UPDATED on 22.10.2013 with reader’s comment and response to it (see at the bottom of this post).
News media, especially TV, should be both, informing and entertaining, and do it in a brief text or video. That is why, when journalists try to tackle some large issues, the outcome is somewhat disappointing – too little time and space to explain issues thoroughly. This is one of the reasons why I begun to keep this ‘BRHP’ science blog in 2009 – to be able to explain things more thoroughly…
I have given frequently interviews for various news media for the last 15 years and, following my skype interview with Daniel Bushell of the RT TV ‘The Truthseeker’ show, I was wondering how much of my interview will end up in the program.
Not much – were my answers not enough “radical” and too much “BRHP” (=moderate)? But, of course there might be also a very prosaic reason too – the low quality of my skype connection…
However, this is not the point. The point is that the program touched up a very important issue. As with any TV show it exaggerated things, for my scientific mind, but this is TV…
‘The Truthseeker’ show on cell phones and health, entitled ‘‘Casualty catastrophe’: cell phones and child brains’ is worth watching. It asks many questions and shows that we have not many answers…
For those interested what I was talking about with Daniel Bushell, here are questions and answers that I provided:
Daniel Bushell – your 2002 research on phone radiation biological impact: if this is confirmed to have consequences for health, could there be a need to tighten FCC exposure safety standards and potentially change our behavior around cell phones, and cell phone base stations? Has there been further studies from yourself or others that may corroborate those findings?
Dariusz Leszczynski – The general finding from my research group was that living cells respond to mobile phone radiation by activation of stress response. It is way of cells protecting themselves from the damage. This observation means that living cells recognize mobile phone radiation as potentially damaging agent and trigger protective counter response. Activation of stress response was then a “hot potato” issue and few studies were done. Some did not find this effect. But there is some half-a-dozen studies showing this effect. To me it is clear that mobile phone radiation induces biological responses in cells. Whether it causes, down stream, pathological changes to normal physiology it remains to be seen. This topic was not pursued very much due to lack of funding. Yes, the FCC should revise the exposure safety standards and there is a particular reason for it, though not coming from the above mentioned research. Namely: In 2011 WHO classified mobile phone radiation as a possible carcinogen. Main reasons for this classification were epidemiological studies showing increased risk of brain cancer among the avid users using mobile phone for over 10 years. Now comes the punch line: in these epidemiological studies people were using regular, off the shelf, mobile phones that are meeting all current safety standards. However, epidemiological studies have shown that using these safe cell phones people may increase the risk of getting brain cancer. To me the logical conclusion is that the safety standards are insufficient and should be changed.
DB – Can you give an example of how the industry tried to smear your reputation or your studies? (this seems to be an regular tactic)
DL – In my case industry just used the influence to prevent funding of my research
DB – How much of the science on the subject in the popular media would you estimate unreliable, due to industry influence?
DL – There is a lot of misinformation of two kinds: some by under-estimating the risk, other by over-estimating risk. Neither has good grounding in the available science. We still do not know what risk we are dealing with. We only know that the risk is possible and that is why we need to examine it more closely by targeted research. Not to study everything but to examine some very specific biomedical questions. Why still do more research – because billions of users might be potentially affected and it would be very expensive for the society. Much more expensive than setting good research program now.
DB – Does industry behavior suggest that it is putting profits above potential risks to health?
DL – Business is done for profit. Industry applies all safety standards imposed on their products by committees that set safety standards. Industry thinks that they are safe because they outsourced product safety issues to scientific committees. However, matter is not so simple. The most influential scientific committee is ICNIRP and, thanks to WHO, its safety standards are implemented in most of the countries. ICNIRP is like private club. ICNIRP members select and invite new members and it is clear that the members are selected based not only on their scientific stature but also on their opinion on risk. In this way ICNIRP consists of scientists with similar opinions – it helps to have consensus. But it prevents real scientific debate. If nobody has opposing view then all agree… no debate needed. Industry relies very much on ICNIRP’s opinion. What if ICNIRP is wrong? What if ICNIRP provides opinion that pleases industry but is misleading? What if ICNIRP is not sufficiently inquisitive? If ICNIRP is wrong then who will be the guilty party? Scientists – surely not. It will be industry paying the bill, monetary and reputation. That ICNIRP might be wrong was shown in 2011 when WHO classified cell phone radiation as possible carcinogen. ICNIRP’s opinion was the opposite – no carcinogenic risk at all. But here comes a twist: many members of the WHO expert group that voted overwhelmingly for possible carcinogen (28 out of 30), many were scientists working for ICNIRP. It means that in open scientific debate, when diverse scientific opinions are presented, even ICNIRP members agree that there is reason for concern. But such debates do not happen, I think, in “private club ICNIRP setting” where everyone seems to have the same opinion. I think that for its own sake the industry should revise the strategy of what they consider as a “reliable scientific advice”
DB – Is a member of the CTIA lobby becoming FCC regulator a possible conflict of interest? The FCC was found to ‘tip off’ phone manufacturers of upcoming independent health research, so they can have a ‘counter-study’ ready in advance – what do you think of this behavior?
