Comments on this study
We summarise here comments by various organisations on the study of adult cancers and high-voltage power lines in the UK by the Imperial College group.
Commentary by Schuz
In the printed issue of the journal, the paper is accompanied by a Commentary by Joachim Schuz. He criticises the study first because of its use of "other cancers" as controls:
"Using some types of cancers as cases and other types as controls, in a situation of weak evidence of any risk for any cancer, leads to a situation - expressed here in admittedly slightly provocative terms - where cancers with some concern, but little evidence and weak biologic plausibility of an association, are compared with cancers that have less concern, but with equally little evidence and weak biologic plausibility of an association. ... Thus, the approach adopted may be a risky gamble, because it is unclear what to expect ... Indeed, if extremely-low-frequency magnetic fields were a universal carcinogen, the study would not show any association, even if there were a cancer risk."
He then expands this point about decisions made on the basis of concern rather than evidence:
"The hypothesis [of the specific cancers the study examined] highlights the fact that this issue has become a political, rather than a scientific, debate. This order needs to be reversed and enforced with words of warning about the possible outcomes of studies conducted because of public, rather than scientific, concern. Indeed, concern-driven research is particularly damaging in times of limited funding..."
The authors respond, defending their choice of which cancers to use as cases and which as controls on the basis that:
"We consider there to be a discernible difference between the strength of evidence available for the cancers recorded for our cases compared to our controls."