BioEM2016 conference begun on Monday, June 6, in Ghent, Belgium. Seen above is the view of the conference site, Het Pand – the large building on the left on the Leie river, former monastery, is the site of BioEM2016.
A long time ago, when I was still a student, one of my professors explained to me the real reason for going to conferences. He said that it is to meet other scientists and discuss science with them, in person. Reading articles anyone can do at home or work, but meeting people who wrote them this is the real reason for coming to conferences. He was right… Below is example of such informal meeting at the BioEM2016 on Monday morning. From right to left are, Devra Davis and Lloyd Morgan (both Environmental Health Trust), Frank Barnes (Fmr. BEMS President and Distinguished Professor at U. Colorado) Michael Wyde (US National Toxicology Program; will present NTP study at BioEM2016) and Dariusz Leszczynski (U. Helsinki; author of this BRHP blog). Of course, the discussion topic of this group was the just released first results from the NTP study…
The conference begun on Monday morning with a plenary session on an extremely timely topic of wireless charging, with Akimasa Hirata (Japan) and Mark Douglas (Switzerland) as speakers. The reason for the fast technological development of practical applications in this area are technological progress in efficient wireless energy transfer and somewhat “laziness” of humans, wanting it all without cables and right in the spot wherever they happen to be. The biological research, as always, lags badly behind. What is done right now is modelling of the exposures using of different numerical models of humans of various sizes shapes and postures (virtual family developed by Niels Kuster‘s team at IT’IS). Using these virtual models scientists test whether safety limits for humans are being meet by the wirelessly charging appliances. Some important aspects of the wireless charging technology are still unresolved, like leakage of radiation from the chargers, like accidental misuse of the charging devices that might be e.g. in-built into street surface, like effects caused in people with various man-made implants. One of the comments concerned the animal welfare – what happens to a cat or a dog that get into the space between charger and charging device, like getting under a bus standing and being charged. How about accidents with small children crawling or sticking their hands or toys there where they should not… Also, using numerical modelling is a good way to get fast estimates of radiation compliance with safety standards. However, is the accuracy of these model estimates sufficient in real-life and real-persons exposures? These and many other safety issues should be addressed before the technology will be implemented on a massive scale. Finally, how about radiation-exposure safety of humans? Things are happening in a way as Frank Barnes commented – technology is developed first and, while already being broadly and profitably used, people realize that health hazards occur and only then the biomedical research begins. In our “blinded by the technology society” it seems impossible to change this practice, of only post factum reacting to technology-caused health hazard.
On Tuesday morning took place tutorial session “Standards development activities of the IEEE International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety” with C.K. Chou (retired; Fmr. of Motorola) as a speaker. The presentation was really good and clear, showing procedures used by IEEE-ICES to evaluate scientific literature and to apply this knowledge in setting of safety standards. However, there is something that IEEE-ICES does not consider much – the Conflict of Interest (CoI) issue. The Committee that sets safety standards for the telecom industry to follow, the Technical Committee-95 (TC95) consists of ca. 130 scientists from 27 countries. At some point I was also a member of this committee but I resigned in 2009 citing the Conflict of Interest within TC95 as my reason. My problem was that the membership of the IEEE-ICES-TC95 consists predominantly of the industrial scientists and the committee is chaired by C.K. Chou since the time he was employed by the Motorola. This means that all safety standards being developed by IEEE-ICES-TC95 are, in practice, developed by the industry scientists for the use by the industry they are employed by. The industry scientists have the majority on the committee and upper-hand in any process involving democratic voting. To me this is clear CoI. No matter how the procedures are described in the documents governing the work of the IEEE-ICES-TC95 the final decision belongs to the voters, of whom the majority is employed by the industry they regulate. Out of the curiosity, Chairman of the committee SCC39 that supervises work of TC95 is Ralf Bodemann of Siemens… While the IEEE has the excellent expertise in the area of telecom technology, the Conflict of Interest remains an unresolved issue that undermines, in my opinion, reliability of the IEEE safety standards.
P.S. More detailed comments on scientific presentations at the BioEM2016 I will include in my report, prepared after the end of the conference.