Exposure and Effect: Measuring safety, environment and life in Asia

11-12 October 2014
A workshop organized by Lisa Onaga & Harry Wu
School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


The issue of ionizing radiation interacting with the environment has become a disaster to think with in Asia following the catastrophes in northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011. Awareness of radiation in post-disaster sites, the environment, and in workplaces, has lodged anxieties inseparable from everyday life and various imagined futures that implicate societies beyond the archipelago. The spaces and places of Asia bear no exception to the history of modern life sciences efforts to understand the relationships between varying exposures to different substances (not only ionizing radiation) and their various effects. The normalization of anxieties about “exposure and effect” suggests how the chronic radiation issue in Japan represents a galvanizing consciousness about how people of different locations and languages around Asia may be grappling with the consequences of industrial developmental models that seem irreversible within a single human generation.

In order to understand why such anxieties of the future have arisen within Asia, it has become necessary to gain a deeper historical comprehension of what the post-industrial, post-disaster moment means to humans inseparable from the biotic world. In this workshop, analysts whose research sites, archives, and interests are situated within Asia have been invited to explore uncertainty, transparency qua opacity, experimentation, risk, and trust surrounding a series of questions that transcend multiple disciplinary and geographical worlds: How have people investigated the relationships between the minimal rates of exposure to potentially harmful substances and effecting a change in life? What sorts of deliberations and judgments have been constructed through processes of ascertaining safe dose rates for a substance, not just ionizing radiation? How have understandings of the historiography of scientific causality resonated within Asian history of the life sciences, including epidemiology and environment? How have the difficulties of pinpointing the relationships between cause and effect, whether discussed in terms of gross deformities, point mutations, latent illnesses, or in ecological changes, been handled within Asia? To what extent have these discussions or scientific efforts been transnational, and what have the consequences of collaboratively- or nationally-produced science thus been? To what extent have different views in Asia about the role of the environment in engendering generational change informed scientific positions about how the environment interacts with a life form’s hereditary constitution? Highly reflexive discussion of these questions should contribute to a greater knowledge base that bears implications for understanding how to navigate and narrate the problem of living with chronic uncertainty about life itself.

By using the cross-hairs of unnatural disasters and biology studies, conventional questions in existing disciplines—such as about technocracy and modernization development, gene-environment interactions in history of biology, and cultural explanations for disaster—can be brought into deeper conversation with environmental studies of Asia in order to develop new scholarly strategies for studying the inheritance of industrialization.

Exposure and Effect: Measuring safety, environment and life in Asia (11-12 Oct. 2014) is sponsored by Centre for Liberal Arts and Social Sciences in collaboration with the History Programme and the Humanities, Science, and Society Research Cluster (HSS@HSS) at Nanyang Technological University, and Teach 3.11.

All events will be held at the Conference Room HSS-05-57 except the film screening, which will take place at the HSS Auditorium.

Day 1: 11 October 2014 (Sat.)

Date/Time Topic
10:00 – 10:30 Welcoming Addresses
10:30 – 12:30 Panel 1: Institutional Responses and Imaginaries

  • Riding the Whirlwind, Directing the Storm: The mental health unit experts of the WHO on peaceful use of atomic energy. Harry Yi-Jui Wu, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  • An epidemiology without end: The Radiation Effects Research Foundation and scientific planning for unknown future risk. Susan Lindee, Visiting Professor, IDEC, Hiroshima University, Japan; Janice and Julian Bers Professor of the History of Science, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Chair: Sulfikar Amir, Nanyang Technological University

12:30 – 13:30 Buffet Lunch
13:30 – 15:30 Panel 2 Negotiating Genetic Histories in Japan

  • International Genetics Symposia in 1956: Discussing Lysenkoism and radiation in postwar Japan. Kaori Iida, The Graduate University for Advanced Studies (Sokendai) Hayama, Kanagawa, Japan
  • Measuring the particular: The metamorphosis of low dose radiation effects research in Japan. Lisa Onaga, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Chair: Tyson Vaughan, Asia Research Institute and Tembusu College, National University of Singapore

15:30 – 16:00 Tea Break
16:00 – 17:45 Film Screening: A2-B-C, followed by Q&A with filmmaker Ian Thomas Ash. (HSS Auditorium)

Day 2: 12 October 2014 (Sun.)

