Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lynas (Part I): Scientific Evidence???

I read with great amusement of Najib's response towards recent Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL) protest over the operation of Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Gebeng, Kuantan. He said that the public fear over this issue is imaginary and based on scientific evidence, LAMP will not adversely impact the safety of the residents and the environment  [1]. He is not alone, our Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai has reported to say that there's no scientific evidence to prove that LAMP is unsafe [2]. Scientific evidence seems to become the 'template answer' for most if not all of the other Barisan Nasional leaders when asked about Lynas issue. 

I wonder if they really understand what it meant by scientific evidence in safety and health impact context. Let me 'curi tulang' a bit and use the definition of scientific evidence from the Wikipedia (as it is suffice to give readers a general idea): 

" Scientific evidence is evidence which serves to either support or counter a scientific theory or hypothesis. Such evidence is expected to be empirical evidence and in accordance with scientific method......the strength of scientific evidence is generally based on the results of statistical analysis and the strength of scientific controls."  [3]

In Lynas context, when we need to prove scientifically that Lynas is safe or unsafe (hypothesis), there should be a statistical analysis on the historical safety records of rare earth plants that use the same technology and raw materials, controlling/weighting the variables such as socio-political, regulatory, geological etc. 

In proving safety or health impact, scientific evidence should be based on the statistical analysis of the historical safety data and not on what the scientists or engineers say about the technology of the process involved.