The Swiss scientists produced a truly excellent report, which has researched every issue and explored every possibility. They do comment that his symptoms fit with the known pattern of Po absorption, which means it is likely to initially cause damage to the intestine and lead to related symptoms.
Forensic science as presented to a court, however, always has to consider scientific results in context.
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In the case of Arafat, the context of his death is what changes their scientific assessment of up to 83 percent probability into an evidential certainty. To start with, a key question is: How likely are we to find these levels — a lethal level according to the Swiss — of polonium in someone who did not die from polonium poisoning? We have some scientific data on this. There are many bone samples of people who died naturally which have been analyzed over the years, and they average out at between milibecquerels mBq per gram of calcium.
That is 18 to 36 times more than the average, even at the time of exhumation. And remember, that took place over eight years later when the Po had been reduced by 21 half-lives. So at the time of his death in , he had over two million times that level circulating in his blood and being deposited in his bones. And the pattern of the results in the clothing stains done in and the bones from the exhumation show that the polonium must have been circulating in him before death. It is only found in actual stains from his urine, his blood and his sweat, and is highest in those bones which have the greatest blood supply.
The results in also show that the Po had been manufactured in a nuclear reactor.
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That means it could not have come from natural sources like the decay of radon. The tiny background level of Po decay of radon produces in humans has been well established by work in the nuclear industry. Just consider how many people have died naturally in the whole world since Only five are known to have died from Po We can work out how likely it is that anyone at all would die of Po poisoning. And it is one chance in many billions. So what are the odds that any person would just happen to have a fatal level in his tissues if he did not die of it?
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The fact that Arafat has a level which would have been way into the accepted lethal range when he died in , now 22 half-lives ago, is beyond dispute from the Swiss results in their report. Toxicologists in general and the Swiss scientists in particular, can never state just from the science that someone definitely has died of, for example, cyanide or strychnine. That is because the person might have then jumped off a bridge, or died under a train, so death due to a poison always depends also on the absence of any other cause being present.
I am sure the Swiss also considered that although he must have had high levels of Po within the lethal range, he could have become ill by coincidence from some other unrelated cause. However, very exhaustive tests were performed by the French Percy Hospital during his final days, without result. Arafat had no other disease, no cancer, and no heart disease. We can summarize just a few of the arguments by anticipating how the courts would assess the evidence. A court would have to ask four important questions to assess the significance of the results:.
Are we satisfied that the results are scientifically correct, and represent levels circulating in life? We are because the Swiss lab is excellent and their analyses are comprehensive; and because there is the conclusive pattern of results on clothing and bone, so the Po results could not have been manufactured by anyone after death.
How likely are we to find these levels of Po in any other person in the world, chosen at random, who has died in the last 50 years? It works out at less than one chance in several billions, even taking the conservative view that some Po accidents may have gone unreported.
A conservative estimate might be 1 chance in 50 or so, even if we do not take into account what the levels must have been in — which would be over 2 million times higher. However, he had no other obvious cause of death.
There is. Should hit the mountain tonight. It probably won't make it down here at all, but best be careful.
Common Sense says
She didn't want to get lost in the memory of that last terrible storm. Of searching the mountain paths for Papa and her brothers. Of never finding any trace of them. Mama had been gone for nearly seven years. Papa and the twins for two. Jasminda cleared her throat to loosen the hold of the past and peered at the old man. He'd lived in this town his whole life, perhaps he knew something she didn't.
Mama's family had disowned her for marrying Papa. Now they wanted Jasminda to disown them. People she hadn't even met. She hadn't thought she could get more alone than she had been the past couple of years. But she had been wrong.
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The price of everything's gone up. Taxes, too, especially on what comes imported. It's the best price I can give. She searched the man's face and found him sincere. Using Earthsong would have confirmed his intentions, letting her feel the truth in his heart, but she didn't bother, instead counting out the money and placing it in his hand.
Bindeen shrugged. I've seen the power of those grol witches.
It's only by the Sovereign's sweet mercy it can't be used to kill directly. Even so, that Earthsong of yours But I've also seen your father put a man's bone back in its socket and heal it up good as new without ever touching him. Jasminda swallowed the lump in her throat. Her papa's Song was so strong. He'd been a good man, bearing the insults and scorn of the locals for decades with his head high. Bindeen's eyes crinkled.
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He patted his good hip. Should be the other way around, I reckon. The sun was hours away from setting, and the journey home would last straight through the night.
She knew the steep mountain paths well enough to negotiate them in the dark; her main worry now was beating the brewing storm. Something about the scent of snow in the air gave her an ominous foreboding. Had the bit of her axe not been worn to a nub, she wouldn't have risked a trip to town so close to the storm at all. She'd reached the edge of the street and was just heading onto the path leading up into the foothills when approaching hoof-beats made her turn.
A huge, black Borderlands pony rode up to her, the county constable astride. I just got an earful from that woman what runs the post station about you. The constable was a jovial, red-faced man whose great belly laugh seemed to echo off the mountaintops. He treated Jasminda like a mischievous child, but at least on most days seemed to realize she was not a criminal.
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