Przewalski Horses of Chernobyl – this last remaining wild species of horse on the planet is still thriving in the "dead zone"
Ronald K Chesser and Robert J Baker are two scientists from Texas
Tech University who learned tough lessons about politics, bias, and the
challenges of doing good science.
Growing Up with Chernobyl,
their painfully honest account of their research and the many blind
alleys they ran into, is fascinating reading. It is an object lesson
for those investigating global warming or any politically charged
Some of the things they discovered during their research on the effects of Chernobyl:
Its alway wise to maintain some humility
Various studies on wheat, birds, and humans have concluded that
mutation rates are greatly elevated and that the evolutionary fitness
of the organisms is reduced.
Other studies failed to find any increase in the rate of genetic mutations…
Good science is a beautiful thing, but it must fit within an existing
framework of policy and strategic plans or it will be very difficult to
Policy makers want concrete conclusions and results, not probability estimates…
Even then, a good idea does not always attract funding.
spent a considerable amount of time trying to understand how
applications of the scientific method can produce results that are so
When funding is an issue, there can a tremendous
temptation to produce amazing and satisfactorily convincing reports
instead of worrying about quality control.
One of the problems is that physical features which appear to be
mutations can be a result of local genetic variations, geographical
variations, or radiation induced mutations. It takes a well-designed
test to determine which is the primary cause.
They mentioned a study of barn swallow mutations by T.A. Mousseau
from the University of South Carolina as an example of conclusions
which in their opinion are interesting but not necessarily conclusive.
T.A. Mousseau has also posted a beautiful and evocative set of photos of the przewalski horses
which run wild in northern Ukraine. The przewalski horse is the last
remaining wild species of horse on the planet, according to many
On a personal note, I find that the more I learn about Chernobyl,
the less judgmental I become. The complexities of this disaster and its
after effects are still being uncovered. It may take new developments
in science to map out all of the ramifications of this disaster as it
applies to the Ukraine.
Some inhabitants are observably deformed and crippled for life.
Others live with high radiation levels and are apparently healthy.
The one thing we can agree on is that we do not need more disasters
of this scope. How we prevent them is a matter for continued study and