Guest blog from Stan Hartman on precaution and scientific proof

This is the next in a series of guest blogs on BRHP. The opinions expressed in it are of Stan Hartman himself. Publication of these opinions in BRHP does not mean that BRHP automatically agrees or endorses these opinions. Publication of this, and other guest blogs, is an attempt to start an open debate and free exchange of opinions on RF and health.

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Stan Hartman is an environmental health consultant in Boulder, Colorado, specializing in measurements of DC and AC magnetic fields, radon and other ionizing radiation, and non-ionizing radiation in the kilohertz to high microwave range. He is also a technical editor, and has worked on books by Devra Davis, Joe Mercola, Magda Havas, Camilla Rees, and others.

How insisting on scientific proof becomes virtual approval of environmental crime

I’m indebted to the great German sociologist Ulrich Beck for some of the thoughts that follow. Hopefully sciences like sociology, as well as biology, epidemiology, and the “hard” sciences, are welcome in forums on environmental pollutants, since the root cause of any industrial damage to public health is not this or that chemical, drug, form of radiation or field but negligent or immoral human behavior – to be blunt, greed, selfishness, or at best ignorance. And any solutions to these insults to society and the rest of the biosphere have to come from changes in human motivation and behavior, from an awakening of awareness of the consequences of such behaviors and the attitudes behind them.

And a strictly scientific attitude is not enough to make social decisions from, though as a society we have certainly done that in the past, as when Oppenheimer and others were willing to risk, as far as they knew, a worldwide conflagration of the atmosphere and the destruction of life on our planet to see if their atomic bomb “worked.” Wide-ranging decisions based on “hard science” alone are irresponsible, and eventually just bog down into “paralysis by analysis.” When scientists insist that no connection is verified between possible causes and damaging effects, that’s “good” science but can result in illogical and potentially horrible public health decisions. If the risks are real, as they were in a multitude of cases in the past, the insistence on the highest scientific standard of accuracy as a basis for decision-making, when data is lacking, contradictory, or unclear, results in the delay or neglect of countermeasures and the increase and dispersal of the danger and damage. It equivalents to scientific approval, intentional or not, of the risks.

Proof of causality in the present state of industrial civilization, with its tolerance of countless forms of unprecedented pollution, is virtually impossible, considering not only how many of these potential causes need to be considered but the unimaginable number of possible interactions between them. How, except in the most obvious cases, can anyone ever prove that this is the one cause of specific damage to public health, and how, as a society, can we tolerate anyone, whether manufacturer or addicted consumer, to essentially sanction that damage solely on the basis of its cause being unproven? 

That way lies madness and destruction, and the only responsible alternative is the insistence upon the precautionary principle, howls of protest from industries and their friends notwithstanding.

It was housewives, not scientists, that stopped the condoning of Love Canal, but they didn’t do so proactively but only after it was too late to save their own children from being horribly damaged by the pollution. A good case could be made that since then the entire nation and much of the world has been turned into a Love Canal – not only its soil but its water, atmosphere, and ether – made more and more difficult to expose because the risks and consequences of its crimes are coming to be considered normal hazards with impossible-to-define causations, and the people most harmed by them are often those who have come to depend on them to such an extent that they close their minds to the dangers. Even the environmental and ecology movements turn their faces away from the risks of the wireless industry. Is it not clear where all this is leading?

Take the phony claims of “acceptable levels” – are they not really just reassuring-sounding admissions of ignorance? The industry behind Love Canal and its friends in politics and elsewhere dismissed their victims’ claims as just an anomalous cancer cluster that simply happens now and then, until grass roots pressure forced them to clean it up and the damage stopped – coincidentally, as I suppose some rationalized it – and resulted in a new definition of “acceptable.” How can anyone claim to establish “acceptable” levels of a pollutant of any kind anyway, knowing that it’s a pollutant? This is especially relevant to pollutants which have never been examined for their long-term effects, which includes RF and millions of chemicals the public is exposed to every day – billions and trillions if you count the possible interactions between them, and between them and the RF pollution. 

How about a public health policy based on no pollutants? Has this idea been consigned to the realm of unrealizable, utopian ideals – in other words, to the realm of things which no one should even think about anymore? Because we could never be perfectly successful with such an endeavor should we not attempt it at all? Do we not care about future generations if it means we have to threaten our present lifestyle? Have we lost faith in our creative ability to come up with replacement technologies that do no harm? Do we really need all this stuff, or have we just grown so dependent on it that we don’t want to think about alternatives, regardless of how our dependence may affect the future of humanity and the rest of life on the planet? Isn’t this the moral equivalent of meth-head parents enjoying their high even if it kills them and letting their sick and hungry kids fend for themselves? 

