THE HAZARDS OF SOLAR ENERGY
(annotated version).

This document was concocted to exhibit various "symptoms of pseudoscience". It has been used in classroom settings by asking students to identify and comment about the fraudulent arguments and misleading arguments it uses.

Those accessing this document on the internet might have used the "reveal code" feature of their browser to look at the raw HTML code to examine the META tags for information about the author and the way the author describes the document. The description is "Parody of the style of some anti-technology diatribes". Keywords include "humor" and "satire". Also there was this hidden comment:

NOTICE: This document is a parody. It does not represent the views of the author on the subject of solar energy, nor, I hope, of any other person living or dead. This should be obvious to any intelligent person who reads it, but there's a lot of people surfing the net who are literal-minded and not very perceptive. Most won't bother to look here to see the HTML tags, nor will they go to my home page, where this document is linked under "humor". It was written as an example of empty, irrelevant and unfounded arguments woven together in a quasi-logical manner to sound plausible and persuasive. It is a parody of the specious arguments of politicians and of zealous activists who promote a cause passionately in spite of their ignorance of the issues, ignorance of science, and disdain for logic. As humorist Burton Hillis said, "There's a mighty big difference between good, sound arguments and arguments that sound good."
The original document text is shown below on the left. On the right are my comments about its deceptive language and arguments.


Over the years I have heard and read much nonsense, to the point where nothing surprises me any more. Recently an item caught my eye, a pamphlet put out by the Citizens' Reactionary Alliance Concerned with Keeping the Environment Decent. It's a nice example of the style and `logic' common to propaganda pieces from many groups of alarmists and `aginers.'

    — Donald E. Simanek
You'd think that this preamble would be sufficient clue that the person named at the bottom of the paragraph isn't claiming to have written the document that follows (but, of course, he lies). The acronym of the mythical organization supposed to have written it is "CRACKED", which could be a clue also. Yet many readers not only assumed that I wrote the whole thing, but that I that I actually believed it.


Many groups and individuals are proposing that our government spend tax money on research and development of systems to utilize solar energy. They urge construction of vast solar energy collectors to convert sunlight to electricity to supply our energy needs. They would even put solar collectors on roofs of homes, factories, schools, and other buildings. Proponents of this technology claim that energy obtained from the sun will be safer and cleaner than coal, oil, or nuclear energy sources.
This is also a shameless appeal to folks who think the government always wastes tax money, and to those who are automatically suspicious of large government programs. The suggestion that this would be a questionable invasion of technology into every aspect of daily life, even our homes, appeals to those who fear government intrusion into our privacy and personal lives.
We view these proposals with alarm. Unscrupulous scientists and greedy promoters are hoodwinking a gullible public. We consider it rash and dangerous to commit our country to the use of solar energy. This solar technology has never been utilized on such a large scale, and we have no assurance of its long-range safety. Not one single study has been done to assess the safety of electricity from solar energy as compared to electricity from other sources.

Loaded language here: "alarm", "unscrupulous", "greedy", "hoodwinking", "gullible", and all in one sentence! Followed by "rash", "dangerous", and "commit", all with emotional appeal. Characterize the technology as untested, and question its safety. Since electricity is the same whatever its source, the suggestion that it ought to be comparison-tested is simply silly.
The promoters of solar energy cleverly lead you to believe that it is perfectly safe. Yet they conveniently neglect to mention that solar energy is generated by nuclear fusion within the sun. This process operates on the very same basic laws of nuclear physics used in nuclear power plants and atomic bombs!
Suggest that the promoters are trying to decieve, and lying about safety. Use a totally false "danger by association" suggestion, playing on well established (but unfounded) public fears of anything "nuclear". Reinforce this false connection by noting that the processes by which the sun produces light operate on the same basic laws of physics as those in nuclear power plants and nuclear bombs. Doesn't everything going on in the universe operate on the same laws of physics? This is an appeal to unfounded fears, and to scientific ignorance.
And what is the source of this energy? It is hydrogen, a highly explosive gas (remember the Hindenberg?) Hydrogen is also the active material in H-bombs, which are not only tremendously destructive, but produce dangerous fallout. The glib advocates of solar energy don't even mention these disturbing facts about the true sources of solar energy. What else are they trying to hide from us?

This just gets worse. Now we throw in an additional "danger by association" by mentioning hydrogen as "explosive" (misusing that term), and hydrogen's use in bombs. Never mind that hydrogen is a component of water (H20), which we safely drink every day and which is necessary to life. We might as well have mentioned hydrogen peroxide, or hydrogenated fats in foods as being dangerous. (Darn, I missed that one!) Claim that advocates are hiding these facts (always a powerful emotional suggestion).
In addition to the known dangers cited above, what about the unknown dangers, which very well might be worse? When pressed, scientists will admit that they do not fully understand the workings of the sun, or even of the atom. They will even grudgingly admit that our knowledge of the basic laws of physics is not yet perfect or complete. Yet these same reckless scientists would have us use this solar technology even before we fully understand how it works.

