Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 17, 2007

Alexander Cockburn digs a deeper hole

Filed under: Ecology,health and fitness — louisproyect @ 5:02 pm

Chernobyl thyroid cancer victim
Subject of denial by Cockburn fave Zbigniew Jaworowski

I can just see Alexander Cockburn bawling out a Nation Magazine intern last week. “Look, when I told you to find an article by Zbigniew Jaworowski, I assumed that you would have sense enough to not go near Larouche with a ten foot pole. Don’t you know how embarrassing it is for me to have to explain myself now?”

Of course, if Alexander Cockburn was a bit less lazy, he’d have vetted the material before it found its way into the pages of the Nation Magazine. I guess he was snookered by the innocuous-sounding title of Larouche’s magazine: 21st Century Science & Technology. With his characteristic pugnaciousness, he now chooses to brazen it out and make Jaworowski sound legitimate.

He writes, “I strongly doubt that Jaworowski knows much or indeed anything about the more sinister and odious aspects of the LaRouch [sic] enterprise, and sent along his paper because they asked him to.” Of course, the issue is not so much whether Jaworowski is the babe in the woods that Cockburn alleges, but whether we should have expected more from Cockburn himself. As probably the highest-profile radical journalist in the U.S. since John Reed, one might have hoped that he would have rolled up his sleeves and examined this material more closely. It seems, however, that it his very elevated reputation that subverts his ability to examine his work critically. As should be obvious from Woody Allen’s movies, this is an occupational hazard of the high and mighty.

Although most of Cockburn’s self-justification is directed against George Monbiot, I imagine that his comment “There were also claims that Jaworowski had somehow discounted the effects of nuclear radiation, particularly at Chernobyl” was a reference to my blog entry “Alexander Cockburn and Zbigniew Jaworowski,” where I called attention to the Polish scientist’s pro-nuke sentiments. Cockburn assures us:

Actually, Jaworowski’s article “The Real Chernobyl Folly” was quite reasonable. He clearly acknowledges the acute radiation deaths of the ‘first responders’. His points about some of the uninformed and wasteful countermeasures, the real psychological damage caused by panic, and the exaggerated claims of victimhood, etc., etc., were all quite sensible. Jaworowski does seem to favor the use nuclear power [sic], as do many advocates of the anthropogenic origins of global warming.

Keeping in mind that Alexander Cockburn’s main goal is to preempt nuclear power at the hands of global warming conspirers like Al Gore, it is quite striking that Jaworowski gets just a gentle tap on the wrist as he were no worse than the 84 year old James Lovelock, of Gaia theory fame, who believes that nuclear power can halt global warming.

Lovelock’s defense of nuclear power is more akin to that of a physician who recommends risky surgery to save the life of a patient. By contrast, if Zbigniew Jaworowski were a physician, his attitude toward nuclear radiation would be more in line with prescribing vitamin B injections as a way to stay healthy. Just three years ago, he told the BBC: “Low levels of radiation are probably essential for life itself.” I guess I will have to keep this in mind the next time I go get a full-mouth X-Ray at the dentist. Maybe I should get them twice a year, when I get my teeth cleaned. That should guarantee that I live to 90 at least.

For Cockburn, Jaworowski’s admission that early responders died of radiation poisoning lets him off the hook, but he is curiously silent on the more controversial aspects. Specifically, in a May 30, 2000 BBC interview, Jaworowski is asked, “Could we just talk about Chernobyl – how has the residual radiation affected the health of the population?” Jaworowski replies:

It seems that the thyroid doses in the former Soviet Union were too small to cause the thyroid cancers, which also appeared too early (4 years after accident). It seems that not radiation but screening effect is here the main culprit. In normal populations occurs a very high number of hidden thyroid cancers, those with no clinical manifestations, and called the “occult cancers”. The incidence of occult cancers in Canada is 6,000 per 100,000 persons, 9,000 in Poland, 13,000 in the United States, and 35,000 in Finland. The greatest incidence that was registered in Gomel region, Belarus was 18 cancers per 100,000 persons. Thus potential for detection of “excess” thyroid cancers, after improving or intensifying the diagnostics, is enormous. I doubt that Chernobyl thyroid cancers are caused by Chernobyl radiation.