I can hear some people thinking, “But doesn’t that mean that we’ll have to outlaw everything?” No – no more than does coming to the conclusion that you can’t eat whatever you want whenever you want if it tastes good if you want to stay healthy, that you can’t drive as fast as you want whenever you want wherever you want if you don’t want to kill yourself or someone else – etc. 

What the solution to this crisis amounts to is really the necessity for our culture and its leaders in every field to grow up, meaning among other things giving up the habit of dismissing the importance of things there’s evidence for just because we don’t want them to be real. It means living by the precautionary principle just like good parents do, without thinking you’re being a Chicken Little, or caring about others thinking that. It would be great if we were living in a society where CEOs and everyone else were so trustworthy, caring, and sane that we could just leave our doors unlocked, the keys in our cars, and our children to play and go wherever they want, as was pretty much the case when I was growing up in an inner city neighborhood many years ago which really was an urban village that looked after its own. Since then we’ve gone uphill in many ways – including a lot of really beneficial technology – and downhill in many others, and if we’re going to be grownups we have to take a hard, unselfishly appraising look at what we’re in the habit of overlooking.

Of course there will be intense resistance, even within ourselves, to such a change of attitude, from those who think they’re benefitted by the insanity of the present status quo. But there is just no other option. It’s not a question of preference but survival, and we can’t wait for future generations to take the action this crisis demands now.

 

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28 thoughts on “Guest blog from Stan Hartman on precaution and scientific proof

  1. I agree Dariusz, this page is fine. No problem. But whether one participates – or continues to participate – in a more fractious debate is a personal choice, and for me there is a trigger level at which I just can’t be bothered. It becomes too much like an argument about politics or religion – pointless, and of no benefit to anyone

  2. Phil, when you step into debate then it is your choice and you need to accept that some times debate gets heated. So far I do not see serious problems with this debate. And believe me, there are, from time to time, coming such comments that you would not include them in move fro adults shown after midnight… That is why I am acting as gatekeeper and all comments are screened that they do not contain really insulting wording. Heated debate – yes. Insulting debate – no.

  3. Dariusz, I have more enjoyable things that I can do than try to wade through a load of insulting posts to find something worth reading and responding to. If people want to turn debate into a fight then OK, but I shall not bother to read beyond that point. Cost/benefit suggests that it is better for me not to 🙂

  4. Professor:

    I agree that the comments should remain but I disagree when you say it was not insulting. In addition to the excerpt above it included the following:

    “You sank so low on the level of moral corruption and unprofessionalism”

    “…and then you provide your childish, contradictory explanation from above.”

    “…that is, if you know what ‘science’ is,…”

    Mountjoy’s comment which was no worse:
    —————–
    “Regardless of which area of science you believe should study this issue, assigning the term ‘Voo doo science’ to psychology indicates your lack of understanding of science as a whole.

    Folks typically assign such demeaning names to areas less understood but usually, when one reaches beyond adolescence, this stops. ”
    ——————————–

    Elicited a “Thank you for your insulting comment.” from you.

    It’s great that Dr. Rubin responded to the article — and he did so cordially. You should have responded to Rick. The “Voodoo Science” title was an albatross that both encouraged heaping insults on Dr. Rubin and put you in a position where you were to weak to rebuke Rick. Remember what you wrote in your article criticizing Lerchl:

    “The critical evaluation of the Yale study, which is not perfect, is one story but ‘ridiculing’ attempts are absolutely inappropriate.”

  5. Phil, there are better and worse comments, but to be able to get the general picture one needs to listen to all kinds of comments… Unless the comments contain threats or insults. Comment you quoted was not very nice but it was not threatening and not vulgar or insulting. Heavily disagreeing – yes. And such comments about “worthless” research you can hear in personal discussions at the conferences, though not often authors of such comments “dare” to put them in writing… Chickens or conformists?

  6. “Go look how Dr. Rubin was treated by one anonymous poster in your “Voodoo” article:

    “You are as unprofessional and unethical as one can imagine. Go and do your homework, Dr. Rubin, and learn about ethics and professionalism, and integrity in science, and that should happen even before you start designing your sham and worthless studies that are nothing more than garbage.”

    I was very uncomfortable with this. It stopped me contributing to that article. And I completely cancelled my login to Dariusz’s newspaper column when I saw the same issue there swamped with personal attack stuff.

