Interview with James P. Hogan, special guest at ArmadilloCon 2006

At ArmadilloCon 2006, I went to several panels that the special guest, science fiction author James P. Hogan, was on, and thought he was a great panelist, because he showed flashes of original thought at every panel. I still can’t forget about an ellipsoid planet where you can jump up into a geosynchronous orbit, which seems to provide a rich vein for SF/F worldbuilding, or the use of a Swiss knife as a writing tool for alien species that write in pictograms, which reminded me of Ted Chiang’s brilliant story “The Story of Your Life”. On every panel he was on, I heard some original ideas, and I can’t say that about many panelists.

So, I went to his Special Guest interview at ArmadilloCon with great expectations. And then… hoo boy. It turned out he harbored a bunch of views that were, well… unconventional allright, but also unscientific and laden with conspiracy theories.

Willie Siros (left), one of the long-time ArmadilloCon organizers, interviews James P. Hogan (right).

James P. Hogan Special Guest interview at ArmadilloCon 2006
CIMG3846 Willie Siros (left), one of the long-time ArmadilloCon organizers, interviews James P. Hogan (right)

To start with, he did not believe in global climate change, and called it “hysteria”. He had friends among some kind of “dissident scientists”, who “are debunking the hysteria about climate change”, and “are saying that what was being told to the public is not what the scientists say”.

But it does not end there.

The Russian theory is that petroleum does not come from fossils, it comes from processes deep inside the earth, where methane forms, and then from methane forms the oil. Russians have a very well mathematically supported theory that this goes on all the time, and oil is virtually inexhaustible.

I like subjects like this. I think it’s interesting. To form your own opinion. I think media should be doing it. They are leading the public down the blind end. The news media was supposed to be an independent arm the public could rely on. But [it is not].

And he quoted a book by some “professor of toxicology in the University of Missouri”, whose name or the title of the book I either didn’t hear, or forgot, from which he apparently concluded that “substances that are toxic in high doses can be not just harmless, but beneficial at small doses, and the same is true about radiation.”

Nuclear experiments in the 19th century, they started routinely throwing away data that didn’t fit the expectations. They would try to measure the harm and the measurements would come out the wrong way, and they kept on trying to see what they wanted to see. He (the author of the aforementioned book — E.) collected all this together, it was happened so systematically. The book covered the results of 1100 studies. It turned out that by every measure that biologists used to decide, the living organism was doing better. It lived longer, reproduced more. All those measures indicated that below a certain level of radiation things actually seemed to do better. When the exposure of radiation was exposed above the background, the organisms were doing better. We came from earlier Earth where the radiation was much more intense. Perhaps things had gotten too cold recently.

As you increase the dose up to 10 times the natural background, the results are beneficial. At about 10 times the natural background, the curve…. They at first had data from old medical cases from the 50s, who were going to die anyway, so the doctors exposed them to extreme levels of radiation. But below 50 rads there was no measurable effects. Those experiments in the 50s wanted to determine safe levels of radiation. And they wanted to err on the side of caution. So they connected the lowest point we had to 0 and drew a straight line and decided the effect was proportional. And then this curve was interpreted as a statement of reality. It’s like assuming that if 1000 degrees raise of temperature would kill you, then a rise in 1 degree would kill 1 / 1000 of a person.

I really wish I had written down the reactions, if any, from the audience. I don’t remember anyone disagreeing with him, so perhaps people were just too polite.

James P. Hogan also defended the nuclear power and talked at length how nuclear power is vilified and held to higher environmental standards than the traditional energy industry. “Grand Central station would not get a license as a nuclear plant. It emits too much radiation,” he said. I don’t know whether it’s true, but I had heard other people arguing that modern nuclear power station can be very safe and environmentally friendly, and that society’s fear of nuclear power may be based on misconceptions. So, he might have been on to something there.

However, he emphasized that the reason he likes nuclear power has nothing to do with slowing down global warming! “I don’t like advocating nuclear because it helps avoid global warming. I think it’s conceding the unnecesary case of global warming to make the case. Nuclear energy stands on itself.”

So, yes. As much as I liked James Hogan’s participation on panels, I found it sad that a person can be full of creative ideas and also at odds with a scientific view of the world.