STUK in Finland skews public debate on science

Health effects of cell phone radiation is a very controversial topic. On the one hand there are scientists and lay people concerned that radiation affects health in a variety of manners. On the other hand there are scientists and lay people who think that there is no reason to worry whatsoever.

Which opinion is the correct one we do not know. Our scientific knowledge is too limited and too haphazard to provide any reasonable assurances.

The set-up of two opposite opinions makes it difficult for any governmental agency to provide reliable and believable advice to users of cell phones. In the current situation of scientific uncertainty this advice has to be balanced and needs to reflect current status of the knowledge with all of its uncertainties.

This is not always the case.

In Finland, the role of public informant is reserved for the STUK – Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority.

Before year 2001 the message coming out from STUK was that there are no proven health effects of cell phone radiation, that health effects are unlikely to be found in the future and that any potential risks are taken care of by the current safety standards. To anyone still concerned, STUK provided several tips how to reduce exposures – but why if all is safe?

Now, in 2014, it seems that STUK is returning to its pre-2001 message. The  message is, however, confusing because either there are no health effects and safety standards protect all users or the detrimental health effects are possible and it is necessary to reduce exposures.

This confusing message was before 2001 propagated by head of NIR laboratory and in 2014 is propagated by another, new, head of NIR laboratory. What the both bosses of NIR have in common is, they both are dosimetry experts that have no expertise to evaluate biomedical research. They are just “blindly” repeating what ICNIRP evaluators say.

No wonder that the STUK’s message is confusing. STUK combines together messages of assurance of safety with uncertainty of safety. Are users safe or unsafe or nobody knows? As saying says, STUK wants it both ways: Light a candle for God and a candle-stub for the Devil.

An interesting analysis of STUK’s communication, on cell phone science, to the general public was provided by Anu-Liisa Rönkä. She analyzed in detail information, provided on STUK website, concerning health effects of cell phone radiation. The full text of the analysis, in Finnish, is available here: Tiedon varmuuttaminen viranomaisviestinnässä Tapaustutkimus matkapuhelinsäteilystä.

In conclusions of her article, Anu-Liisa Rönkä writes (see English translation below):

“…STUK yleisöviestinnässään vakuuttaa kansalaisille matkapuhelimien ja niiden tukiasemien säteilyn olevan terveyden kannalta vaaratonta. STUK esittää kantaansa käyttäen sellaisia argumentoinnin keinoja, jotka antavat vaikutelman todellisuuden objektiivisesta kuvauksesta ja lähes huomaamatta varmuuttavat puhujan positiota ja epävarmuuttavat vastapositiota. Tarvitaan monta tutkimuksellista lähilukukertaa kaivamaan esiin puheen faktuaalistamisen konstruktiivisuus ja implisiittinen vastapuhe. STUK itse ei kerro lainkaan siitä, miten laajasti matkapuhelimien ja niiden tukiasemien säteilyn terveysriskeistä kiistellään asiantuntijoiden keskuudessa. STUKin yleisöviestintää lukiessa vastapositiota heikennetään niin, että kysymys matkapuhelimien ja niiden tukiasemien säteilyn aiheuttamista mahdollisista terveyshaitoista marginalisoituu yleisön kannalta  merkityksettömäksi, teoreettiseksi tutkimuskysymykseksi…”.

[English translation by BRHP] “…STUK in public communication assures the citizens of health safety of mobile phones and their base stations. STUK uses argumentation that gives the impression of an objective description of reality and, almost without noticing for the reader, assures of the correctness of own position and of the uncertainty of the opposite opinion. It is necessary to read texts many times before any indications of counter-opinions can be uncovered. STUK itself does not provide any information about the extent of the controversy, among the experts, that surrounds the debate on health risks of mobile phones and their base stations. In STUK’s communication for the public the opposite opinions are weakened in such way that the issue of radiation-induced potential health hazards of mobile phones and their base stations are marginalized for the public and presented as either meaningless or only a theoretical research question…”.

This analysis by Anu-Liisa Rönkä only confirms what I know. STUK would like to appear as an unbiased source of knowledge. However, STUK censors and skews scientific debate to present ICNIRP’s view as a commonly accepted by scientists and as the correct opinion and any disagreeing opinions are in STUK’s opinion irrelevant.

STUK information on cell phone radiation health risks is unacceptable, unscientific and its science-skewing approach misleads the decision-makers and the general public in Finland.