  7. Phil:

    Wow!

    I thought I was the only one who felt this way on this blog! It’s in everyone’s interest for uninterested parties to play the leading role. The great success of the anti-wireless movement has been the myth of their “independent” science. But if you do some research and check the sources of funding its’ obvious they stack the deck to produce results that favor their position.

    If you really wanted to setup some experiments they would need to be managed by people outside this debate. I think that a person like Daniel Kahnemann would make an ideal referee for EHS tests. He’s a Nobel Prize winner, is probably well set financially, knows how to run experiments, and is unlikely at this stage in his career to destroy his legacy by compromising his integrity. I’m sure there are others — I just don’t know who they are.

  8. More than conflict of interest Dariusz, and also rather less in many cases Everyone in this debate has invested personal or professional kudos into their “side”. And people on both sides make their living out of it.

    Everyone has a vested interest, everyone is compromised one way or another. Not only is there much less moral low ground than some would have you believe, there is also precious little high ground. And there is nothing at all wrong with that unless you enjoy only simple black/white descriptions of a multicoloured world.

  9. Yes, conflict of interest is on both sides. I wrote about it and both sides minded… BRHP…

  10. BironEMF said:

    “My question is given the blatant conflict of interest why should we trust the anti-wireless movement any more than the wireless industry?”

    I could not agree with this more. Everyone has a vested interest and pretty-much everyone involved in the debate, on both sides, has invested either their career or their credibility or their personal beliefs in the issue.

  11. “3) The PP regarding wireless technology? I’d guess it means better quality information available to the public to make their own decisions on what they want to do.”

    Actually it doesn’t. I really suggest you look up what the PP is about. Its a tool for taking action in the absence of certainty at scientific (95%) confidence levels but when there is evidence at the level of (say) a public health trigger of more-likely-than-not or even “reasonably forseeable”.

    Just giving people information (what information ? written by whom and saying what ?) and leaving them to make decisions for themselves is not an invocation of the PP.

    Now there may be a case for more information for users of RF technology, and there may be a case that actually most people couldn’t care less and wouldn’t welcome it. But that isn’t the PP.

  12. I was also hoping for a discussion of the PP. I don’t see one. It might be worth actually looking up the legal definition(s) of the PP and some of the case history of its application.

    “I can hear some people thinking, “But doesn’t that mean that we’ll have to outlaw everything?” No – no more than does coming to the conclusion that you can’t eat whatever you want whenever you want if it tastes good if you want to stay healthy, that you can’t drive as fast as you want whenever you want wherever you want if you don’t want to kill yourself or someone else – etc. ”

    This makes little sense to me. Sorry. If you are advocating a life without pollutants then good luck to you, but it really does require that we don’t farm, have any of the stuff of modern life and basically go back to an ultra low population density based on something like stone-age hunter-gathering. Even my bicycles would not be permitted. So I guess that what you actually mean is minimising toxins in the human environment. Sounds fantastic, but as you say bang goes my morning coffee and every internal combustion engine on the planet. I could live without coffee, I guess, but most of what I eat has some degree of toxin content. And I bet you’d struggle to convince people to walk everywhere.

    What I’m missing is the actual case for treating RF as a toxin, with proper risk numbers derived from published papers, and a context for precautionary measures based on reduction of that risk as a cost/benefit exercise within the context of how that fits with strategies we use for other agents & substances. That’s what the PP is about. It’s not simply a tool for people to demand whatever restrictions on technology fit their beliefs.

  13. Topzag,

    A correction – I was never Presodent of Bioelectromagnetic Society. I was candidate for the Presidency in 2009 but lost… Interestingly just before the election I started my BRHP blog and some said that it did not do good to my candidacy… No wonder… I was for two terms on the Board of Directors.

    I mix with all sides of the debate. Both sides have some valid and some not so valid points. In order to appreciate or criticize one needs to listen to what is said, no matter whether one agrees or disagrees with what is said. That is my motto…

  14. 1) Agree with you completely

    2) I am not fond (understatement) of the people with whom you associate.

    In Dariusz’ defense, and not knowing how long you have been following the EMFs debate, that’s really not his fault. Not that long ago he was president of the Bioelectromagnetics society and spent far more time associating with members of ICNIRP and the like because … well, because of circumstance basically. In trying to mix with both sides, the pro-wireless scientists (not particularly a fan of anti-wireless or pro-wireless as terms, as scientists should fundamentally be neither) made the decision of treating Dariusz differently, not the other way around.