Date/Time Topic
9:45 – 10:00 Coffee & Tea
10:00 – 11:00 Panel 3, Ecologies of Radiation, Part I

  • Consequences of Radiation in the Environment for Individuals, Populations and Ecosystems: Lessons from Chernobyl, Fukushima and Other Hot Places. Timothy Mousseau, Visiting Professor, Chubu University, Nagoya, Japan; Professor, University of South Carolina, USA

Chair: Miles Powell, Nanyang Technological University

11:00 – 11:10 Break
11:10 – 12:15 Panel 3, Ecologies of Radiation, Part II

  • Taidan:  Orbiting in the field: Ecology and filmmaking in Tōhoku Japan

Moderators: Lisa Onaga & Harry Wu

12:15 – 13:15 Lunch
13:15 – 15:15 Panel 4, Disciplines Engaged

  • Challenging Mainstream Science: Trichloroethylene and Female Electronic Workers’ Occupational Diseases in Taiwan. Yi-Ping Li, National Yangming University, Taiwan
  • Money and Mercury: Minamata Disease and the limits of Japan’s Postwar Democracy. Robert Stolz, University of Virginia, USA

Chair: Rohan Williams, Singapore Centre on Environment Life Sciences Engineering, Nanyang Technological University

15:15 – 15:45 Roundtable Discussion
Publication Planning
The Exposure and Effect Working Group Reading List on Teach311.org
15:45 – 16:00 Closing Remarks

(by order of the programme)

Riding the Whirlwind, Directing the Storm: The Mental Health Unit Experts of the WHO on Peaceful Use of Atomic Energy

Harry Yi-Jui Wu, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

This paper examines the role and function of advisory experts of the Mental Health Unit during the early years of the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding their assigned task to study the impact of atomic radiation on mental health. The Mental Health Unit of the WHO was created according to the International Congress of Mental Health held in London, 1948, as a taskforce to facilitate international collaboration on mental health research and postwar mental rehabilitation. During the first decade since its was in effect, the Unit was reluctant in proposing systematic research apart from conducting study groups to meet the objectives and priorities defined by the United Nations. These study groups covered a wide range of topics associated with issues world citizens collectively faced during the immediate postwar period, such as the psychobiological development of children, psychological impact of automation and industrialization, and the transforming purpose of psychiatric hospitals. Among them, the Study Group on the peaceful uses of atomic energy was formed to find means of preventing or attenuating undesirable mental effects during the period of technical change. The Study Group, nevertheless, was closed in 1959 according to the agreement between the WHO and International Atomic Energy Agency, which prevented health scientists to speak autonomously at odds with the WHO’s stated objectives in the field of radiation protection. “Riding the whirlwind, directing the storm” was written in the concluding remark of the Study Group by the experts to explain their ineffectual role, limited function and suspicion while facing the years of uncertainty coming ahead. By examining the structure of the WHO, the activities of its Mental Health Unit and the collective or individual pursuit of involved experts, this paper attempts to reconsider relationship between science and institutions, and the distance between scientific idealism and the realpolitik of global health governing.

An epidemiology without end: The Radiation Effects Research Foundation and scientific planning for unknown future risk

Susan Lindee, Visiting Professor, IDEC, Hiroshima University, and Janice and Julian Bers Professor of the History of Science, University of Pennsylvania

Scholars in science and technology studies have long been interested in the ways that technical risk configures modern and post-modern life–how it shapes health policies, daily experience, state power and economic systems. From Ulrich Beck’s analysis of the “risk society,” to more recent studies of responses to climate change, environmental disasters like Hurricane Katrina, risk assessment in biomedicine and clinical care, and other scientific and medical domains, questions of how scientifically-mediated risk functions in institutional and social contexts have become important in our field. Risk is, at one level, an elaborate technical invention, a meaning-machine, codified in quantitative terms, requiring consensus standards for agreed-upon levels that trigger institutional action. At another level, it is viscerally embodied, engaged with the direct study of suffering and trauma, and with the moral and social problem of anticipatory trauma. By no means is the world of risk calculation void of moral order. It is about the modern moral order of who can suffer, when, and why. Studying the systems that produce the rules about risk is a way of seeing or excavating the 21st century distribution of vulnerability and safety. In this paper, I explore the history and contemporary practice of a particularly compelling scientific institution, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF), where the processes of imagining responses to risk can be excavated. RERF has emerged as a possible permanent center for risk calculation–now expected possibly to outlive the atomic bomb survivors that have been the focus of the institution’s research for almost 70 years. I consider the anticipated futures that have shaped its research program, and its emerging role as an international resource for radiation risk.

