After BioEM 2013: Quo vadis bioelectromagnetics debate?

The post below was also submitted for publication to the Editor of the Newsletter of the Bioelectromagnetic Society and it was confirmed that it will be published in the next issue of the BEMS Newsletter.


Last year I reported directly from the BEMS 2012 meeting room via twitter. This year I tried to report directly from the BioEM 2013 meeting via posts on this my science blog “BRHP – Between a Rock and a Hard Place”.

Many of the meeting participants, and non-participants as well, logged already during the meeting and afterwards to the BRHP.

The interest caused by my posts on BRHP was a clear sign, at least to me, that the members of both Societies appreciate this kind of reporting, “hot” from the meeting.

Even more appreciative were those interested in the bioelectromagnetics issues but unable to participate in BioEM 2013. I think that the practice of direct reporting during the meeting should be continued, and even expanded, in the future. There is a clear need for it.

My trial-reporting was not comprehensive. It was not designed to report in comprehensive manner on all science presented at the BioEM 2013. Therefore, anyone, reading my posts on BRHP, should keep this in mind.

At the end of the meeting I asked some of the prominent scientists of their opinions about the science presented at the BioEM 2013.

I sent the following message to 11 scientists:



Now, that the BioEM2013 is over, I would like to present a brief summary of what happened in Thessaloniki. However, I would not like it to be just my opinion. I would like to ask your opinions in form of responses to the three questions below.

I intend to publish your opinions as such on my science blog site.

I think that it would be of service to the scientific community and of use for the organizers of the future BioEM meetings.

Please, let me know ASAP whether you are willing to respond or just simply send responses to my questions.

Please, add also as sentence where you agree that your answers will be published on my science blog.

Answers will be published as such. I will not comment on anything. To keep the thing timely, please, send your answers, if any, ASAP.

Three questions:

A.      Progress on what research topic presented at BioEM2013 you found to be most interesting.

B.      What research topic you consider obsolete and it simply annoys you that it continues from meeting to meeting.

C.       What important, in your opinion, research topic was missing from the BioEM2013.

Thank you a lot for collaboration.

Best wishes,



Out of 11 scientists 4 provided answers, 4 declined to provide answers and 3 did not respond at all to repeated request.

The four who provided answers were:

Quirino Balzano:

Since the first meeting of the Bioelectromagnetic Society (1980), the open questions for weak signals still remain: what is the EM signal sensor of the cells and what is the mechanism of its selectivity.

Phil Chadwick

The problem I see is that this is very subjective. So things I don’t have any professional interest in, like electroporation, I might consider obsolete, but in fact I know that for many people it is of great interest. Similarly, I really welcomed the sessions on occupational exposure, but I am sure that for people not active in that area they were simply irrelevant and maybe tedious.

It’s the nature of our Society that it has several main strands of interest which don’t really overlap

So my answers should be read in that light.

  1. Occupational. I think  that practical applications (whether public health, occupational or medical) are the way the meeting will move as the funding for basic science declines
  2. I think that is maybe too subjective a judgement. If I had to say something, I might say the plenaries that simply review a subject (like the one on mechanisms). People familiar with the subject usually find them deficient in some way and those not familiar are usually not so interested.
  3. Public health policy

Rich Nuccitelli

I think this is a great idea [the questions] and hope that I am not too late to respond.

  1. Most interesting: Use of pulsed electric fields to treat cancer

I found that the results reported by Olga Pakamova on the distinction between nanosecond pulsed field-induced apoptosis and necrosis due to cell swelling was the most interesting. By preventing the cell swelling with increased osmotic pressure, the apoptotic effect could be enhanced.

  1. Obsolete topic:

I cannot identify any that were not of interest to a large number of participants

  1. Missing topic: 

There were no plenary presentations on “Biological Applications of electric or magnetic fields, both endogenous and manipulative in both plants and animals”. This is a very broad area of research that is important to include in the BioEM program and will attract more participants to the meeting.

Lukas Margaritas

A. Progress on what research topic presented at BioEM2013 you found to be most interesting.

The best gift a new technology can give through research to humanity should be related to health issues besides entertainment through wireless gadgets. In this perspective I found very interesting the electroporation work and all other studies related to cancer treatment.

B. What research topic you consider obsolete and it simply annoys you that it continues from meeting to meeting.

Since RF exposure has no similarity whatsoever with drug administration, where the exact concentration can be measured in the blood or any tissue, any attempt to estimate by simulation the absorbed RF energy at every point (in the nanoscale) of an exposed biological sample (human head, body, other tissues, animal models, cells in culture) is rather impossible given the complexity and the dynamics (spatial and temporal) of the cell machinery. Also, studying the “translational” effects we should have in mind that all model systems used in vitro or in vivo have never before been exposed to radiation unlike humans who have been exposed during the last decades and possibly have developed tolerance or sensitivity to RF exposure. Therefore, “translating” animal data into human health hazards is very complicated. After so many years of intensive research the debate between thermal vs. non-thermal effects and positive vs. negative effects still exists. I am not saying that simulation research is useless, but simply that is too far away from real life conditions simply because people are normally exposed to a variety of sources and at varying intensities and modulations. The time spent to these sessions could be given to other topics (see below).

C. What important, in your opinion, research topic was missing from the BioEM2013.

Related to A and B above I would like to see in the next conference very extensive tutorials and grouped presentations on the following topics:

a)     Exposure conditions and SAR calculations of irradiated cell cultures, animals, humans

b)     Handling of lab animals before, during and after exposure.

How can we compare results when both a) and b) are different but the approach is the same (i.e. MAPK activation) since the stress response is considered very critical and can simply derive from bad handling of the animals and not by RF exposure. During these sessions which must be coordinated by qualified scientists, we can discuss the pros and cons of each treatment and end-up with valuable conclusions.