    It’s actually really very difficult indeed to try and act as a conduit for debate from both sides, as I know from painful experience in trying to help the Radiation Research Trust arrange an international scientific conference (working with Mike Repacholi, Anders Albohm, Lennart Hardell and Michael Kundi amongst others to attempt to maintain balance).

    The hardest people to please were definitely the pro-wireless group, who threatened to pull out entirely on more than one occasion if their desires weren’t met regarding who was or wasn’t speaking.

    3) The PP regarding wireless technology? I’d guess it means better quality information available to the public to make their own decisions on what they want to do.

    4) I agree with Dariusz. Everyone expresses opinions behind a veil of anonymity. You can’t call out for someone else’s identity if you keep yours to yourself without seeming like you’re trying to deliberately take an unreasonable advantage of the “you aren’t qualified to say that” card.

  15. Biron, I do not intend to answer to this your mumbo-jumbo. You do not make sense. I am not your puppet to do whatever you like. I comment when I think comment makes sense. Right now your postings do not make any sense and I will not engage in this futile pseudo-debate…

  16. “You seem to know a lot about their personal motives without having any contact with them,”

    I have some idea of what motivates celebrity scientists just like I know what motivates Wall Street.

    “they have much more to lose from exaggerating their cases than they do from telling the truth as they find it.”

    Hardly — fear sells, more fear sells more. When you are a celebrity, exaggeration works. Miley Cyrus showed us.

  17. Professor:

    You do not answer my questions.

    First, you asked me to “explain your own conflict of interest if you have it.”

    I answered and then you stated: “Your self-statement that you have no conflict of interest is worth big fat zero, as long as it is not possible to verify.” Great, that’s the price of anonymity but why did you ask me for my conflict of interest in the first place?

    More important, and PLEASE ANSWER why you harass me and leave anti-wireless anonymous

    Your other statement is incorrect….

    “In this context your complaining about others, also like you hiding behind ‘screen name’, is worthless and hypocritical.”

    I’m not complaining about them at all — you should everyone post unless the violate the terms. I’m complaining that you persecute me for questioning anti-wireless pundits and authors. It seems like other anonymous posters can do as they please so why do you target me?
    PLEASE ANSWER.

  18. Biron,

    Your self-statement that you have no conflict of interest is worth big fat zero, as long as it is not possible to verify.

    In this context your complaining about others, also like you hiding behind “screen name”, is worthless and hypocritical.

  19. Thank you Darius and Stan; My heart needed to read something like that. It is good that people know that not all people who live in America are capitalist.
    Thank you
    Patty the Microwave Auditory sufferer

  20. Hi, Biron – re the industry & greed, I didn’t paint everyone in the industry with that brush. I’m sure many are simply ignorant and don’t really want to know about any hazards from their products. I’m sure when they see their children or grandchildren putting iPhones to their heads, they aren’t at the same time thinking that they’re being exposed to potentially lethal radiation hazards, or that when they put their own phones in their pockets that they’re jeopardizing their unborn children or the DNA in their own sperm and the health of future generations. But as I said toward the end, they need to give up the habit of dismissing the importance of things there’s evidence for just because they don’t want them to be real. There are still a lot of smokers who do the same. As for the evidence, if there were as much evidence as there is for the risks of the technology as there were for a new pharmaceutical or new pesticide, it would most likely never have been approved in the first place, at least in Europe – the precautionary principle would have prevented it. It’s like the Wild West in the U.S., though, when it comes to new products, and of course the federal government that’s supposed to be protecting us is dependent for a lot of its income on the wireless industry and other industries that, to be fair, because of the nature of corporate law here, could be sued by their shareholders if they put public health ahead of profits. Why such a system is still legal is beyond me, but here we are.

    Re the people you say I associate with, I think most of them would hardly call it that – I’m a consultant whom many of them have never met, though we may have spoken briefly on the phone, and I never hesitate to tell them if I need to that something they’re thinking or writing isn’t quite accurate – that’s what they pay me for. You seem to know a lot about their personal motives without having any contact with them, but in the present ethical atmosphere, which is kind of like the atmosphere in 19th century hospitals when Semmelweis was trying to get his colleagues to wash their hands before delivering babies, they have much more to lose from exaggerating their cases than they do from telling the truth as they find it. To me they’re very courageous people who risk their careers and funding by speaking out against the irresponsibility of hugely powerful industries they see around them that are always ready to attack their credibility and motives and manipulate and distort real science to do so. Many have lost their jobs or funding in the process. Keeping your integrity as a scientist in our present state of semi-civilization can be very costly.