International Genetics Symposia in 1956: Discussing Lysenkoism and radiation in postwar Japan

Kaori Iida, The Graduate University for Advanced Studies (Sokendai), Japan

Various scientific and sociopolitical interests affected differently how geneticists in Japan and the U.S. discussed two controversial topics of genetics: Lysenkoism and radiation. In this paper I discuss how Japanese geneticists’ various goals affected the discussion of these topics, through the analysis of the International Genetics Symposia in 1956, the first international conference hosted by Japanese geneticists. This meeting was an important occasion for the Japanese to display the nation’s postwar recovery and reconnection with the international community. In addition, the conference was the first international meeting of genetics for Russian scholars to attend since 1932 and the first occasion for the American Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission to present a report on their investigations. Therefore the Symposia stimulated widely discussions of Lysenkoism and radiation. Japanese geneticists’ discussions were shaped partly by their long-standing interest in the role of environment and cytoplasm in heredity. However, both Lysenkoism and radiation were sensitive political topics domestically and internationally. I discuss how Japanese geneticists’ interests—such as advancing a scientific theory, facilitating the internationalization process, and shaping an appropriate image of their discipline domestically and internationally—affected the discussions of the two topics in the mid-1950s in Japan.

Measuring the particular: The metamorphosis of low dose radiation effects research in Japan

Lisa Onaga, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

A goal of the Fukushima Health Management Survey (FHMS), in addition to monitoring and treating the health of the residents of Fukushima Prefecture following the 2011 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and the associated nuclear disaster, is to determine whether long-term low dose exposure to radiation will bear an impact on human health. This paper seeks to understand why that question about the low dose became paramount in Japan and how it shaped the work of geneticists of nonhuman systems. Inquiries about the effects of radiation exposure, especially following the 1954 nuclear fallout incident in Bikini Atoll, posed great importance for articulating different models of low dose effects that were jockeyed for credence in Japan and elsewhere. Considering the particularities of organisms, research methods, and environments in Japan, prominent geneticists grappled with how they could accurately test and measure low dose effects and ultimately produce results that could contribute to an international corpus of knowledge. These efforts also gave rise to new research directions and development opportunities. Focus on silkworm genetics, one of Japan’s major research programs of the twentieth century, shows how scientists rallied about and negotiated the low dose topic during the late 1950s and 1960s in lieu of returning to a fallout-free past. Ultimately, consideration of these processes is used to understand why the historically dominant linear no-threshold model for low dose effects of radiation came to the fore and how the posing of the FHMS today engenders scrutiny of it.

Consequences of Radiation in the Environment for Individuals, Populations and Ecosystems: Lessons from Chernobyl, Fukushima and Other Hot Places

Timothy A. Mousseau, Visiting Professor, Chubu University, Nagoya, Japan; Professor, University of South Carolina, USA, and Anders P. Møller, CNRS – University of Paris-Sud, France

Recent empirical studies and literature surveys provide strong evidence for significant biological consequences of low dose-rate radiation such as that found in Chernobyl and Fukushima affected regions, as well naturally radioactive regions of the world. These effects are observed at all levels of biological organization from DNA to ecosystems and in many cases suggest significant injuries stemming from the Chernobyl and Fukushima radiological disasters to individuals and populations that can impact ecosystem functioning. Most of these studies have been actively ignored by governmental and intergovernmental organizations (e.g. United Nations organizations IAEA and UNSCEAR) because they were not conducted specifically with nuclear regulatory ends in mind. However, it is evident that a greater effort must be made to consider the implications of these recent findings not only for the plants and animals of these regions, but also the human populations in the surrounding areas.

Taidan: Orbiting in the field: Ecology and filmmaking in Tohoku Japan

Ian Thomas Ash & Timothy A. Mousseau

Over the past few years, filmmaker Ian Thomas Ash and biologist Timothy Mousseau have orbited around each other in the course of their fieldwork in and around Fukushima, Japan. One traces human stories; the other tracks signs of biological change in wildlife. Both have and continue to pursue important questions about the exposure of bodies to radiation. What conversations may arise if Ian Ash and Tim Mousseau are brought momentarily into the same gravity well? What new insights may be drawn about the difficulties, challenges and futures of conducting work in the field that has come to be known as Fukushima? Taidan is the Japanese term for a face-to-face public dialogue. In this taidan, the filmmaker and biologist engage in a series of questions that we hope will provide provocative and constructive food for thought.

