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Archive for February, 2013

Radon risk: Real or ruse? |

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Radon risk: Real or ruse? |

Garbage in, gospel out

As an environmental engineer in the radiation engineering consulting industry during the mid-1990’s, I was directed to use similar conservative assumptions to complete risk assessment reports. These final reports were forwarded to the EPA, then to the public. Some of us remember a term invented by computer nerds like myself back in the 1980’s: “garbage in, garbage out.” This means that when inputs to the computer were unreliable, the output should be considered to be unreliable as well. As scientists, we often joked that the term should be “garbage in, gospel out.” It’s easy to arrive at a more dramatic bottom line via computer when you feed in more “conservative” assumptions.

Being conservative is what environmental professionals are expected to do. The reasoning is that it’s better to be conservative — even perhaps extremely conservative — than to have your work called into question for perhaps understating the risk.