Elsewhere in the interview, Jaworowski opines, “However, no hereditary effects were discovered in the progeny of survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki irradiated with high sub-lethal doses.” When I read this, I felt like I had truly wandered into the world of mad scientists. It is too bad that Bela Lugosi is dead. He would have been a natural to play Jaworowski in a biopic.

Jaworowski sought the imprimatur of an official United Nations body when defending these views in his article “The Truth About Chernobyl is Found” in the Larouchite magazine:

The recent report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) is in total disagreement with the opinions widely propagated by the international media, by the Greens, and by the governments of Belarus and Ukraine, that there have been tens of thousands of cancer deaths and epidemics of genetic disorders, allegedly caused by the Chernobyl accident. To the contrary, UNSCEAR states, even among the progeny of the survivors of the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who received radiation doses hundreds of times higher than the radiation doses to the inhabitants of regions contaminated by the Chernobyl accident, no radiogenetic disturbances of health have been found.

As it turns out, UNSCEAR (Jaworowski was a former chairman) relied on the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a group that promotes nuclear energy everywhere in the world. But there was another report from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs that found a much higher incidence of thyroid cancer, more than 11,000 cases.

Perhaps Cockburn’s trust in an IAEA-inspired report on Chernobyl is misplaced, given past reporting in Counterpunch. Two years ago, Alice Slater attacked the Nobel Prize being awarded to IAEA director Mohammed El Baradei, since:

The IAEA has been instrumental in covering up the disastrous health effects of the Chernobyl tragedy, understating the number of deaths by attributing only 50 deaths directly to the accident. This was a whitewash of health studies performed by Russia and the Ukraine which estimated thousands of deaths and thousands who suffered thyroid cancer and leukemia as a result of the accident.

So this weekend Alexander Cockburn ends up applauding the very report that his own publication was condemning only 2 years ago. I can understand that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, but this is ridiculous.

As should be obvious at this point, the good Polish doctor has devoted his life to singing the wonders of nuclear energy. In a way, he reminds me of the group that I and some friends pulled together in 1961 at Bard College called “The Welcome the Bomb Committee.” That year NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller was pushing air raid shelters on a skeptical population. We decided to take the opposite tack and form a welcoming committee for a Russian bomb, since a welcomed bomb would be less dangerous. Unlike Jaworowski, we were only kidding.

Just one last piece of documentation on Jaworowski that neither Cockburn nor his trusty interns could turn up. He co-authored an article for Spiked-online with Roger Bate titled “Depleted uranium: what is the health risk? I guess I don’t have to tell you where they stand.

The fact that Jaworowski would publish in Spiked-online as well as Larouche’s magazine should put to rest once and for all the notion that he is some kind of naïf, unfamiliar with the world of corporate hackery. Like Larouche, Frank Furedi and his co-thinkers have spent the better part of the past 10 years promoting nuclear power and discounting global warming. The simple truth is that the two positions go hand in hand, since they are both about the right of energy companies to do as they see fit.

When Jaworowski decided to hook up with Roger Bate, he surely must have been aware that he was a long-time hired gun for toxic corporate interests. He has done yeoman work for top consulting dollars “proving” that DDT is needed to stop malaria and that genetic engineering is good for your health and the environment, two other pet hobbyhorses of Furedi’s.

In my initial article on Cockburn’s global warming skepticism, I said, “I have a dismaying sense of déjà vu reading Alexander Cockburn’s global warming articles. Around ten years ago, I and my good friend, the late Mark Jones, had an ongoing debate with one James Heartfield about these very questions. James was a militant of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain, to be distinguished from the American sect by its love of DDT, nuclear power and genetically modified crops rather than Mao’s Little Red Book.”

I continue to be dismayed that Alexander Cockburn can promote the reputation of people who travel in these circles. How sad for him and how sad for Counterpunch.


  1. […] getting into a peer reviewed journal) has to go somewhere to get his or her studies published.  Some more words and sentences and paragraphs over here. The wikipedia entry for  Jaworowski includes the factoid of publication in this spurious […]

    Pingback by Skull / Bones » Blog Archive » The Winds of Change… — June 17, 2007 @ 7:15 pm

  2. I commend the sentiments behind your attack on Cockburn, but a couple of points:

    (1) According to the findings of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima (full disclosure: I was a fellow there for the better part of a year)–an institution which contributed to last year’s WHO Chernobyl study–there is no evidence of heritable genetic mutations after a single generation. Far from “mad science,” RERF’s Hiroshima/Nagasaki dataset is the most significant on the planet. You can find some pieces at rerf.or.jp if you’re interested.

