CERAD Faces: Thomas Hinton

Tell us about yourself

I am a radioecologist by training (Ph.D., 1989, Colorado State University).  My career has included radioecology positions at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland; Savannah River Ecology Laboratory in the U.S.; Institute of Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety in France; and currently the Institute of Environmental Radioactivity (IER) at Fukushima University in Japan.  Science is a fascinating occupation that has allowed me to research a wide variety of interesting topics; travel the world-over; develop international friendships; and mentor students, while making a reasonable living. I consider myself a generalist rather than an expert in a specific niche of radioecology. Currently, I am working with Dr. Kei Okuda (IER) on dose-effect studies with free-ranging wild boar in Fukushima’s Exclusion Zone.  

Drs. Hinton and Okuda take a blood sample from an anesthetized boar at Fukushima. Note the GPS collar on the boar’s throat.

Drs. Hinton and Okuda take a blood sample from an anesthetized boar at Fukushima. Note the GPS collar on the boar’s throat.


How are you connected to CERAD?

Cheerleader; consultant; critic; collaborator; Prof-II at NMBU and a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of CERAD.

You get a year to research abroad. Where would you go and why?

I am fortunate; I am exactly where I want to be.  I cannot imagine a better place to conduct radioecological research than at the Institute of Environmental Radioactivity in Japan. The work here allows me to contribute to the communities that suffered from the disasters of 2011, study topics that can best be explored through field research, help establish a graduate education program in radioecology, and promote international collaboration (while drinking a bit of sake and exploring one of the most interesting and civil societies on our planet). 

What do you prefer: to teach or to perform research?

I prefer to have students collaborate with me on field research topics, and to do so in a way that it is an intense learning experience, for both of us.

Invite three science heroes for dinner – who would you chose? (Alive or dead)

My first guest would be Eugene Odum (1913-2002). Dr. Odum is considered the “father of ecology” in the U.S., and was a strong proponent of radioecology during its early development in the 1950s. He used radioactive tracers in field experiments to better understand community and ecosystem level processes.  The second edition of his classic book, Fundamentals of Ecology, devoted an entire chapter to radioecology.  He forecast that radioecology would best survive if it merged with other ecological sciences rather than made into a stand-alone discipline.  Last week the International Union of Radioecologists co-sponsored a workshop with the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers.  The workshop, held at the laboratory founded by Dr. Odum, had lofty goals of seeing how we “could get more ecology back into radioecology”.  Dr. Odum’s perspective of the current state of radioecology would make for a most interesting dinner conversation.

My second guest would be Charles Darwin (1809-1882). The dinner conversation would indeed be lively with Gene Odum and Charles Darwin at the table.  Of course the dinner would have to be held on a fine yacht (the Beagle-II) moored on the Galapagos Islands so that my new friend, Charles, could take a stroll and see how things have evolved since his last visit. What fun that would be!  My contributions to the dinner conversation among such intellectual giants would be minimal.  Instead, I would serve as an understudy and trainee to my third guest. 

Such a grandiose occasion proposed by the question needs a grandiose chef and sommelier.  So my third guest would be Marie Antoine Carême (1784– 1833). Carême is listed as a Chef Extraordinaire by Wikipedia and is often considered one of the first internationally renowned celebrity chefs.  Carême “was an early practitioner and exponent of the elaborate style of cooking known as grande cuisine, the ‘high art’ of French cooking: a grandiose style of cookery favoured by international royalty.”

Good science, good company, good cuisine!

Which technical term do you like?

“Hypothesis testing”….it is something that we do not do enough of in radioecology.

Which technical term do you dislike?

All of the non-SI radiation units still used in the United States (e.g., rad, rem, Curie). 

How do you think the system of publication points for scientific publishing should be done?

I did not know of the Norwegian system prior to this question.  Considerable debate appears to be available on the internet about the pros and cons of the system.  Rather than weighing in on that debate, I would like to comment on the general decline of peer review that is taking place in science.  I am astonished at the poor quality of some manuscripts that appear in top-ranked journals.  Unfortunately, careful scrutiny of all the science that you read has become a necessity.  We are all aware of the pressures to “publish, publish, publish”, and how those pressures can lead to unethical practices.  The demands on our time now seem to be impacting our ability to conduct rigorous critiques of manuscripts sent to us for review.  Inadequate review and the subsequent publication of sub-standard manuscripts erodes science.  It causes the public to have additional mistrust of science.  Do good science, and when you have the opportunity, check to see that others are doing good science as well.

Which paradigm shifting or scientific discovery do you wish you were a part of? (in the past or the future)

I would like to be part of a major scientific discovery in radioecology and ecotoxicology that finds a molecular-effects biomarker which is predictive of effects occurring in populations, communities and ecosystems.    

Realistically, I do not think such a biomarker exists because community and ecosystem level effects are generally non-linear, often have confounding variables, and are influenced by indirect effects that are disconnected from anything that might be predictive from molecular level analyses.  However, I hope my skepticism of such a discovery is proved wrong.  If so, I will gladly send a bottle of nice wine to the authors,…..assuming Gene, Charles and Carême leave some behind.

Cheers to you!

Published 19. October 2016 - 12:49 - Updated 23. May 2017 - 19:11