‘Letter to the Editor’ of the Bioelectromagnetics journal: A travesty of science

Bioelectromagnetics, a peer-review journal of the Bioelectromagnetics Society and the European Bioelectromagnetics Association has just published a ‘Letter to the Editor‘:

Wiedemann PM, Boerner FU, Repacholi MH. Do people understand IARC’s 2B categorization of RF fields from cell phones? Bioelectromagnetics. 2014 Apr 15. doi: 10.1002/bem.21851

This publication is the clear attempt to discredit the work of IARC’s invited experts who, as members of the Working Group, classified in May 2011 cell phone radiation as a possible human carcinogen.

This is not any new situation. Classification of the cell phone radiation as a possible human carcinogen was criticized, right from the start, by ICNIRP and by the industry. Immediately after the classification was made public, ICNIRP’s epidemiologists published contra-opinion saying that the IARC classification is not supported by the epidemiological evidence. The industry had its share of dismissive opinions in attempt to neutralize impact of the classification on the future health policies:

Michael Milligan, Secretary General of the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF) said: After reviewing the available scientific evidence, it is significant that IARC has concluded that RF electromagnetic fields are not a definite nor a probable human carcinogen. Rather, IARC has only concluded that it may still be possible that RF fields are carcinogenic and has identified areas for further research”.

Jack Rowley, GSMA Director for Research and Sustainability said:The IARC classification suggests that a hazard is possible but not likely. Put simply, this comprehensive scientific review identified some suggestive evidence in the human studies but no consistent support from animal and cell studies.”

Industry, instead of recognizing that there are indications of possible harmful effects and that more research funding is needed to resolve the incomplete science, it engaged in a game to dismiss the IARC classification. One can wonder on what science is based statement from GSMA that the hazard is “not likely“? There is no such science to show that the hazard is unlikely…

The new publication of the ‘Letter to the Editor’ in Bioelectromagnetics is puzzling.

Firstly, what kind of publication it really is? Is it ‘Letter to the Editor’ or is it ‘research paper’? It looks like combination of both causing that, in reality, it is neither of them. It is not really ‘research paper’, although some “research data” seem to be included.  It is also too long to be sensu stricto ‘Letter to the Editor’ and, therefore, it is a curiosity, seemingly published only thanks to some exception approval by Editor-in-Chief of the journal.

As ‘research paper’ it is flawed from the very beginning.

The question asked from “study subjects” was:

The WHO/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer associated with wireless phone use. The IARC [2011] did not quantitate the risk; however, one study of past cell phone use (up to the year 2004), showed a 40% increased risk for gliomas in the highest category of heavy users (using their phones for 30 min per day over a 10-year period).”

Why in this question was mentioned only Interphone result when the IARC classification was based on Interphone and Hardell data? What was the reason or purpose of omitting Hardell?

However, this is not the worst problem with this ‘Letter to the Editor’. The worst problem is how the study subjects were gathered. The study subjects were gathered as in any on-line edition of newspaper questionnaire. In on-line newspapers are often asked questions and readers provide answers. The newspaper has no any control over who is answering. Newspaper just counts votes for and against. While it might be entertaining way to engage readers of the daily newspapers, this has nothing to do with scientific experiment. But this is the basis of “data” of this ‘Letter to the Editor’:

Information about this on-going survey and the opportunity to participate was made available to all 27,000 students of the University of Innsbruck in Austria. A total of 2,013 students with a mean age of 24.5 years participated, with 66% of the respondents being female and 34% male.”

This approach is science at its worst or rather pseudo-science at its best! Applying later fancy statistical methods to such data does not make them better.

As saying says: garbage in garbage out.

Later, the authors try to convince the readers of their objective and unbiased approach by stating:

However, we cannot exclude the occurrence of a sampling bias because we have no information about the non-responders in our survey. In addition, we have to be cautious about extrapolating the findings from the student population to the general public without additional evidence from a representative sample.”

This is probably the most embarrassing “scientific” statement by the authors. They should know it before starting to waste money and time on such pseudo-research project.

The study has such bad selection bias that the conclusions of this study are absolutely unacceptable.

Then, there is a statement where, not only general public, but also IARC Working Group experts’ ability to understand IARC classification is called in question:

There have been considerable doubts that non-experts and experts alike fully understood what IARC’s categorization actually meant, as “possibly carcinogenic” can be interpreted in many ways.”

In this sentence the authors of ‘Letter to the Editor’ suggest that the IARC Working Group experts did not know what they were doing. The list of experts has 30 names of prominent EMF scientists.

The credibility of IARC Working Group experts’ is also put in question by accusing them of conflict of interest as follows:

The key issue here is that the credibility of the classification of RF fields depends on trust in the process and in the people who conducted the classification. There should be some concern that there are working group members who are the very researchers assessing the quality of their own studies. This would be a reason for people to question the credibility of the classification.”

The authors of the ‘Letter to the Editor’, including Mike Repacholi, Chairman Emeritus of ICNIRP, should look in the mirror and ask themselves: who are the scientists evaluating research on cell phones in ICNIRP, SCENIHR, AGNIR and countless other review groups? They are the same scientists who themselves conducted part of the evaluated research.

According to logic of Wiedemann-Boerner-Repacholi, the ICNIRP and any other committee, or group of scientists that to this day have performed evaluation of scientific evidence has produced biased report!

There is also sentence questioning the credibility of IARC as such:

“The Interphone Study noted that: “Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phones. There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation.” IARC claims this is a positive study according to their definition when the study authors do not. This is a credibility issue.”

Indeed, it is a big credibility issue but not for IARC, for the authors of the ‘Letter to the Editor’. They should understand what the latency period of brain cancer is, and they should understand that there can be ten years without detectable effect and the detectable effect may begin to show on year 11 or later.

How it is possible that such nonsense ‘Letter to the Editor’ that pretends to be research study, sponsored by the industry, passed through review in the Bioelectromagnetics? This is an important question that should be answered by Jim Lin, Editor-in-Chief of Bioelectromagnetics. I call upon Jim Lin to provide response and I dare to call for retraction of this ‘Letter to the Editor’ that uses pseudo-science methods of gathering “data”, fit for daily newsletter but not for any respectable scientific journal.