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( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)
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Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Atomicity. In an article in the Guardian yesterday A L Kennedy wrote:
DU atomicity in Iraq is equivalent to 250,000 Nagasaki bombs, so simply by being there and breathing, reporters risk cancers and birth defects in their children.
By "DU" she means Depleted Uranium. But what on earth does she mean by "atomicity"? The meaning I was taught was "the number of atoms in one molecule of an element." In other words, as this encyclopedia entry says, a molecule of oxygen has an atomicity of 2. If there are Depleted Uranium molecules floating around Iraq each containing the same number of atoms as a quarter of a million Nagasaki bombs then I want one. Damn thing might be intelligent.
OK, not really. I gather atomicity had an earlier meaning about the degree of attraction between atoms, and also has a meaning in computer science - something to do with database concurrency control, whatever that is. But she couldn't mean either of those either.
I started to think, and indeed started to write, about the measurement of radiation; about Becquerels, milli- and micro-sieverts but gave it up in boredom. It's clear she's just copied a word she didn't understand, probably from someone else who didn't understand.
It's no big deal that Alison Kennedy got a scientific word wrong, or that others got it wrong before her. Nor is her concern about Depleted Uranium in itself the sign of a crank. One can't be interested in every issue, and I'm not particularly interested in this one, but here is an IAEA fact sheet and here's a report from the Royal Society for those who are.
It is a slightly bigger deal (a deal about the state of a major newspaper rather than the overturning of all chemistry and all physics) that this poor woman gets it into her head from somewhere that in some way or another depleted uranium shells are as bad as a quarter of a million Nagasakis and puts it all in a panic in her column - spliced with lots of desperate dashes - hamsters - herrings - intrinsicly comic animals great pre-emptive defence against accusations of hysteria - ricin in your crisps - obviously a joke, couldn't really happen - joking reference to self as delusional - acid etched nipples: the new chocolate - if you say so, Alison - self-deprecating pleas for freedom of information - freely expressed in major newspaper - this whole style great pre-emptive defence against having to back up your arguments -
- and no one at the Guardian even gives her a pill.