Red quasars not so dusty
Webster et al. claimed that up to 80 per cent of QSOs may be obscured by dust. They inferred the presence of this dust from the remarkably broad range of B - K optical- infrared colours of a sample of fiat-spectrum PKS radio QSOs. If such dust is typical of QSOs, it will have rendered invisible most of those which would otherwise have been detected by optical surveys. We used the William Herschel Telescope on La Palma to obtain K infrared images of 54 B3 radio QSOs selected at low frequency (mainly steep-spectrum), and we find that although several have very red optical- infrared colours, most of these can be attributed to an excess of light in K rather than a dust-induced deficit in B. We present evidence that some of the infrared excess comes from the light of stars in the host galaxy (some, as previously suggested, comes from synchrotron radiation associated with flat-spectrum radio sources). The B - K colours of the B3 QSOs provide no evidence for a large reddened population. Either the Webster et al. QSOs are atypical in having such large extinctions, or their reddening is not due to dust; either way, the broad range of their B - K colours does not provide evidence that a large fraction of QSOs has been missed from optical surveys.