This article, written by Olli Tammilehto, has been published in web site Between Rock and a Hard Place in 23.8.2014. The Finnish version of the article was published 16.6.2014 in Fifi and the German version 27.8.2014 in Elektrosmognews You can republish it in English or in any other language but you should first inform the author.


Science and the corporate interests

An civilized person thinks usually that natural science is above politics. Especially men and women with a scientific education and rational world view believe that unlike social science natural science is independent of values and social goals.

However, ordinary people lacking the light of civilization are not willing to believe this. Its folk wisdom says: “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” And somebody is paying also for scientists, isn't it?

But this kind of archaic wisdom does not apply to the modern science! Why would some quarters like to influence science? Isn't it in everybody's interest to know how things really are and allow the scientists to work in peace without outside pressure? However, it is crucial to remember that scientific research is not only general observation of micro and macro world and search for prevailing regularities. In practice it is commonly connected to industrial activities: on the one hand, research consist of refining old technologies and development of new technologies and products, on the other hand, sorting out the various effects of technologies, industries and products.

Detriments of detriment knowledge

In the development of technologies and products big money is involved. In most cases the primary goal is to get the invested money back many times. Or else the goal is to develop new weapons and other application wanted by the military-industrial complex. All the effects of a new or modernized technology are not known beforehand and often they even cannot be known before bringing it into wide scale use. Moreover, usually there are only insignificant investments on the research of the effects.

However, sooner or later research findings showing negative effects will appear. Usually these results do not stop or even decrease production and sales. Instead, the research on the field at issue gets politicised. The researchers employed by the industry downplay the critical studies and find some mistakes in them. Corporations carry out or finance studies where no detrimental effects are found. Furthermore, PR firms are employed to guide the public perception so that the risks brought up by the research will seem improbable or insignificant. If this is not enough and the voice of critical scientists begins to carry far, heavier methods are introduced: scientists, their funders or directors of their institutions are pressed and threatened.

For many this must sound unbelievable. But for those who have for long followed various environmental, occupational safety and human rights issues, the intervention of corporations and other power wielders on research is so familiar. The strangeness of the matter is only due to the fact that in general and scientific education there is an enormous hole: the sociology and politics of science is hardly taught at all.

The most well-known cases are tobacco and fossil fuels. For these the evidence of serious negative effects has gradually become so strong that corporations haven't been able to influence the development of general scientific view. Instead, they have brought up many kinds of quasi-science with the help of PR agencies and influenced strongly the way how scientific results are mediated to lay persons and politicians.

Mobiles rescued from radiation research

A more typical case is mobile phones. Harmful effects of the microwave radiation utilized by them were knows even before the first mobile phone: radars emitted similar radiation. In many studies continuous exposure to microwave radiation was found in the short run to cause for many people sleeplessness, head ache, cardiac insufficiency and other serious symptoms. In the long run, more cancer cases were found in the exposed population. For example, during and after the Korean war those soldiers were examined who were exposed to radar radiation. The occurrence of tumours in the respiratory organs and mortality were found to correlate with the intensity of radiation exposure. However, the researchers getting this kind of results were quickly deprived of funding and the publication of the results were delayed. Thus when the use of mobile phones began in the early 1980's, the dangers were known only for very few.

In the United States the regulation of electro-magnetic radiation has rested with the Food and Drug Administration or FDA, which has a great influence on the formation of international norms. It stated in 1993 that according to many studies micro-wave radiation increases the risk of cancer. Yet, the FDA decided in the following year that mobile phones can be introduced to general use without any safety tests. Mays Swicord, who worked in the FDA as a radiation expert, had an influence on the ruling. Soon after the decision Swicord moved to Motorola company which was the leading mobile manufacture at the time.

Also in the EU the regulations were managed to be minimized. In general, before carrying out any project you must do an environmental impact assessment. The EIA is compulsory for example before constructing power lines, piggeries or henneries. When erecting a mobile phone mast, no EIA is needed.

Since the 1990's plenty of studies have been published which show that mobiles and mobile masts cause cancer and other illnesses. There are also many studies according to which micro-wave radiation is harmless. Henry Lai, scientist working in the University of Washington, went through all the 326 studies carried out in the years 1990-2006 which concerned the effects of micro-wave radiation. In half of them negative biological effects were found, in half not. Of the studies funded by mobile phone industries, only 30% found negative impacts. Instead, 70% of the independent studies found harmful effects.

When studying the influence of funding on research results, Swiss scientists Martin Röösli and Mattias Egger from the University of Basel ended up by and large to the same result. A similar influence of funding was also found by Seung-Kwon Myung in a study published in Clinical Oncology in 2009. According to Seung-Kwon's article the studies funded by independent sources and finding an effect on the occurrence of cancer, were better in regard to the methods used than the studies funded by the industry.

Professor Dariusz Leszczynski has made a long carrier in the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority of Finland. In many of his studies he has found negative effects of mobile phone radiation but in the public appearances he has been rather guarded. He has often applied the precautionary principle, commonly used in environmental issues, for the benefit of the industry rather than for the benefit of public health. Anyhow Leszczynski said in an interview published in Tiede (Science) magazine in 2011: “Everyone knows that if your research results show that radiation has effects, the funding flow dries up.” In the following year the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority decided to discontinue the research on the biological effects of mobile phones and discharged Leszczynski.

Better or more convenient argument

Science does not differ from other knowledge because its representatives were more intelligent or wiser, or they had more books and more expensive instruments than others. The crucial difference is that scientific knowledge is not based on authority, tradition, economic interests or on the preferences of persons on the top of a social pyramid. Instead, knowledge formation is founded on the unforced force of the better argument that is manifested in the debate of the scientific community. All what makes an appearance as science is not really that. Instead, it is the same kind of conventional knowledge of organizations as that represented by the scholars of the Catholic Church and with which Galilei and other pioneers of science clashed 400 hundred years ago: in lieu of the better quality of an argument deciding factor is how it fits with the interests of a power system.

When the economic interests in spreading and maintaining the faith in the harmlessness of a product are enormous, science gets corrupted almost inevitably. In these cases the scientific community needs support from social movements which can relieve the condition of dissident scientists and help to raise the famous torch of science from the quagmire of profit seeking and power struggles.

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