EMFs compared to other issues: BSE and variant CJD

The BSE issue unfolded in the UK during the 1980s and 1990s, and during that time, mistakes were made in the management of the issue.  We do not attempt to give a full account of the science or the history here, but we do try to draw some lessons for management of the EMF issue.

The most authoritative analysis of the BSE issue is the Report of “The Inquiry into BSE and variant CJD in the United Kingdom”, chaired by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, published in October 2000 and we quote some of the relevant conclusions.

Lessons on communication

"Although most of those concerned with handling BSE believed that BSE posed no risk to humans and understood the available science as indicating that the likelihood that BSE posed as risk was remote, they did not trust the public to adopt as sanguine an attitude.  Ministers, officials and scientific advisory committees alike were all apprehensive that the public would react irrationally to BSE.  As each additional piece of data about the disease became available, the fear was that it would cause disproportionate alarm, would be seized on by the media and by dissident scientists as demonstrating that BSE was a danger to humans, and would lead to a food scare or, even more serious, a vaccine scare."
Volume 1, 13, 1178

The lesson for EMFs seems to be that everyone should communicate the facts honestly.  The media and "dissident scientists" should not communicate in an alarmist manner, and neither should other scientists slant the facts in order to be reassuring.  We hope that this website gives the facts on EMFs straight!

Lessons on precautionary approaches

The Report is clear that where there is uncertainty, precautionary measures should be considered, and goes on to say:

"So far as other animals, and humans, were concerned, however, nobody knew whether BSE was a hazard or not.  In such a situation the Government has to decide what precautionary measures to adopt against the possibility that the risk exists.  One technique that can be adopted is known by the acronym ALARP.  This calls for weighing the efficacy that any particular measure will have in reducing the risk against the cost and other consequences of introducing the measure.  The aim is to reduce the possible risk so that it is As Low As Reasonably Practicable.  It involves an exercise in proportionality that often calls for nice judgement."
Volume 1, 2, 164

SAGE is an example of how this principle has been applied to EMFs - see more on precaution applied to EMFs generally and SAGE in particular.

Lessons on minority views

"The official line that the risk of transmissibility was remote and that beef was safe did not recognise the validity of any other view.  Dissident scientists tended to be treated with derision, and driven into the arms of the media and to exaggerated statements of risk.  Thus views expressed on risk became polarised.  Dispute displaced debate."
Volume 1, 13, 1182

The Report is clear that minority views should never be dismissed.  That doesn't mean that all minority views are correct - often they are not - just that scientists should always be open-minded and should listen to and weigh up all views.