Whenever I occasionally see a newspaper headline proclaiming new research has found that mobile phones are perfectly safe for everybody my first thought is: is it industry funded and secondly, who is evaluating the research.
Well, its just happened again. On February 11, 2014 the New Zealand Herald published an article titled Cellphone cancer fear quashed, announcing the release of a ‘new’ report titled Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme, Report 2012 released by the British Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) group. This report gives the findings of 31 individual research projects, funded by the telecommunications industry and UK government over 11 years.
The NZ Herald article painted a glowing picture of unproblematic scientific certainty with statements, such as: A new international study appears to have put to rest the question over whether cellphones cause cancer – they don’t . The newspaper article also stated, under a photo of a young woman using a cellphone, that You can rest easy using your cell phone as cancer fears are quashed by experts.
Next we had the headline from New Zealand’s Dominion Post (Wellington) proclaiming that a “Major study confirms cellphone use is safe” To make matters worse the Dom. Post ran a photo of a small child holding a cell phone with the caption: “Cellphones safe for kids’ New study music to parent’s ears”
This was quickly followed in Australia by the Herald Sun, Feb 12: Mobile phones declared safe. As New Zealand and Australia are time-wise about a day ahead of America and Europe our media had about a 14-hour head start spreading the good news.
So here we have it. At last after all these years of controversy an industry and UK government funded study finds cell phone use (and by implication all other RF devices) are perfectly safe for one and all. Good news for the UK government’s economic policy and good news for the telco industry. A winner all around. We can all now forget about the IARC ruling, and we can forget all about Lennart Hardell’s consistent cell phone findings, which this latest feel-good report has done.
As it not-surprisingly turns out the researchers were jointly funded by the UK government and the telco industry but don’t worry they had put up a fire-wall so that industry funders could not influence the researchers. Never mind that both the UK Government and the telco industry have a huge vested interest in promoting and protecting RF technology against any possible litigation – and that the researchers are well aware that the industry controls the purse strings and if they don’t like what a researcher finds, he, or she might as well start looking for a new job , which are notoriously hard to find in the UK. No worries, however, they have a fire wall that’s about as effective as the old Maginot line was in keeping those dastardly Germans out of France.
Although it is stated in the MTHR report that the group “sees no need for further research in any of the areas addressed by the research that is summarised in this report”, it is stated in the section titled; “Advice on future research priorities”:
In our view, there are important areas in which the UK has well-established research expertise and could make a significant contribution. We consider the following to be priority areas:
a: studies of long-term behavioural/neurological outcomes in children and/or adolescents in relation to mobile phone usage,
b: provocation studies on children,
c: provocation studies to identify neurobiological mechanisms underlying possible effects of mobile phone signals on brain function, including sleep and/or resting EEG,
d: studies in suitable animal models of the effects of early-life and prenatal exposure on development and behaviour,
e: studies in suitable animal models of effects on ageing and neurodegenerative diseases
Not that they are really serious about doing the research, it is all about holding one’s hand out for more funding but at least this is a grudging admission that there are still uncertainties that need to be addressed, and if necessary to be covered up.
It is strange that the MTHR report is dated 2012 but was embargoed until February 11, 2014. This is probably to give some ‘breathing space’ from two other similar UK reports also making similar dismissive claims, all of which have the direct involvement of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), the group responsible for the current industry supported RF exposure limits that only address immediate biological effects (heating). ICNIRP members have long denied the existence of other biological effects not related to tissue heating from acute RF exposures. Their inclusion in the MTHR report therefore introduces a significant level of bias in interpreting research findings, considering two other reports released about the time, also with ICNIRP member involvement.
First is the November 2011 paper from ICNIRP’s Standing Committee On Epidemiology, led by Anthony Swerdlow ,“Mobile Phones, Brain Tumours and the Interphone Study: Where Are We Now?” This report concluded, “although there remains some uncertainty, the trend in the accumulating evidence is increasingly against the hypothesis that mobile phone use can cause brain tumours in adults.” This finding was at complete odds with the conclusion of the International Agency on Research on Cancer (IARC) in May 2011 that RF emissions be classified as a 2B possible human carcinogen and appeared to be a ploy on the part of ICNIRP to counter the IARC ruling.
Second was the April 2012 UK AGNIR report also led by Swerdlow, titled, Health Effects from Radio Frequency Electromagnetic Fields .
This report claimed that although a substantial amount of research had been conducted, “there was no convincing evidence that RF field exposure [from all wireless devices- wi fi, mobile phones, base stations, TV masts, etc.] below internationally agreed guideline levels…[i.e. ICNIRP] causes health effects in adults or children“. In a further support for ICNIRP the report stated that “the evidence suggests that RF field exposure below guideline levels [ICNIRP] does not cause symptoms in humans and that the presence of RF fields cannot be detected by people, including those who report being sensitive to RF fields.” These conclusions were also good news for Swerdlow’s financial holdings which consisted of shares in the telecoms companies Cable and Wireless Worldwide and Cable and Wireless Communications and his wife’s shares in the BT group, a global telecommunications services company.
Dariusz Leszczynski has critiqued the Swerdlow 2011 AGNIR for significant omissions. To quote in part:
Reading it [2011 AGNIR report] feels surreal. Like the authors would either not understand the studies they read or had pre-written conclusions? It is like reading a wish list written by someone claiming that there is not and will never be any problems related to cell phone exposures…. The AGNIR Report puts lots of effort into evaluation of the research on potential causal link between cell phone radiation and cancer. However, the 2011 IARC classification of cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen is not mentioned at all in this report. . . It is obvious that the AGNIR’s members do not agree with the outcome of IARC evaluation. However, complete omission of it feels like rewriting of history and omitting inconvenient facts. In my opinion it shows a very biased attitude of AGNIR members towards the IARC classification.
