extremely challenging and that makes it difficult. >> i like to get a list of reporters you're talking about. >> we can talk afterwards. >> you and dan both touched on the great closing for this. many like myself when into science writing. there are some moved from human activity. more and more if you got into journalism you realize you can't separate the human part of science and the effect of
science, the public becomes part of early pitcher melissa might talk about today. thank you votes to our authors and this audience. [applause] alex will be going directly outside to defining areas of the south entrance. dan will be there at 1:00. thank you for coming. enjoy the rest of the festival. >> now joining us on our second gallagher theatre is transfixed, one of the pulitzer prize in 2014 for "tom's river." mr. fagin what is toms river like today? >> toms river is a nice place to live. one of the things that concern me about the book coming out as i want to make sure people have the correct context for "tom's river."