When Crowdsourced Data Meets Nuclear Power

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A couple of years ago, I wrote a story about how the lack of data about radiation levels inside and outside the Three Mile Island reactor contributed to the panic around the meltdown. Yesterday, we ran a mother's account of the trouble she had securing accurate radioactivity measurements from the Italian government during the Chernobyl situation. Back when I wrote the Three Mile Island story, I hoped that better monitoring technology might change that situation for future nuclear disasters.

But as it turns out, there have been similar problems during the Fukushima nuclear disaster. One of the key problems has been that people aren't sure whether to trust the official measurements, no matter how many of them there are. Today, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci addressed the issue of lack of trust in institutions in her essay, "If We Built a Safer Nuclear Reactor, How Would We Know?"

I think I may have seen the beginnings of a way to build that trust in this crowdsourced map of Geiger counter readings from around Japan. It's one thing to blindly trust the experts. It's quite another to doublecheck them with a distributed network of 215 Geiger counters -- forcing them to earn that trust.

This is DIY science with purpose.

crowdsourced map.jpg

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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