Read his full comments here:
Now we have the 2012 MTHR report making a similar omission. Even though the Lennart Hardell group’s findings played a significant part in the outcome of the IARC RF Class 2B ruling it is not mentioned anywhere in the MTHR report, not even in the reference section where the Interphone study is mentioned. Is this because the Hardell findings are inconvenient for the MTHR’s goal of giving the all-clear to the telco industry?
Bogus provocation studies
The MTHR study also relies heavily on human provocation studies by Elaine Fox and James Rubin. Both Fox and Rubin are of the firm view that reports of electrosensitivity are not from exposure but from worry. To quote from a statement by Fox:
“Psychologists have long known that worry and anxiety can lead to strong physical changes in the body and that seems to be what is happening to ‘electrosensitives’. Further research is needed but unless well-conducted double-blind studies do show effects of electromagnetic fields on health and well-being, it appears that the worry about mobile phone technology is more dangerous than the electromagnetic fields themselves.”
James Rubin has written similarly:
“If the overall results of more than 40 experiments suggest that it is not EMF that is responsible for causing the symptoms of electrosensitivity, could an other mechanism provide a better explanation? A psychological process referred to as classical conditioning may provide part of the answer.”
So, both Fox and Rubin are approaching the issue with a pre-existing bias based on their reliance on the findings of specifically designed provocation studies to evaluate the reality of electromagnetic hypersensitivty (EHS). This type of study simply consists of exposing subjects who have identified themselves as electrosensitive to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) to see if they can feel when the field is turned on or off. These tests have generally found that the subjects failed to distinguish whether the field was present or not – leading to a conclusion by the researchers that the fields were not the cause of their reported symptoms and therefore the problem may be psychosomatic. Central to EMR provocation studies is the hypothesis that if a person is sensitive to EMR they should be able to feel when the exposure is taking place. If not, it must then be a psychological problem. For example, Rubin and colleagues reviewed over 40 provocation studies on EHS volunteers, referred to above, and concluded that, overall, people with EHS did not react to EMR exposure any differently from the way subjects react to a sham exposure. Thus, the authors suggested that EMR was not the cause of their condition.
A significant weakness of provocation studies when applied to possible adverse health effects of EMR exposure, however, is that by their very design, they limit the definition of electrosensitive persons to those who claim that they can feel when they are being exposed. This definition excludes the possibility that there may be people who are adversely being affected by EMR exposure but cannot feel when they are being exposed. Such an assumption would quickly be rejected if it were applied to ionizing radiation. Another problem in limiting subjects to people who claim to be affected by RF is that it could include people who are influenced by the nocebo effect and thus skew the findings towards a null RF effect finding.
Rubin’s methodology has come under extreme criticism from Dr. Andrew A. Marino, PhD, Director of Research at the Division of Sleep Medicine, Department of Neurology, Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center at Shreveport, LA. According to Marino Rubin’s consistently negative findings are “manufactured by employing experimental designs and statistical analysis that were virtually guaranteed to produce negative results”. As a result of this biased analysis Rubin can come to “the conclusion that EHS sufferers have a purely psychosomatic disease, a viewpoint that has untold benefits for his clients and funders, particularly the cell-phone companies”. . . “The natural consequence of his work is to stigmatize EHS sufferers as neurotics who need the care of a psychiatrist, not an internist or allergist.” Marino concludes that it is scandalous that scientific journals, such as Bioelectromagnetics, publish “the results without properly vetting them, and without insistence on simultaneous publication of conflict-of-interest statements”.
Read Marino’s full comments here (scroll down to Rubin)
The usual suspects: ICNIRP /IEMFP Membership on the 2012 MTHR report group
Both the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and the International EMF Project (IEMFP) within the WHO were established by Michael Repacholi. Members of IEMFP are tasked with doing the RF risk assessment for ICNIRP/WHO. Although ICNIRP / IEMFP claims on being independent from industry, an interplay is endemic to the process with members consistently supporting industry wishes. This can be a significant problem ( or opportunity, depending upon one’s viewpoint) whenever ICNIRP members also serve on other bodies. In the case of the MTHR group the following individuals have this connection:
Dr. Michael Repachiol, industry consultant founder and Chairman Emeritus of ICNIRP http://microwavenews.com/CT.html
Dr. Zenon Sienkiewicz, member of the Main Commission, ICNIRP
Dr. Emily van Deventer heads the WHO’s IEMFP (risk assessment)
Alastair McKinlay formerly with IEMFP and former Chairman of ICNIRP
Closely allied with the above is Dr Simon Gerrard: expert adviser to the WHO on risk perception and communication matters and first Director of the WHO-inspired European Risk Communication Network funded in part by the UK Electricity Association.
Then there is Professor Les Barclay, a member of the industry trade organization the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) which bills itself as “The world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology.
And then we have Professor Niels Kuster who in 1992 was Invited Professor at the Electromagnetics Laboratory of Motorola Inc in Florida, and who’s current research interest is currently focused on the area of safe on/in-body wireless communications and related topics.
Thus, without delving into the qualifications of the rest of the people on the MTHR Programme Management Committee, the above gang of like-minded true believers will have had a huge influence in the MTHR report’s findings.
Considering the MTHR report’s limited reference base; its reliance on government and industry funding, both who are promoters of RF technology; its avoidance of mentioning contrary findings such as from Hardell’s group; an inevitable scientific bias by inclusion of ICNIRP / IEMFP and like minded members; and its use of questionable provocation studies, this report is more spin that science. Rather than being a new “state of the art” scientific review the 2012 MTHR report is but just another industry-influenced spin designed by its limitations to give a false sense of public health safety on behalf of the telco industry where none exists.