NB1. The EMF scientific area is so diverse in terms of exposure conditions, systems used, approaches applied etc, so that there is need for concerted research actions between laboratories. Otherwise, every year we shall discuss the same arguments all over about the possible health hazards. Hopefully the treatment of cancer and possibly of other diseases is a very promising outcome of EMF research. In addition, it is I believe the role of BEMS/EBEA very crucial to inform people of all ages and conditions about some safety rules of using wireless technology, and why not adopt the ALARA principle. Such a topic would be very useful to have the society showing that it cares about peoples’ health.

NB2. Finally, not related to the questions A-C, it would be valuable having some statistical information as those presented during the BEMS general assembly for the Journal, but here I am referring to the presentations of the BIOEM2013 meeting. Such statistics could include, a) countries participated, b) research groups and number of presentations (oral, invited, posters) by topic, c) going deeper, a Table summarizing the conclusions in a coded form (i.e. 2.4GHz, cells, SAR or V/m, no/yes effect) would be useful but I admit it is difficult to prepare. Since, I have the strong feeling that the controversy of conclusions is deriving from differences in the exposure setup and overall conditions, such information might help a lot to organize a special session in comparing results from identical experimental approaches.

Last but not least Posters should be all given a 4-5 min presentation opportunity upon the author(s) request.


My [DL] final comments

I do not have idea why 4 scientists declined to respond and 3 did not respond at all. I know all of them well and I know that they have their opinions and are vocal about them in one-on-one or small group discussions. Why now they were “shy” to provide the answers?

There is a lot of talk about some kind of “apathy” within the Societies. Scientists are interested to go to the meetings and that is all. May be the example comes from the upper-brass of scientists. If they do not care, the example goes down to the rank-and-file scientists… Scientific debate becomes very rare. During the meetings discussion times are short. As I observed in BioEM 2013 even these short discussion times were “too long” for the lack of scientists interested in asking questions.

We are facing no discussion at the meeting sessions and no discussions afterwards, because scientists are “shy” to provide on-the-record opinions…

One could paraphrase the title of the book of the Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz, for which he got the Nobel Prise. The book was: Quo vadis?

I am asking: Quo vadis bioelectromagnetics debate?

[more about the unwillingness of scientists to engage in free and open scientific debate read in my “The Round Table Initiative” blog]


8 thoughts on “After BioEM 2013: Quo vadis bioelectromagnetics debate?

  1. Marko: this is exactly the approach we took for the Hot Topic session this year. 2 speakers to put 2 sides of the issue briefly as an introduction, then a prolonged panel/round table discussion.

    We also had workshops around a particular issue (3 this year) and the format there could easily allow more debate and less didacticism. I would encourage anyone with ideas for such “round tables” for 2014 to submit them via the call I identified in my earlier post.

  2. Dariusz,
    You are correct, however the entire structure of the program does not allow discussion in dept of a given presentation: 15 min and you should go. For that reason I believe that the round table on one well prepared topic is very useful. In 2004 we did such round table in the Kos workshop.

  3. Marko, a very good points. I am with you on all of them. The problem at BEMS meetings is that nobody want to stick out and criticize research of others. Brief discussions after the presentations are usually very “gentle”. Seldom are presenters really “grilled” for what they have done. I tried to push for more debate by introducing sessions topic in focus at BioEM 2009. Unfortunarely, in front of the audience debateers were shy and polite and debates were boring… Not everyone, or rather seldom are cases, when scientist is ready to stand up and be critical where criticism is justified.

  4. I am dissatisfied of the way BEMS meetings were handled in recent years.
    The Society meeting is a ceremonial one and do not discuss at all the society problems.
    For years I was suggesting that round tables are scheduled in a way to discuss problems of general importance – for example how to make a study possible to be replicated, i.e. what the protocol requirements should be.
    Also, the Bioelectromagnetics Journal needs to have a list of mandatory descriptions of the study protocol – this should be discussed in the society meetings – probably at the round table.
    What are relationships of BEMS with WHO, ICNIRP, IARC etc. – another topic for discussion – not as platform presentations but as round table

  5. Dear Dariusz: I was a charter member of the BEMS. Years ago, during meeting in Airlie, VA, while the BEMS was erected, the main idea was to unify everybody involved in the area. Starting from biologists and medics, throught physicists and engineers till lawyers. The idea was forgotten and now the BEMS is dominated by the first group. Even a publication on the pages of Bioelectromagnetics a paper of technical nature is almost impossible. Thus, my opinion, many biomedical experiments are done in conditions that do not fulfil basic technical requirements. As a result you may obserwe disagreement between results of “identical” experiments performed in different labs. As regards as the cellular telephony. The situation is similar. For instance: the majority of experiments and estimations are done taking into account only HF while, at the same time, you have there LF H-field and wideband MF noise. May be here is a source of disagreement between laboratory experiments and epidemiological observations. It is evident, without fully correct experiments it is not possible to draw correct conclussions. However; who does it remember? Regards: Hubert

  6. For those from the outside of BEMS and EBEA societies, Phil is Phil Chadwick, President-Elect of BEMS and Co-Chair of the Technical Program Committee for the BioEM 2014, Cape Town, South Africa.

  7. This debate is going where most debates go when huge economic interests confront difuse social needs.

  8. Thanks for this Dariusz. It’s useful input for BioEM2014.

    As you know we’re currently asking for (structured) suggestions for workshops & plenaries for BioEM2014 from BEMS & EBEA members. If people currently outside the Societies have ideas that would encourage them to come to our meetings then we’d like to hear them also. Details on the BEMS Facebook page.


    I’m with you 100% on the need to get more debate. Ideas on that also welcome!

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