Where science and big money collide, we enter a strange “twilight zone” of science politics, where various methods are applied to neutralize “inconvenient” science.
One of the examples of such collision between science and big money is presented in, as always, a very good story from Louis Slesin: ‘Peer Review in the Raw’. From his long-time perspective as Editor of the ‘Microwave News’ Louis is showing, yet again, that science and politics in EMF are a “toxic mix” for science.
The story of Henry Lai and N.P. Singh reminded me of my first publication in EMF arena.
In 2002 my research group published article that made worldwide headlines: ‘Non-thermal activation of the hsp27/p38MAPK stress pathway by mobile phone radiation in human endothelial cells: molecular mechanism for cancer- and blood-brain barrier-related effects.’ by Leszczynski D, Joenväärä S, Reivinen J, Kuokka R; Differentiation. 2002 May; 70(2-3):120-9.
Some of my colleagues asked why it was published in Differentiation and not in Bioelectromagnetics. Originally, our article was submitted indeed to Bioelectromagnetics. After few months of waiting we received response from the journal that arrived in the business envelope of Motorola. The reason for this ‘Motorola envelope’ was simple, our article was handled by C.K. Chou, Associate Editor of Bioelectromagnetics who was at the time employed by Motorola.
Our manuscript was flatly rejected. Interestingly, the ‘crown-reason’ specified in the peer-review was that our results were not yet replicated (!). We were publishing the first evidence showing activation of stress pathway and it should not be published because it was not replicated?
There was nothing to do after the flat-out rejection by Bioelectromagnetics.
Meanwhile, I went to lecture in Australia, at the invitation of Peter French. Peter invited me because of my research on protein kinase C, not on EMF yet.
Peter was, then, known in EMF arena for his hypothesis linking stress response and protein kinase C with EMF effects: ‘Mobile phones, heat shock proteins and cancer.’ French PW, Penny R, Laurence JA, McKenzie DR. Differentiation. 2001 Jun; 67(4-5):93-7. There from I got an idea to submit my article to ‘Differentiation’ journal, assuming correctly that the editors are open-minded and not shy to publish EMF-related work.
Then, there is a problem of replication…
It is well established that research from one laboratory should be replicated in another laboratory to increase reliability of the observed effects. The “replication-clause” is often used to dismiss positive results or weaken their validity.
There are two ways to use “replication-clause” to dismiss the inconvenient science. The first one is simply not to attempt any replication at all. This way study will remain non-replicated and will be easily dismissed as unreliable in reviews of science. The other way is to perform the so-called replication but to change so much all experimental conditions that the so-called replication has little or nothing to do with the original study. As Louis wrote in his article, the changes in replication study were to preserve the potential ‘deniability’.
An excellent example of the so-called replication is the research of David de Pomerai: ‘Cell biology: Non-thermal heat-shock response to microwaves.’ De Pomerai D, Daniells C, David H, Allan J, Duce I, Mutwakil M, Thomas D, Sewell P,Tattersall J, Jones D, Candido P. Nature 405, 417-418 (25 May 2000).
The study was replicated by the same research team, following the extensive modifications to the irradiation equipment, to improve the quality of the dosimetry, performed under the supervision of Mays Swicord of Motorola.
Needless to say that, following the “improvements”, the effect disappeared: ‘A small temperature rise may contribute towards the apparent induction by microwaves of heat-shock gene expression in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.’ Dawe AS, Smith B, Thomas DW, Greedy S, Vasic N, Gregory A, Loader B, de Pomerai DI. Bioelectromagnetics. 2006 Feb; 27(2):88-97… and the original study in the ‘Nature’ was subsequently retracted.
The same early attempt to retract did not work out with our study published in ‘Differentiation’. The chief reason was that the exposure equipment was constructed and dosimetry were of sufficiently good quality, performed by the team of Kari Jokela, member of the ICNIRP.
There were discussions about replication of our study by the team of Joe Roti Roti. At the conference ‘2nd Workshop on Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Fields, Rhodes, Greece, October 7‐11, 2002’ I met Mays Swicord and Joe Roti Roti. I was asked by Mays Swicord whether I would provide all necessary information to Joe to perform replication. I was very willing and very interested. I even offered to come to Joe’s lab, bring my cells and show how we did the experiments. That was the end of “replication negotiations” for our study.
Later, Joe Roti Roti published the so-called “replication” using different methods from those used in my lab. Most importantly the cells were not “the same”. The human endothelial cell line that we used EA.hy926 is a not completely a cell line and it changes over the time. Joe did not use our cells but purchased cells from the ATCC. These cells were certainly different from ours, grown for over 15 years in Finland. Not to surprise, Joe Roti Roti did not see effect on the stress response pathway that became activated in our experiments.
This way, either by not performing replications or performing them in completely different way from the original study, results of positive studies can be put in doubt, as lawyers say – pure technicality.
Another problem is that, quite commonly, the study executed later is considered as more valid than the study executed earlier, especially when the results disagree. I see no logical reason for such automatic consideration…
I guess, many who see effects of EMF experienced, in some forms, effects of this “toxic mix”. I also wonder how much of research, showing effects of EMF, has been influenced by this “toxic mix” of science and politics.
As Henry Lai said, and fairly, scientists who find effects of EMF, and stand by them, are considered as “junk scientists” or “lesser scientists” while those claiming that nothing happens are “real scientists”, who are “rewarded” by e.g. membership in various committees at ICNIRP.
In the end, it is science that loses, a big time…