Recently I was contacted by a member of Stop Smart Meters Australia asking me for my opinion on advice they had received that health complaints should be directed to Andrew Wood, head of Bioelectromagnetics and Cellular Neuroscience at Swinburne University of Technology. On the surface of it, Wood’s Bioelectromagnetics group at Swinbourne are well qualified. They have the facilities and well qualified personnel to do research to determine the extent of the adverse health effects now being reported by a number of people in Victoria after a smart meter was installed on their homes, especially when in close proximity to sleeping areas. See: https://www.emfacts.com/download/Comments_on_the_Draft_report.pdf
Looking beneath the surface, however, it gets very murky for there is more to consider than just good academic qualifications. It stands to reason that if these reported smart meter health effects are substantiated by well conducted sleep research (see my recommendations here on pages 9-10) this would not only bring into question the safety of the global billion dollar investment in smart smart technology, but also undermine the very foundations of the Australian and ICNIRP RF standards/quidelines. Fallout from any such substantiation would also affect the telecommunications industry enormously.
So, it stands to reason that any such research must be conducted free of power or telco industry influence – they simply have too much to lose. This was admitted in Telstra’s Annual 2004 Report where it stated, under the heading “Risk factors” that “[t]he establishment of a link between adverse health effects and electromagnetic energy (EME) could expose us to liability or negatively affect our operations”.
Considering all this, common sense would dictate that Telstra should to be kept well away from having a hand (hidden or otherwise) in any research that threatens their bottom line. Unfortunately, common sense is about as extinct as the Tasmanian Tiger when in comes to anything to do with cell phone research in Australia where Telstra and Co. has longed ruled the show.
Unfortunately little has changed since Rodney Croft’s Australian Centre for Radiofrequency Bioeffects Research (ACRBR) lost its funding in 2011 because they did too good a job convincing the government there were no risks – so why continue funding? Croft announced, however, that many of the ACRBR Directors would be able to continue their “research” but no longer under the banner of the ACRBR. A number of the former ACRBR directors then continued their work under the banner of the Andrew Wood’s Bioelectromagnetics Research Group, part of the Brain and Psychological Sciences Research Centre (BPsyC) at the Swinbourne University of Technology which had long been closely associated ACRBR’s activities.
From the Swinbourne University of Technology’s website
The Bioelectromagnetics Research Group explores biological and health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) such as produced by mobile phones, broadcast towers and power lines, particularly how this may affect the brain. It incorporates measurement and analytical tools for assessing EMF exposures in the environment and inside living systems, and an in-vitro laboratory (the Cellular Neuroscience laboratory) for conducting biological experiments. The centrepiece of the Group is the Radiofrequency Dosimetry Laboratory.
Specific research interests include EMF safety exposure assessments, complex modelling of EMF and thermal patterns inside living systems, bioelectromagnetic cellular studies and biophysical aspects of neurophysiological equipment (led by Professor Andrew Wood).
The Radiofrequency Dosimetry Laboratory is jointly funded by Telstra Corporation and the University and consists of equipment formerly used by the Telstra EME Safety group. As well as being available for research projects it is used by Telstra for checking compliance of Telstra’s assets with several Team Telstra employees assigned to the Lab.
Such a close working relationship between the University and Telstra is not new, In fact the Chancellor of Swinbourne University, Mr. Bill Scales (2005-present) was previously Telstra’s Group Managing Director, Regulatory, Corporate and Human Relations, and Chief of Staff at Telstra. He was also Telstra’s Director of IBM Global Services Australia Ltd. and a Director of the Telstra Foundation.
Rather than maintaining an arms-length from industry, Swinbourne has a long history of working alongside industry with a program of Industry-Based Learning that was introduced into Swinburne engineering programs in the 1960s. To quote:
Swinburne’s industry connections extend well beyond the classroom. We collaborate with industry from the earliest stages of research through to commercialisation, drawing on partnerships for resources, financial support and industry-based expertise. We also deliver customised training and short courses to businesses and organisations. Swinburne is a leader in the delivery of workplace training, with more than 15,000 students studying in their workplace. Our students also benefit from relevant and effective industry engaged learning, such as taking an Industry-Based Learning placement as part of their course, working for host organisations. Industry representatives sit on our course advisory boards, ensuring curriculum anticipates the future needs of industry so we can help develop work-ready graduates.
Swinbourne University may well be a suitable academic institution for meeting the needs of industry by conducting product development research and training graduates for a future career in industry. However, an academic institution that is focussed on what industry needs is arguably a highly unsuitable place for conducting research that may pose a risk to an industry partner.
The pitfalls of corporate involvement in academic research was examined in a 2012 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Their analysis examined the effect on scientific inquiry when powerful corporate interests are involved in research. The report found that corporations “exert influence at every step of the scientific and policy-making processes, often to shape decisions in their favour or avoid regulation and monitoring of their products and by-products at the public’s expense”.
The report highlighted five ways how corporations are able to influence scientific inquiry:
1. Terminating and suppressing unfavourable research
2. Intimidating or coercing scientists and academic institutions into silence with threats of litigation and loss of jobs/contracts
3. Manipulating study designs and research protocols
4. Ghostwriting scientific journal articles that actually promote their products.
5. Publication bias (selectively publishing positive results and burying or under-reporting negative results)
Worthwhile reading here is Hamilton and Maddison’s book Silencing Dissent (2007) which exposed how from 1996 to 2007, when the book was published, the Australian federal government systematically undermined dissenting and independent expert opinion in many areas of scientific debate. In effect, the government pursued a style of policy-making where science was stifled where it failed to conform to government policy, which ran parallel with industry policy. This raises the possibility that Australian research organisations that are dependent upon government funding may be predisposed to following government policy of the day, which currently is very much pushing the introduction smart grid technology.
So, who should research reported smart meter health hazards in Australia?
The answer to that question depends very much upon your definition of risk………….
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