Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 67–98 | Cite as

James V. Neel and Yuri E. Dubrova: Cold War Debates and the Genetic Effects of Low-Dose Radiation

  • Donna M. Goldstein
  • Magdalena E. Stawkowski


This article traces disagreements about the genetic effects of low-dose radiation exposure as waged by James Neel (1915–2000), a central figure in radiation studies of Japanese populations after World War II, and Yuri Dubrova (1955–), who analyzed the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident. In a 1996 article in Nature, Dubrova reported a statistically significant increase in the minisatellite (junk) DNA mutation rate in the children of parents who received a high dose of radiation from the Chernobyl accident, contradicting studies that found no significant inherited genetic effects among offspring of Japanese A-bomb survivors. Neel’s subsequent defense of his large-scale longitudinal studies of the genetic effects of ionizing radiation consolidated current scientific understandings of low-dose ionizing radiation. The article seeks to explain how the Hiroshima/Nagasaki data remain hegemonic in radiation studies, contextualizing the debate with attention to the perceived inferiority of Soviet genetic science during the Cold War.


Radiation studies Low-dose radiation Genetic effects Cold War James V. Neel Yuri E. Dubrova 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology Hale Building, Campus Box 233University of Colorado-BoulderBoulderUSA

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