Challenging Mainstream Science: Trichloroethylene and Female Electronic Workers’ Occupational Diseases in Taiwan

Yi-Ping Lin, National Yangming University, Taiwan

For decades, the health effects of trichloroethylene (TCE) have been neglected by international regulation bodies. However, TCE had devastating consequences in Taiwan. In 1972, there were several cases of liver disease and sudden death of young female electronic workers in the Philco and Mitsumi factories in Taiwan. It was believed that these young female workers suffered from the acute intoxication of TCE from their worksites. In 1974, TCE was banned in Taiwan, and the government promulgated a law to protect workers’ health and to regulate solvent usages. Twenty years later, in 1994, the RCA (Radio Corporation of America) factory in Taiwan was impeached for polluting groundwater with TCE, perchloroethylene (PCE), and other industrial solvents. Subsequently, former RCA workers, who had been diagnosed with cancers, organized to voice their health concerns and potential exposure to the environmental and occupational hazards. In 1998, the government responded by initiating research in animal experiment, environmental health risk assessment, environmental epidemiology, and occupational epidemiology. These public health studies, however, did not sufficiently verify correlation between industrial pollution and health. Up until 2014, the RCA toxic tort remained unsettled.

Following a strategy utilized in feminist epistemology, I explore what happened historically at the margins of mainstream scientific medical research on the health effects of TCE. I trace the industrial applications of TCE, the rise of young female electronic workers in Taiwan, and how the scientific evidence of health effects and TCE toxicity was produced in the Western countries. I relied on archives that included news reports, government archives, company magazine, and scientific papers published in Chinese and English. I also conducted in-depth interviews with former RCA workers, members of the labor movement group, government officials, lawyers, and scientists.

Money and Mercury: Minamata Disease and the limits of Japan’s Postwar Democracy

Robert Stolz, University of Virginia, USA

With the tragedy at Fukushima academics in the humanities and social sciences have turned their attention to physics, physiology, and ecology, in an effort to avoid technologizing the problem—conceding the ground to the work of engineers. What “toxic events” like Fukushima show us is, in fact, the mutual penetrations of the natural and the social. But as bad as the current crisis may be, a further danger, is to focus on the unprecedented nature of Fukushima. Previous cases of environmental crisis already prefigured the chaos of categories and methods adequate to a disaster like Fukushima. From the 1960s to today academics such as Kurihara Akira and Ui Jun to doctors such as Harada Masazumi, activists Ogata Masato, and artists like Ishimure Michiko have all been studying the enormity of the issues spawned by the outbreak of Minamata Disease (methyl mercury poisoning) since its discovery in 1956. These efforts have coalesced around a new form of thought: Minamatagaku (Minamata Studies)—itself an earlier version of Yanaka Studies (Yanakagaku) from the early 20c Ashio Copper Mine Incident. My paper will investigate the not only the methods of Minamata Studies. It will also explore the possibilities opened up by conceiving of Minamata disease not as a singular event, but as a discipline (学) and a political practice potentially beyond civil society (市民社会) or NIMBY politics (住民社会).

Ian Thomas Ash, Filmmaker, Tokyo, Japan

Ian Ash earned an MA in Film and Television Production at the University of Bristol, UK, in 2005. His first feature documentary, ‘the ballad of vicki and jake’ (84 min/ UK/ 2006), received the Prix du Canton Vaud prize at the 2006 Visions du Reél International Documentary Film Festival in Nyon, Switzerland. At the 2012 Rhode Island International Film Festival, Ian’s film ‘In the Grey Zone’ (89 min/ Japan/ 2012) won the “Audience Choice Award First Prize for Best Documentary”, and at the same festival Ian was presented with the “Filmmaker of the Future Award”. Ian’s film, ‘A2-B-C’ (71 min/ Japan/ 2013), received the “Nippon Visions Award” (best film by new-coming Japan-based director) at the 2013 Nippon Connection Film Festival, Germany, the “Best of Festival” award at the 2013 Guam International Film Festival, and the award for “Best Documentary” at the 2013 STEPS Rights Film Festival, Ukraine. Ian has lived in Japan for 10 years and currently lives in Tokyo.

Susan Lindee, Professor, Visiting Professor, IDEC, Hiroshima University, and Janice and Julian Bers Professor of the History of Science, University of Pennsylvania

Professor Susan Lindee is the Janice and Julian Bers Professor of History and Sociology of Science and Associate Dean for the Social Sciences, School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. A distinguished historian of science, Dr. Lindee has special interests in the history of genetics, gender and science, science and popular culture, and science and war. Her books include Moments of Truth in Genetic Medicine (2005); The DNA Mystique: The Gene as a Cultural Icon (1995, with Dorothy Nelkin); and Suffering Made Real: American Science and the Survivors at Hiroshima (1994). She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Burroughs Wellcome Fund 40th Anniversary Award and support from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation. She has been a member of the Penn faculty since 1990, and she spent ten years as a journalist before earning her Ph.D. in History and Philosophy of Science from Cornell. She is also associate dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.