Appeal to "fear of the unknown and misunderstood". Unknown dangers "might" be worse. (Couldn't they be negligible?) Suggest that because something isn't fully understood that "anything dire might happen" if we utilize it. (Most people use computers and automobiles that they don't begin to understand.) Equate incomplete understanding with misunderstanging. Loaded language: "reckless".
Admittedly we are already subject to a natural `background' radiation from the sun. We can do little about that, except to stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible. The evidence is already clear that too much exposure to sunlight can cause skin cancer. But solar collectors would concentrate that sunlight, which otherwise would have fallen harmlessly on waste land, convert it to electricity and pipe it into our homes to irradiate us from every light bulb! We would then not even be safe from this cancer-producing energy even in our own homes!
Open with an air of being "reasonable" by admitting that we already are bathed in power from the sun. But then point out that even this everyday reality has known dangers. Suggest that these dangers would be made worse if the sunlight were concentrated for conversion to electrical power, and that those dangers would somehow be increased in strength and imparted to any energy derived from sunlight. Never mind that all the energy of coal and oil that we use was derived from sunlight and that the energy we get from the food we eat came originally from sunlight. Play on fears of technology invading our homes against our will and causing awful results. (If you want a comparison example, recall recent unwarranted public fears of radiation from power lines, and radiation from cell-phones.)
We all know that looking at the sun for even a few seconds can cause blindness. What long term health hazards might result from reading by light derived from solar energy? We now spend large amounts of time looking at the light from television monitors or computer screens, and one can only imagine the possible long-term consequences of this exposure when the screens are powered with electricity from solar collectors. Will we develop cataracts, or slowly go blind? Not one medical study has yet addressed itself to this question, and none are planned.

This builds even greater absurdities, and plays on people's fear of unknown dangers of things they don't understand. Not one medical study has ever addressed the dangers of eating potatoes either, for there's not the slightest evidence or reason to do so. But maybe, just maybe, eating potatoes causes cancer! Some more loaded words people emotionally fear: "cataracts", "blindness".
In their blind zeal to plug us in to solar energy, scientists seem to totally ignore possible fire hazards of solar energy. Sunlight reaching us directly from the sun at naturally safe levels poses little fire threat. But all one has to do is concentrate sunlight, with a simple burning-glass, and it readily ignites combustible materials. Who would feel safe with solar energy concentrators on their roof? Could we afford the fire insurance rates?
Emotional language: "blind zeal". Use a wild suggestion that solar power represents "concentrated sunlight", and compare its effects to a burning-glass. Appeal to concerns for safety. Suggest the economic burden of additional home insurance costs.
These scientists, and the big corporations that employ them, stand to profit greatly from construction of solar-power stations. No wonder they try to hide the dangers of the technology and suppress any open discussion of them.
Appeal to widespread distrust of giant corporations. Suggest that scientists employed by them have sold their souls to the company and cannot, or dare not, be impartial. Suggest that the whole lot is deliberately hiding dangers and suppressiong open discussion of them. The obvious example that will be conjured up in the reader's minds: tobacco companies. It's the "bad apple" principle. Just because you have one rotten apple in the basket doesn't necessarily mean that they are all rotten.
Proponents of solar energy present facts, figures and graphs to support their claim that energy from the sun will be less expensive, as conventional fuel supplies dwindle and technology of solar energy systems improves. But even if this is so, what will stop the solar energy equipment manufacturers and solar power companies from raising prices when they achieve a monopoly and other fuel sources disappear?
Appeal to the general feeling that proponents of any large and expensive proposal will inflate its value and conceal its dangers and side effects. Suggest that costs will be deliberately underestimated, and after a period of low costs has killed all the competition, costs will rise dramatically out of corporate greed. Now this appeal does have historical examples to support it, and is a legitimate concern in many cases. You have to be realistic occasionally in these matters.
Of course every technology has risks. We might be willing to tolerate some small risk—if solar energy really represented a permanent solution to our energy problems. But that is not the case. At best, solar energy is only a temporary band-aid. Recent calculations indicate that the "Sun Will Go Out in a Billion Years As Its Fuel Runs Out" (Source: newspaper headline.) As that calculation was made a year ago, we now have only nine-hundred ninety-nine million, nine-hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-nine years left during which we could use solar energy. Wouldn't it be better to put our human resources and scientific brains to work to find a safer and more permanent solution to our energy needs?
In case anyone hadn't gotten the joke by now, this closing paragraph should give away this game to everyone but the most imperceptive. It is an extrme example playing to the average person's innumeracy and lack of understanding of relative amounts when large numbers are involved. It's so extreme that no one could take it seriously. Mark Twain used this joke in his book Life on the Mississippi.
(c) 1978, 1994, 2002 by Donald E. Simanek, Lock Haven University, Lock Haven, PA 17745.

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