In 1996 the Australian National Health & Medical Research Council (NH&MRC), established an expert committee to oversee and recommend research into the safety of mobile phones. Concerned about the potential involvement of the telecommunications industry in this process, Sarah Benson, a researcher for Senator Lyn Allison, wrote to the NH&MRC in early December 1996 asking about industry representation. On December 30th, Richard Morris, Assistant Secretary of the NH&MRC’s Health Research Branch, replied, stating that members of the telecommunications industry would not be involved. To quote:
In regard to your concern about the involvement of industry in the NH&MRC process, let me assure you that members of the NH&MRC Expert Committee will be active researchers without links to the telecommunications industry. This independence from industry is seen as being of great importance to NH&MRC.
Despite this assurance from the NH&MRC, when it came to appointing a key expert radiation adviser to its EME Expert committee, they chose Dr. Ken Joyner, Motorola’s Director of “Global EME Strategy and Regulatory Affairs” . Dr. Joyner has also represented the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, an industry group, on the telecommunications standards committee and had also represented the Mobile Manufacturers Forum.
Such a complete reversal of their former stance that “independence from industry is seen as being of great importance” was most likely a result of direct political interference by the federal government, which was a majority share holder in Telstra. Joyner had been closely associated with the formulation of government policy on telecommunications. This was seen in the Bioelectromagnetics Newsletter of July/August 1998. In his article titled “Australian Government Action on Electromagnetic Energy Public Health Issues” Joyner’s affiliation was given as representing the Australian Federal Department of Communications and the Arts. Essentially Motorola and the government spoke with one voice.
When asked in the Senate by Senator Lyn Allison about the advisability of Dr. Joyner being appointed to the NH&MRC Expert Committee to advise on submitted proposals for mobile phone research, Minister Senator Richard Allston saw no conflict of interest because (in part):
Dr. Joyner’s involvement in the EME Expert Committee in relation to communications technology is as an individual and not as a representative of the telecommunications industry or his employer, Motorola.
Despite Allston’s assurance of Dr. Joyner’s advice being independent from Motorola’s corporate objectives, it must be noted that Motorola has been active in attempting to influence mobile phone research internationally. For example, Motorola has played a central role in the European Union’s cell phone research effort. This was not without complaints. As reported in Microwave News (1999) there was a fair amount of discontent on part of European scientists with Motorola’s involvement with the EC research and telling European scientists how to spend research funds.
The NH&MRC has long established conflict of interest guidelines for a wide range of possible situations with a requirement for “Disclosure of interests” which applied to membership of the EME Committee. To quote:
In the case of direct pecuniary interest, members may not take part in any decision to which the potential conflict of interest pecuniary interest applies, and must physically absent themselves from all or any part of a formal meeting or other discussion at which the matter in question is being discussed.
If this requirement was vigorously applied then it is difficult to see how Dr. Joyner could have been involved at all when the matter in question was mobile phone research. However this requirement could conveniently be waived because of an opt-out clause that states: “the Chair of the Expert Committee, in consultation with the other uninvolved members of the Expert Committee, will determine the extent to which a member may be involved in the discussion or decision concerning the matter involving the potential conflict of interest”.
In January 2009 Dr. Joyner announced that he was leaving his Director position at Motorola after 12 years and was “looking for new opportunities to work in the telecommunications industry”. Dr. Joyner is listed on the current NH&MRC website (as of Sept 2011) as one of over 700 peer reviewers for the year 2009 which presumably is still current. His affiliation is given simply as “consultant”. It stands to reason that any research results or proposals having to deal with mobile phones would still see Dr. Joyner reviewing that research.
It seems that when it comes to the NH&MRC and telecommunications health research, conflict of interest is just part of the job requirement….Leave a reply →