    (2) While I find the majority of Jaworowski’s research laughable, don’t be so quick to dismiss screening as a factor in increased incidence of thyroid disease. This is similar to the findings re: thyroid disease in Hanford, Washington (location of a military compound once housing nuclear materials) published by a U Washington team (headed by epidemiologist Scott Davis) in numerous peer-reviewed journals.

    Comment by Zach — June 17, 2007 @ 10:12 pm

  3. “While I find the majority of Jaworowski’s research laughable, don’t be so quick to dismiss screening as a factor in increased incidence of thyroid disease.” What exactly are you trying to say? That Chernobyl is not related to a spike in thyroid cancer? On Hiroshima, Jaworowski was not talking about genetic mutations after a single generation, but in the progeny of survivors–like the children of men and women who were bombed that day. Surely, that is wrong.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 17, 2007 @ 10:35 pm

  4. FYI for you and your readers…

    My piece on Alexander Cockburn, Climate Denier can be found in my blog here:


    This is actually a script for my radio production of the same name, a 23 minute piece (which includes a clip from Sonali of KPFA interview George Monbiot in late May, asking him about Cockburn)

    which is here:

    [audio src="http://www.ecoshock.org/downloads/ecoshock/ES_Cockburn_RIP.mp3" /]
    (22 MB mp3 file)

    This will be broadcast twice this week on CFRO FM in Vancouver, Canada, and then rebroadcast on a series of college and community stations.

    Alex Smith
    Radio Ecoshock

    Comment by Alex Smith — June 18, 2007 @ 8:55 pm

  5. The only positive byproduct of Cockburn’s increasing insanity on the global warming issues are the rebuttals to his argument provided by the rest of the left including this blog. Hopefully he’ll stop beating the dead horse soon because I’m really tired of reading his nonsense. It’s a sad day when Al Gore is closer to the truth on this issue than our dear Cockburn.

    Comment by Binh — June 19, 2007 @ 2:47 pm

  6. I suppose I will blog on this at my site, too (http://writch.com/blog), but I should mention here that anyone who thinks this guy is a serious journalist is not paying attention.

    This guy is a ‘mockingbird’ (an intelligence operative installed in media to guard the gates, as it were, and plant or kill stories as need be).

    All you have to do is see which other birds he ‘flocks together’ with.

    Namely, http://theava.com (where he is one of the regulars)

    The ‘Anderson Valley Advertiser’ (aka: ‘The Anderson Valley Angerizer’) is a yellow rag from the depths of Hearst’s worst nightmares).

    They regularly libel people. They have no assets to seize. They can’t be stopped (but we refuse to be assimilated).

    Anyway, I came across their foul journal when I was researching Judi Bari.

    Here’s Judi’s ex-husband’s web site on the topic of libel by the former owner of the AVA, Bruce Anderson:


    When this asshole had finally burnt enough bridges in Anderson Valley, he had to escape to Oregon. When he did, guess who wrote his eulogy?

    Alexander Cockburn.


    He called him “America’s Greatest Editor”.

    AC even contributed to the lies that Bruce Anderson promulgated.


    It isn’t that he doesn’t ‘fact check’. He does.

    He knows that his facts are BS.

    That doesn’t stop him.

    His job is to keep us off-balance through steady drops of disinformation poisoning our discussions.

    Don’t hate him for it, though. Admire him for his talent. I mean, how long can someone go on being a disinformation specialist without being caught?

    I mean, being caught by someone else. The AVA is a rather small item which would be easily overlooked.

    BTW, the new editor for the AVA’s name is David Severn.

    He’s a liar and an asshole, too.

    I’m hoping to meet him in person some day and impress upon him exactly how important telling the truth can be.

    Comment by Richard Haley — June 19, 2007 @ 4:31 pm

  7. It’s sad to see Andrew get so completely unhinged on this. I know he hates Gore, but really, there are more productive ways to challenge Gore’s capitalism-lite solutions to catastrophic climate change.

    Comment by ceti — June 26, 2007 @ 2:13 am

  8. It’s sad to see Alex get so completely unhinged on this. I know he hates Gore, but really, there are more productive ways to challenge his capitalism-lite solutions to catastrophic climate change than climbing into bed with big oil!

    Comment by ceti — June 26, 2007 @ 2:14 am

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