    When they can grab the public’s attention, I applaud them for doing so, because who else is going to tell people what they seriously need to know? And like good doctors or good generals, they’d be very happy if there were no more need for their services, and I would be as well – I can think of a lot more creative things to do than trying to clean up the mess the various polluters constantly leave behind them and trying to prevent them from making even bigger ones in the future.

    I guess the answer to your last question is “Sure – but how would I live with myself if I let that potential determine who I am?”

  21. Professor:

    I have no conflict of interest other than being a user of technology. Please read my posts — I agree that the wireless companies are very greedy and would most probably protect themselves and not admit to effect. I am in favor of pursuing civil (criminal if they are egregious) complaints for billing abuse. I have warned people that there are tools that are showcased to them that soak consumers. I do not love or protect these companies. Period.

    Once again, however, their greed is not evidence of harm from RF emissions. Pro sports is greedy to — that does not mean that jerseys and baseball cards are toxic!

    Can we get this straight?

    I need to remain anonymous and I understand that I carry no imprimatur for my science background.

    However, there are other posters that are anonymous and who complain about wireless emission. There were at least two on the Repacholi blog — aabbcc1122 and dyr. There were many more on the Washington Times blog. Did you confront them? No you did not. How come?

    Some anonymous people present their own anecdotal evidence — they are in effect testifying about their affliction and you do not require them to identify themselves!

    It appears that this is a one-way street. On BRHP and WT you can complain all you want anonymously about scientists who claim no effect, but do not dare to complain about those who make a living finding effect.

    Go look how Dr. Rubin was treated by one anonymous poster in your “Voodoo” article:

    “You are as unprofessional and unethical as one can imagine. Go and do your homework, Dr. Rubin, and learn about ethics and professionalism, and integrity in science, and that should happen even before you start designing your sham and worthless studies that are nothing more than garbage.”

    No complaint from you — how come? This is your double-standard.

    So continue to harass me and give anonymous posters who tow the anti-wireless line a free pass — then tell me you are not taking sides.

  22. Biron,

    Since you are yourself hiding behind “Biron”, I think it is completely inapropriate of you to ask others, who like Stan, idenitfy themselves by name and profession (read intro to Stan’s blog), to ask more detail about themselves, just to satisfy your zest for “conflict of interest”.

    First, Biron, explain your own conflict of interest if you have it, and only then ask others. If you are hiding yourself – do not ask others to explain about themselves. This is double standard Biron…

  23. Stan:

    I have several questions about this article.

    1) It overplays the industry-greed card. We know industry is greedy. I’ve seen seminars that boast of having analysis tools that can extract higher fees from subscribers without mentioning any benefits to the subscribers. I’ve had some unpleasant surprises playing my wireless bills and I’m convinced that many wireless practices are unethical if not outright illegal. Nonetheless all of the corporate greed and deception is not evidence that wireless technology is harmful at the current levels. The only thing we can infer is that if the technology is harmful, we cannot expect industry to be forthright.

    2) I am not fond (understatement) of the people with whom you associate. These celebrity scientists promote themselves on talk shows, muscle into community issues such as wifi in schools, author books or have consulting practices. They are leaders in anti-wireless commerce.

    My sense is that anti-wireless commerce targets the most ignorant and vulnerable subjects. They have no chance of convincing scientifically trained readers and they are not interested in any scientific discussion. All of the arguments are addressed to people susceptible to their pitch. Just like the wireless providers, they seek to extract money from clients.

    I also if those at the highest echelons of anti-wireless commerce are genuinely interested in reducing emissions. They know wireless is here to stay and its success is key to growing their business through fear.

    My question is given the blatant conflict of interest why should we trust the anti-wireless movement any more than the wireless industry?

    3) I’m not clear on how you wish to apply the PP to wireless technology.

    4) Please describe your profession as related to this issue. I’m curious if there is potential for conflict of interest.

  24. I’m not sure what you mean is inaccurate about Love Canal, which was a case of chemical pollution, not radiation, unless you know something about it that I don’t. If so, please share. I also don’t understand how you conclude that the blog is far from the title – the precautionary principle is at the heart of it, as the remedy, or part of it.

  25. In principle I may agree with most of considerations in this blog, however it is very far away from the title. I was expecting to read about precautionally principle.
    The story of Love canal is not accurately presented. If one does not know the story, will not get reallistic opinion about the heavy radiation pollution at the suburb of Buffalo

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