The Round Table Initiative to classify cell phone radiation

The same scientific evidence, when evaluated by different experts or expert groups can lead to very different conclusions. Photo: ICNIRP

MELBOURNE, Australia, January 6, 2013 – The World Health Organization (WHO), in its advice for the governments around the world, relies on the evaluation of the scientific evidence performed by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

In the case of cancer, it also depends on the reviews prepared by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

The last, full review of the scientific evidence performed by ICNIRP concerning radiation from cell phones and other devices was in 1998, and the first review of the evidence concerning cancer performed by IARC was in 2011. ICNIRP’s still standing conclusion is that the current safety standards protect all users of cell phones and other wireless devices, and that there is no health risk within the current safety standards.

However, the IARC evaluation led to the classification of cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen category 2B). The classification was based mainly on the evidence from epidemiological studies and, in part, on the evidence from animal co-exposure studies where animals were exposed simultaneously to cell phone radiation and to another known carcinogen.

Evaluation of the scientific evidence by ICNIRP is constantly challenged by some scientists and by parts of the general public. The ICNIRP is a group of recognized scientists who use their expertise to evaluate scientific evidence. The ICNIRP came to world-wide prominence when it’s then Chairman, Michael Repacholi, was appointed the Head of the WHO EMF-Project. Since then, the WHO has relied on the reviews of the science performed by and safety standards recommended by ICNIRP for all its recommendations concerning cell phone safety

An often quoted ICNIRP’s “confidence problem” is caused by the procedure where ICNIRP members elect new ICNIRP members themselves. This gives an impression of a very exclusive “private club” that scientists can join only when invited by those who are already members. Additionally, the new members of ICNIRP are selected from among scientists who have very similar views on the issue of cell phone radiation safety as the current ICNIRP members.

This “confidence problem” leads to concerns about the reliability of the scientific evaluations performed by the ICNIRP.

That is why another group of scientists, the BioInitiative, was organized by Cindy Sage to counteract the monopoly of the ICNIRP and to provide, in their opinion, more reliable reviews of scientific evidence. But this group also has “confidence problem” propagated by the pro-ICNIRP scientists and the industry with vested interests in preserving the status quo. Like ICNIRP, the BioInitiative is also a group of scientists who themselves select group members, leading to charges that it is also a “private club”.

Also, similarly to ICNIRP, the members of the BioInitiative have very similar opinions about cell phone radiation and health issue.

In both cases, of ICNIRP and of BioInitiative, the similarity of scientific opinions within the group helps to reach consensus and avoid unnecessary arguments. But this does not necessarily serve the science in the most reliable and unbiased way. When the members of each group have similar opinions they easily agree on the conclusions but there might be nobody to scientifically challenge these conclusions.

The ICNIRP came to a consensus conclusion that cell phone radiation is not a problem and the safety standards protect all users, whereas for BioInitiative the consensus conclusion is that cell phone radiation poses a health problem and the safety standards should be lowered.

There is, however, possible another way to evaluate scientific evidence. The evaluation of the science concerning cancer, performed in 2011 by IARC, has shown such a better way.

The 30 scientists invited by IARC to perform an evaluation (I was honored to be one of them) were not selected because they had the same opinion. The group consisted of scientists with different, often completely opposite, opinions. These scientists debated available scientific evidence. Opinions and view points were constantly challenged by those with different opinion. Finally a consensus was reached and nearly unanimously the 30 experts voted to classify the cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen.

This was surprising to all.

Nobody before the IARC meeting expected that cell phone radiation would be considered as a possible carcinogen. It was expected that the evidence will be considered as “unclassifiable”.

IARC has shown that it is possible to get together scientists with diverging opinions and through in-depth scientific debate reach a nearly consensus.

However, this is rather an exception than the rule in the “world of cell phone radiation and health”.

It is high time to step in and organize evaluation of scientific evidence by the experts with different opinions. Therefore, I am proposing:

The Round Table Initiative on Cell Phone Radiation and Health

* To review the available scientific evidence

* To determine whether the current safety standards are sufficient to protect all users

* To determine whether the implementation of the Precautionary Principle is justified

The Round Table Initiative should be executed under the auspices of the WHO (not the WHO EMF-Project that in opinions of many is inert and “discredited”)

The three major players should be invited:

*The debate of The Round Table Initiative should be moderated by a person, known for impartiality and agreed upon by all three major players;

* The moderator should be also the person acceptable for the major players as the go-between-mediator in case the debate reaches impasse.

* It is time to stop squabbling who is better expert in reviewing and interpreting science. It is time to reach consensus what the scientific evidence tells us. It is time to agree on international scale whether and how the Precautionary Principle should be implemented. It is time to stop misleading and confusing the general public.

The time to act is now.

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Read more from Dariusz Leszczynski in his science blog “BRHP - Between a Rock and a Hard Place”.

Follow Dariusz on twitter: @blogBRHP

Disclaimer: the opinions presented in this column are author’s own and should not be automatically considered as opinions of his employer.


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Dariusz Leszczynski

Dariusz Leszczynski is an expert in the biological and health effects of cell phone radiation.

Since 2009 he publishes a science blog dealing with the issue of cell phone radiation and health: http://betweenrockandhardplace.wordpress.com  

Disclaimer: the opinions presented in this column are authors' own and SHOULD NOT be considered as opinions of any of his employers.

Contact Dariusz Leszczynski

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