• 22 OCT 12
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    ICNIRP to the rescue: Downplaying the Italian court ruling on mobile phone use

    I was wondering how long before ICNIRP came out downplaying the recent Italian supreme court ruling finding a “causal link” between heavy mobile phone use and cancer. Now we have ICNIRP’s Paolo Vecchia (below) spinning out the court ruling, claiming that the Italians got it all wrong and what they need to do to improve the “quality” of their expert witnesses in legal proceedings. He recommends that this could be achieved by following the recommendations issued by professional associations such as EBEA and BEMS.

    The problem here is that both of these organizations are firmly tied to the ICNIRP in their approach to science which can be defined as:

    “There is a broad international consensus among experts that the ICNIRP reference values (recommended values for maximum exposure) provide good protection against both the excitation of nerve tissue and harmful heating of body tissues. For exposure at levels below the ICNIRP reference values, the ICNIRP has found no documented adverse effects, despite extensive research. No mechanisms have been identified which could account for any such effect.”

    Ref: http://www.fhi.no/dokumenter/545eea7147.pdf

    One thing that can be said ICNIRP and its ilk is that they are steadfast in downplaying any risks whatsoever from mobile phone use and questioning the credibility of anyone who dares claim otherwise. After all to put it bluntly, individual member’s scientific credibility and standing with their fellow peers (not to mention access to $$$$) very much depends upon strict adherence to the thermal dogma. – Dare I call it a Procrustean Approach!

    Therefore it is preordained that any “expert witness” drawn from ICNIRP affiliated organizations would follow the above statement no matter what the strength of evidence is to the contrary. Its not about objective science but all about maintaining one’s standing with his or her’s peers regardless of the science. This is a deeply engrained bias.

    Perhaps Vecchia would have preferred that the Italian court instead relied upon the expert testimony of his colleague, the esteemed president of BEMS, Dr. David Black who is also a consultative expert to ICNIRP. It was Black who once famously stated on a New Zealand TV documentary that the industry does frequently employ him because they like what he says. The industry certainly likes what he says, after all it was Cable & Wireless Ltd., London who provided Black with “generous support” for his MD thesis through Auckland University. Read all about it here.

    Good that the Italian Supreme court is wise to industry spin and bullshit……


    From Iris Atzmon

    Med Lav. 2011 Mar-Apr;102(2):144-62.
    [“An Italian Court recognizes the occupational origin of a trigeminal neuroma in a mobile telephone user: a case-study of the complex relationships between science and laws”].
    [Article in Italian]
    Lagorio S, Vecchia P.
    Centro Nazionale di Epidemiologia, Sorveglianza e Promozione della Salute – Istituto Superiore di Sanit , Roma. susanna.lagorio@iss.it

    Scientific knowledge is essential for the resolution of disputes in law and administrative applications (such as toxic tort litigation and workers’ compensation) and provides essential input for public policy decisions. There are no socially agreed-upon rules for the application of this knowledge except in the law. On a practical level, the legal system lacks the ability to assess the validity of scientific knowledge that can be used as evidence and therefore relies heavily on expert opinion. A key issue is how to ensure that professionals in any field provide judges with sound advice, based on relevant and reliable scientific evidence. The search for solutions to this problem seems particularly urgent in Italy, a country where a number of unprecedented verdicts of guilt have been pronounced in trials involving personal injuries from exposure to electromagnetic fields.

    An Italian Court has recently recognized the occupational origin of a trigeminal neuroma in a mobile telephone user, and ordered the Italian Workers’ Compensation Authority (INAIL) to award the applicant compensation for a high degree (80%) of permanent disability. We describe and discuss the salient aspects of this sentence as a case-study in the framework of the use (and misuse) of scientific evidence in toxic-tort litigations.

    Based on the motivations of the verdict, it appears that the judge relied on seriously flawed expert testimonies. The “experts” who served in this particular trial were clearly inexperienced in forensic epidemiology in general, as well as in the topic at hand. Selective overviews of scientific evidence concerning cancer risks from mobile phone use were provided, along with misleading interpretations of findings from relevant epidemiologic studies (including the dismissal of the Interphone study results on the grounds of purported bias resulting from industry funding). The necessary requirements to proceed to causal inferences at individual level were not taken into account and inappropriate methods to derive estimates of personal risk were used.

    A comprehensive strategy to improve the quality of expert witness testimonies in legal proceedings and promote just and equitable verdicts is urgently needed in Italy. Contrary to other countries, such as the United States or the United Kingdom, legal standards for expert testimony, such as preliminary assessment of scientific evidence admissibility and qualification requirements for professionals acting as experts in the courtroom, are lacking in our country. In this and similar contexts, recommendations issued by professional associations (including EBEA and BEMS) could play a role of paramount importance. As examples, we refer to the guidelines recently endorsed by the UK General Medical Council and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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