In Praise of Amateur Hour

Cocos Island, Guam.
A tourist resort now exists where US Navy sailors once
washed down their ships after taking part in nuclear weapons tests.

In 1905, the man who showed the world the theoretical possibility of the energy in matter (E=mc2) was a Swiss patent clerk who did physics as a hobby. Ninety years later, Mark Purdey was another science “amateur” who revealed some very interesting, additional features of atomic energy.
Purdey was a British cattle farmer who passed up a chance to attend university and instead chose to stay on the farm. Nonetheless, he had to become a self-educated scientist in order to question the logic behind the conventional views of what was causing brain wasting diseases in British cattle. His investigations led him to a sound theory that these conditions were not contagious or spread by feed, but were caused by imbalances of manganese and copper, which were ultimately caused by government imposed applications of drugs and pesticides.
One might, at this point, be tempted to dismiss him as an amateur obsessed with wild, speculative theories, but his ideas were taken seriously by many specialists in the field. Prince Charles lent him support, government officials listened, and reports in the mainstream media took him seriously. Even though he did not dislodge the reigning approach to managing brain wasting diseases, his theories still hold up and seem more plausible as we gain some un-panicked perspective on the 1990’s outbreak of Mad Cow Disease. 
Purdey's obituary in The Telegraph stated, “… his theory failed to withstand scientific scrutiny, a fact that Purdey himself could never bring himself to admit,” but the report also noted, contradicting itself, that it was not a failure to withstand scrutiny but a failure to gain funding for research. Support for proper testing of his hypothesis was abandoned while he suffered mysterious threats to his life and damages to his property. This suggests that the official line is again like the drunk who has lost his keys. The keys were lost in the dark somewhere, but he insists on looking only under the lamppost.
In 2003, Mark Purdey’s curiosity took him to Guam where he investigated another outbreak of neurological diseases. He was interested in anomalies that happened in unique times and places for unclear reasons. Since the 1950s, in one corner of Guam, the native people had been afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer at alarmingly high rates. Government studies had concluded that the problem was related to mineral deficiencies and a naturally toxic diet that consisted of too much fruit from the cycad tree. But this explanation didn’t make sense because the natives had been eating this food for centuries without knowing these diseases.
The scientists who did the official studies were unable to look up from their trenches toward disciplines that could have provided more plausible explanations. A simple regard for the recent history of the area was enough to point to a cause that a good investigator should have been aware of. After the nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands, over 100 navy ships came to Cocos Island, a small island just offshore from the south tip of Guam, to be scrubbed down and decontaminated.
Purdey examined the dead coral around the island and found it was highly contaminated with strontium 90, and other products of nuclear fission. Unfortunately, the native Chamorro people had a custom of grinding up coral and adding it to a chewable mixture of betel nut and papula leaves. He asked whether “… the Chamorros’ unwitting use of the radioactive coral with the betel could represent the most concentrated source of strontium 90 contamination that has ever been endured by the human race.” (In addition to the radiation, there is the officially acknowledged contamination of this small island with PCBs, but this was not the focus of Purdey’s research.)
The most interesting aspect of Purdey’s research is that he applied his knowledge of neurochemistry to raise questions about the effects of radiation that go beyond official research that admits only cancer as a health effect of radiation. Purdey presented an explanation of how the ingestion of radionuclides could affect not only DNA but also protein structures, and the disruption of protein structures are known to be the cause of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s – diseases which have clearly been on the rise since the dawn of the chemical and nuclear age.
The sad irony of Mark Purdey’s life is that in 2006 he died at age 52 from brain cancer, leaving the obvious question of whether he was exposed to carcinogens during his investigations of contaminated environments.
Cocos Island Resort
Mark Purdey’s report on Guam also contains an interesting observation about the Japanese tourists who come to the island. Throughout nuclear history, there are numerous examples of Japanese society running obliviously into the arms of the beast that struck them first in Hiroshima. After the Castle Bravo tests of 1954 irradiated fishermen and the tuna catch, Japan still went with nuclear power and the American light water reactor design that failed and poisoned northern Japan in 2011. In 2003, Purdey ironically observed, “I felt a chilly shiver down my spine as I watched the arrival of yet another boatload of ‘uninformed’ Japanese tourist girls onto the newly developed ‘Cocos Island Resort.’”
This brief summary can’t do justice to Purdey’s work. The links below lead to more information and his accounts of the scientific investigations he conducted during his career.

Read on…

Cocos Island Resort.

Recent evidence supporting Purdey's theory: 
Deloncle R, Guillard O, Bind JL, Delaval J, Fleury N, Mauco G, Lesage G. "Free radical generation of protease-resistant prion after substitution of manganese for copper in bovine brain homogenate." Neurotoxicology. May 2006; 27(3): 437-44.


  1. Thanks so much for writing about Mark's research. I was so stunned when I ran across his research and saddened that I wouldn't be able to talk with him.
    He left us the need to push on. As you know, my mother lives between what was a nuclear bomb plant and a chemical weapons plant and she drank water from two contaminated resevoirs with rivers flowing under that plutonium contaminated bomb factory.
    She has Parkinson's Disease and I have been working on trying to find a link between contaminated soil, air, water and radon and these brain diseases. (I remember now that there were a number of golf courses near there and there are about 3 in our rural area of Japan).
    With help from you and your readers and Mr. Purdey's research and others I have corresponded with, we may find that link.
    Thanks again,
    Amy Uehara, Kanagawa/ Yamanashi border

    1. Hi, Amy;

      It was you who introduced me to Mark's work, so thanks for your help. You can contact Nigel Purdey, Mark's brother, at the Purdey Environmental Page (link above). He gave me some additional information about his brother's research.