Kaori Iida, Assistant Professor, Sokendai, Hayama, Japan

Assistant Professor Kaori Iida holds two Ph.D., the first in Genetics from Pennsylvania State University, and the second in History of Science from Johns Hopkins University. Her dissertation was entitled “Practice and Politics in Japanese Science: Hitoshi Kihara and the Formation of a Genetics Discipline.” Currently, she is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Evolutionary Studies of Biosystems, The Graduate University for Advanced Studies (SOKENDAI), in Hayama, Japan.

Yi-Ping Lin, Associate Professor, National Yang-Ming University

Yi Ping Lin is Associate Professor at the Graduate Institute of Science, Technology and Society at National Yang-Ming University, Taiwan. Previously trained as a public health and health policy expert, her research interests cover environment and gender issues of health, epidemiology, medical anthropology, risk management and communication. She has been following ex-workers’ collective lawsuit against RCA company and published extensively on related issues.

Timothy Mousseau, Professor, University of South Carolina

Professor Timothy Mousseau received his doctoral degree in 1988 from McGill University and completed a NSERC (Canada)  postdoctoral fellowship  in population biology at the University of California, Davis. He joined the faculty at the University of South Carolina in 1991 and is currently a Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences. Professor Mousseau’s past experience includes having served as Dean of the Graduate School (2010-11), Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Education (2010-11), Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education in the College of Arts & Sciences (2006-10), as a Program Officer for the Population Biology program at the National Science Foundation (1997-98), on the editorial boards for several journals, and on NSF, USGS, and a variety of international grant foundation advisory panels. He recently served on the National Academy of Sciences panel to analyze cancer risks in populations near nuclear facilities.

Lisa Onaga, Assistant Professor, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Lisa Onaga is an assistant professor in the History Programme at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. She is finishing a book that examines the intertwined histories of Japan’s pursuits of the ideal silk cocoon and the mastering of heredity. She was previously a postdoctoral fellow at the U.C.L.A. Institute for Society and Genetics, and earned her Ph.D. in Science & Technology Studies from Cornell University. Her research interests include agricultural craft, biological experimentation, and engineering life in relation to modern Japan. She also serves as the project leader of Teach311.org.

Robert Stolz, Assistant Professor, University of Virginia

Robert Stolz is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Bad Water: Nature, Pollution, and Politics in Japan 1870-1950 (Duke University Press, 2014), and editor and contributor of Tosaka Jun: A Critical Reader (Cornell University Press, 2013).

Harry Wu, Assistant Professor, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Harry Yi-Jui Wu is an Assistant Professor of Medical Humanities at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He was previously qualified as a medical doctor with further psychiatric training in Taiwan and psychoanalysis in the UK. He received his D.Phil. in History from The University of Oxford. His research interests include the history of international health organizations, cultural aspects of mental health and medical humanitarianism. Currently Harry teaches at the History Programme and Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

NTU Map:


Getting to and from campus:

A summary of the public bus and shuttle bus services.


Campus Hotel (Nanyang Executive Center):

Website: http://www.ntu.edu.sg/nec/Pages/default.aspx

Address: 60 Nanyang View, Singapore 639673.

Telephone: +65 6790 6699 / +65 6790 6697

School of Humanities and Social Sciences:

Website: http://www.hss.ntu.edu.sg/Pages/Home.aspx

Address: 14 Nanyang Drive, Singapore 637332

Eating on campus:

There are quite a variety of food options on campus:



In addition to Google maps, this map is helpful (especially because it has the subway exits labeled): http://www.streetdirectory.com/

Subway (MRT) map: http://www.smrt.com.sg/Trains/NetworkMap.aspx


Taxis are relatively cheap in Singapore. Here are some taxi numbers:

Comfort: +65 6555 1188

SMRT Taxi: +65 6369 0111

Transcab: +65 6555 3333

Public transport:

Public transport is generally cheap and efficient, although it won’t take you everywhere. The website can be found here, although it’s not very useful.

If you’re staying for longer than a couple of days, we recommend getting an EZ-link pass. When we last checked, these cost $12 and come with $7 worth of value (ie. the card costs an unrefundable $5). These can then be topped up at any station. A subway ride between Pioneer MRT and downtown costs about $1.50.

Things to do:

National Museum of Singapore: http://www.nationalmuseum.sg/NMSPortal/

Asian Civilisations Museum: https://www.acm.org.sg/home/home.html

Singapore Science Centre: http://www.science.edu.sg/Pages/SCBHome.aspx

Singapore Botanic Gardens: http://www.sbg.org.sg/

Gardens by the bay: http://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/en/home.html

Singapore Zoo: http://www.zoo.com.sg/

Night Safari: http://www.nightsafari.com.sg/

River Safari: http://riversafari.com.sg/

Jurong Bird Park: http://www.birdpark.com.sg/

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