ABSTRACT As the world watched the Fukushima reactors release radionuclidesinto the ocean and atmosphere, the warnings of Dr.Alice Stewart about radiation riskand the reassurances of Sir Richard Doll assumed renewed relevance. Doll and Stewart,pioneer cancer epidemiologists who made major contributions in the 1950s—he bydemonstrating the link between lung cancer and smoking, she by discovering that fetalX-rays double the chance of a childhood cancer—were locked into opposition aboutlow-dose radiation risk. When she went public with the discovery that radiation at afraction of the dose “known” to be dangerous could kill a child, her reputation plummeted,whereas Doll, foremost among her detractors, was knighted and lauded as “theworld’s most distinguished medical epidemiologist” for his work. Their lives andcareers, so closely intertwined, took contrary courses, he becoming “more of the establishment”(as he said), while she became more oppositional. When it was discovered,after his death, that he’d been taking large sums of money from industries whose chemicalshe was clearing of cancer risk, his reputation remained unscathed; it is now enshrinedin the “Authorized Biography” (2009) commissioned by the Wellcome Institute,along with Doll’s denigration of Stewart as an “embittered” woman and biasedscientist. Stewart lived long enough to see radiation science move her way, to see internationalcommittees affirm, in the 1990s, that there is no threshold beneath which radiationceases to be dangerous; recent evidence from Chernobyl is bearing out her warnings.But a look at the making and breaking of these reputations reveals the power ofstatus, position, and image to shape scientific “knowledge” and social policy.
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