The contentious death of Mr Kuboyama: Science as politics in the 1954 Lucky Dragon incident

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Abstract

This article analyses ties among medicine, science, society and politics by examining a dispute between Japanese and American medical scientists over the death of Mr Kuboyama Aikichi, a member of the crew of the Japanese tuna trawler Lucky Dragon No. 5, who fell ill after he was exposed to the radioactive fallout produced by an American thermonuclear bomb detonated on 1 March 1954. In Japan, he was regarded as the first Japanese victim of the H-bomb, whereas American medical experts challenged this interpretation, suggesting that Kuboyama had been killed by the treatment he had received. The dispute serves as a case study to demonstrate that the interpretation of illness and the medical efforts to identify physical symptoms of radiation sickness have long been more than purely a matter of scientific objectivity. Rather, what we view as objective science is the product of historical negotiations informed by the cultural politics associated with nuclear warfare, the power relations emerging around the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the professional interests of scientists, all mediated by news agencies and newspapers. Studying this debate in its 1950s context leads to the conclusion that scientific findings relating to the effects of radiation are never neutral. © 2013 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-232
Number of pages20
JournalJapan Forum
Volume25
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013

Keywords

  • atomic bombs
  • Cold War
  • illness
  • Lucky Dragon incident
  • radiation

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