DL – I think it is unhealthy situation. Person with such extensive conflict of interest should not be appointed to such regulatory position. It feels like self-policing, what is never good… Some supporters might say that, by making full disclosure about the conflict of interest, the person might “become” suitable for the job. I fully disagree. It all depends on how extensive the conflict of interest is. We need to remember that even after disclosing all information about the conflict of interest, if the person is appointed, the decisions he/she will be making will be still made by a person with conflict of interest. How reliable they will be?
DB – The WHO calls phone use a possible carcinogen to humans, is this the current ‘gold standard’ on the subject?
DL – Yes, the WHO classification, made by the International Agency for Research on Cancer is considered as the ‘gold standard’ in deciding whether agent causes cancer or not.
DB – Based on all current evidence would you recommend children not use cell phones?
DL – It is not possible to forbid children from using mobile phones. There is no science to back it up. However, because young are more sensitive to environmental agents and because we suspect that mobile phone radiation is possibly carcinogenic, children and parents should be advised to limit the use of mobile phones. However, this feels like utopia in the era of smart phones. I have no idea how it would be possible to implement limits on children use of mobile phones. I think we passed, long time ago, the point of no return. Finally, we need to remember that mobile phones are also safety devices enabling anybody to call for assistance.
DB – As noted in Washington Times article ‘With cell phone radiation, money talks louder than reason’, already today governors would actually like to act and put in tougher guidelines on use, but do the industry’s deep pockets and legal battling makes it financially almost impossible?
DL – Yes, in the absence of really solid scientific evidence money talks more than reason.
DB – Are some scientists putting money over integrity, and potentially over the health of billions of people who use phones?
DL – I have no knowledge of financial dealings by scientists and am unable to give any answer.
DB – The ‘most comprehensive ever’ study, known as Danish Cohort, convinced many (including myself) phones were safe. Does it now appear to suffer the classic signs of industry influence – phone company funding, and mainstream publication despite serious problems with the data.
DL – In my opinion, there is a serious problem with the data. Danish Cohort analyzed persons exposure to mobile phone radiation based on the length of agreement with phone operator and not on how long the user speaks on the phone. It is as if analyzing possibility of car accidents among drivers based on how long they have driving licence and disregarding how many miles they have driven. Data provided by the Danish Cohort are misleading and cannot be used as proof of no causal link between mobile phone radiation and cancer. It is simply unscientific.
DB – What is the Precautionary Principle, and should the WHO carcinogen finding mean it should be applied to wireless technologies?
DL – Precautionary Principle was developed by the European Union that was published in year 2000 and describes ways and means to deal with potential risks. Risks of such nature that we do not have yet sufficient scientific evidence to be sure about but the risks that we suspect exist and can have far reaching consequences. One pre-requisite for invoking Precautionary Principle is evaluation of scientific evidence that shows possibility of the risk. Yes, the classification of the cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen can be used to justify implementation of the Precautionary Principle. In 2001 in letter to The Lancet I called for implementation of the Precautionary Principle. However, at that time, the pre-requisite of science evaluation showing possibility of risk was missing. Since May 2011 WHO classification it is up to politicians & decision makers to implement PP or not. Scientists can only advice such action.
DB– Among the general public like me the word ‘scientists’ immediately instills belief. On balance of probabilities is a mainstream media article about cell phone safety not reliable?
DL – Trusting scientists should not be blind. It should be always a ‘limited trust’. I am closely following website dealing with retractions of articles with proven misconduct. Reading stories is real eye-opener. Also, recent stories about over 150 open access journals being ready to accept and publish for a fee completely falsified manuscript, on purpose to test the system, is terrifying. Mainstream media idea about cell phone safety is often misplaced. It depends who is the scientific source of opinion.
Comment made by Biron_1 and copied from TWTC column:
I watched the truthseekers video. I have several science related questions that I hope you can answer.
1) How does your research allow top neurosurgeons to issue a “stark warning” that cellphones are “essentially cooking the brain?”
2) How did the neurosurgeons that Ellie Marks mentioned come to the conclusion that the young brain cancer victims probably succumbed to cell phone radiation?
3) The narrator said that Samantha Miller’s cell phone gave her the brain tumor that killed her right before her 18th birthday. Do you agree?
4) Tiffany and Donna both got breast cancer right where they had their cell phones. Does that mean cell phones caused their cancer?
5) Actually, it seems that women get breast cancer right near where they wear their bra — do bras cause breast cancer?
6) Dr. Davis stated something about fraud by industry whenever and “independent” study showed effect. Accusations of fraud are very serious and surely Dr. Davis with her integrity would not make this claim without evidence. Are you aware of industry cases of fraud and would you care to share them?
7) What is the science behind claiming cell phones are dangerous because tobacco, and apparently prozac are dangerous?
8) I like the voice synthesis used when quoting industry responses — why do they do that?
9) Is Dr. Louis Slesin really industry’s most respected journalist? I listened to his statements “the whole system is broken, people are not being told the truth. IT’S CRAZY!…” and then stuff about tobacco. Somehow I missed the science in this most respected journalist’s statement. Could you clue me in?
10) What did you think of the show?
As you saw, I did not say all these things. Others did. What I said, and what did not make it to the program, is presented in my science blog BRHP. As I commented there, it is possible that my opinions were too moderate for the message the program wanted to present. In some opinions the program went too far… I would not undersign the claim that “we know”. Rather “we suspect” and we should find out if what we suspect will or will not happen…