Monday 6 October 2008

Sense about Science accuses ES-UK of scaremongering

On this morning's Today Programme there was a brief exchange about a pamphlet that Sense about Science have circulated (available as a PDF), saying that the electro-sensitivity protesters are scare-mongering. Unfortunately this short radio piece wasn't long enough for the 'research' claimed by each side of the debate to be properly challenged.
"Pressure groups are scaremongering about the effects of mobile masts and wi-fi on health, the charity Sense about Science says. Elaine Fox, a psychologist from Essex University who helped with Sense's research, and Michael Bevington, of the charity Electro Sensitivity UK, discuss whether there is any evidence that these devices cause harm. "
Streaming audio available here:

Michael Bevington of Electro Sensitivity UK was quick to claim all sorts of valid research to prove his claims, though I don't think he really meant to say that there had been "hundreds of thousands of studies". The ES-UK website contains links to about 36 research studies, though as far as I can see not all of them support the ES-UK case. The page begins thus:
"Research Studies into Electrical Sensitivity

The following is a brief summary of the research that has found positive associations between the suspected electromagnetic causes and the symptoms of those with Electrical Sensitivity, in reverse date order:"

Does this imply that there's been no research that has found no associations? Michael Bevington said this morning that "there have been studies which show 100% accuracy between emission of the radiation and people feeling it". This doesn't, of course, rule out the existence of studies which show less than 100% accuracy (whatever such a statement might actually mean).

If nothing else, the short exchange points up the general futility of 'sound-bite radio' when it comes to emotive issues needing rigorous science to back them up.