The Muller-Neel dispute and the fate of cancer risk assessment

Ed Calabrese, emeritus in environmental health sciences at University of Massachusetts Amherst, has continued to question the legitimacy of the Linear No-Threshold (LNT) model for risk assessment for ionizing radiation exposure — as adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many other agencies. In his latest revelation [see attached article] he offers evidence that shows that National Academy of Science (NAS) panel members ignored human data that challenged their already-set conclusions.

Ed asserts that the science used — to support the LNT model adopted by the NAS’s 1956 Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation (BEAR) I Genetics Panel — is tainted by its leaders, who he says deliberately refused to include evidence from NAS’s own Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) human genetic study, also known as the Neel and Schull 1956a report.

Calabrese says Neel and Schull showed “an absence of genetic damage in offspring of atomic bomb survivors, which supports of a threshold model (i.e. not the LNT model),” but this was not considered for evaluation by the genetics panel, “therefore, those data could not figure into its decision to recommend the erroneous LNT dose-response model for risk assessment.”

The author [see attached article] explores correspondence among and between BEAR panel members, including Jim Neel and other contemporaries, to assess why the panel failed to use his data — and how the decision to recommend the LNT model has affected future cancer risk assessment policies and practices for decades.

Calabrese suggests that the panel’s work was undermined by Hermann J. Muller and BEAR I chairman Warren Weaver, who “feared that human genetic studies would expose the limitations of extrapolating from animal, especially the fly, Drosophila, to human responses, and admitting this would strongly shift research investments/academic grants from animal to human studies.”

Calabrese adds, “The country expects its scientists to be honest and to follow real data. The BEAR 1 Genetics Panel failed on both counts, being loyal only to their ideology, and then hiding it. They were hailed by many media outlets as the Genetics Dream Team — giving them ‘further cover’ so that their deceptions would never be known. They have gotten away with it for 70 years.” How much longer will we believe inaccurate scientific conclusions led to bad government policy — which continues to be practiced, today…??

“This history should represent a profound embarrassment to the U.S. NAS, regulatory agencies worldwide — and especially to the U.S. EPA and the risk-assessment community — whose founding principles were so ideologically determined and accepted with little, if any, critical reflection.”


Environ Res Aug 2020; 190: 109961

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