Politics, Activists, and Loss of Trust at Brookhaven National Laboratory
312 pp., 6 x 9 in, 22 figures
- Published: October 25, 2022
- Published: October 25, 2022
How the discovery of a harmless leak of radiation sparked a media firestorm, political grandstanding, and fearmongering that closed a vital scientific facility.
In 1997, scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory found a small leak of radioactive water near their research reactor. Brookhaven was—and is—a world-class, Nobel Prize–winning lab, and its reactor was the cornerstone of US materials science and one of the world's finest research facilities. The leak, harmless to health, came from a storage pool rather than the reactor. But its discovery triggered a media and political firestorm that resulted in the reactor's shutdown, and even attempts to close the entire laboratory.
A quarter century later, the episode reveals the dynamics of today's controversies in which fears and the dismissal of science disrupt serious discussion and research of vital issues such as vaccines, climate change, and toxic chemicals. This story has all the elements of a thriller, with vivid characters and dramatic twists and turns. Key players include congressmen and scientists; journalists and university presidents; actors, supermodels, and anti-nuclear activists, all interacting and teaming up in surprising ways. The authors, each with insider knowledge of and access to confidential documents and the key players, reveal how a fact of no health significance could be portrayed as a Chernobyl-like disaster. This compelling exposé reveals the gaps between scientists, politicians, media, and the public that have only gotten more dangerous since 1997.
“Anyone who wants to understand why more than one million Americans have died of COVID should read this brilliant book. It dramatically describes a titanic clash between world-class science, dishonest activists and celebrities, amoral politicians, and the federal bureaucracy.”
Robert Birgeneau, former Chancellor, University of California, Berkeley
“This true story illustrates how science (and society) lose out when misdirected activism mixes with misguided politics. If you think that social media is necessary for misinformation to win the day, think again.”
Marcia McNutt, President, National Academy of Sciences
“The Leak is a fascinating first-hand account—and ominous warning—of how an innocuous event can be exploited by politicians, environmental activists, and celebrities to frighten the public and kill science.”
Neal Lane, Science Advisor to President Bill Clinton
“I found The Leak gripping reading—a sober reminder of how badly some government decisions can go.”
Cherry Murray, Professor of Physics, University of Arizona
“The Leak recounts popular outrage, political intrigue, science misinformation, abused officials, and more. This great read reveals events that presaged the contested boundaries of science and civil society today.”
S. James Gates, Jr., 2021 American Physical Society President; Clark Leadership Chair in Science, University of Maryland
“The success of our national laboratories relies on trust between the public, politicians, government agencies, scientists and the laboratories. The authors carefully document how 'the leak' and its aftermath undermined that delicate partnership.”
Barry C. Barish, Ronald and Maxine Linde Professor of Physics, Emeritus, Caltech; 2017 Nobel Laureate
“This is an extraordinary book describing the precarious relations of science, politics, media, and the public.”
Alan Schriesheim, former director, Argonne National Laboratory