“Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the “body of fact” that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.” (22) Tobacco executive
A Long History of Industry Influence Over Science
The United States has a long history of excessive and damaging corporate influence on science. From tobacco to asbestos to DDT to leaded gasoline. Similar tactics used to obfuscate science then are being used now.
The telecommunications industry has a well-established successful lobbying network and uses similar language and strategies to create doubt about harm. Federal Communications Commission executive leadership either is from industry or goes into industry after serving. (10) Money is a big driver for industry influence and the Citizen’s United decision has unleashed even more funds to affect public policy decisions which favor industry. Without adequate regulation and monitoring of the wireless industry public and environmental health impacts are dismissed and ignored. Public interest groups and concerned scientists are not well funded and struggle to educate the public about risks from toxic exposures.
A brilliant and powerful tobacco industry has influenced science, public opinion and legislation using strategies that are models for other industries today. With tobacco, two legal settlements led to the release of 40 million pages of previously confidential tobacco industry documents that revealed profound efforts to manipulate science in several ways. (1, 22)
The tobacco lobby developed a well-financed research infrastructure that funded scientists and pressured them to accept positions favorable to the tobacco industry. They dismantled credible independent research institutes when research linked tobacco to cancer. They suppressed dissemination of research papers showing an unfavorable result toward tobacco. They concealed their industry connection with scientific papers which showed a beneficial result. They manipulated and distorted results and conclusions of scientific papers before publication to favor industry. (1,22)
Industry Bias and Conflict-of-Interest Continue
Clever methods to sell products and dissolve concerns of harm abound. Ad agencies are hired to shift perception of demand. Consumer support is manufactured by industry front groups with a respectable name which hides their true identity. (13,14,15)
The Union of Concerned Scientists has identified the 5 major ways industry today inappropriately influences science with many relevant examples. (2)
5 Industry Methods of Influencing Science
1) Corrupting science with suppression of research, intimidation of scientists, ghost-writing, selective publication
2) Shaping public perception by downplaying evidence, exaggerating uncertainty, vilifying scientists, hiding behind front groups, and feeding the media slanted news stories
3) Restricting agency effectiveness by corrupting advisory panels, hindering the regulatory process, exploiting the “revolving door” between corporate and government employment, censoring scientists and withholding information form the public
4) Influencing congress by spending billions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions, delaying action on critical problems, asking congress to question scientific consensus
5) Expanding the influence of the judicial system to undermine science and to bully and undermine scientists
Industry lobbying Groups
Several industry lobbying groups today work on a broad range of issues that benefit corporate America. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is an industry lobbying group that writes model legislation that benefits industry and then encourages states to adopt legislation by partnering with specific legislators. (3) This is a successful tactic to change laws state by state that could not be passed in a federal landscape.
The American Chemistry Council (ACC) is another industry lobbying group founded in 1872 and has an annual budget of more than $100 million dollars. Board members include Dow, DuPont, Exxon-Mobile. The ACC works with ALEC to create and lobby for industry favorable bills in addition to discrediting scientists who question the safety of industry products and practices.
Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) and The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) are two other major lobbying industry groups that are perpetually at the table in Washington, DC. CTIA spent about $10 million in 2016 for lobbying efforts. According to the Center for Responsive Politics the telecom industry spent about $88 million in lobbying services in 2016 in addition to about $10 million in campaign contributions. (12)
Federal Communications Commission: Under the Influence
The telecommunication industry also influences science, public perception and legislation in novel ways. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was created in 1934 as an independent government agency to make wired and radio communications available to all Americans for national defense and to promote safety of life and property. FCC policy was amended in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to set safety standards for wireless communications and devices.
The FCC is now considered a “Captured Agency” according to investigative journalist Norm Alster who wrote a book of the same title while a journalism fellow with the Investigative Journalism Project at Harvard University in 2015. He states the FCC is “essentially controlled by the industries they are supposed to regulate .” (9)
Telecommunications Industry: Sources of Funding and Scientific Bias
Reviews of the literature on cell phones and brain cancer have demonstrated that the mostly industry-funded research found no increase in brain tumors, while almost all of the independent studies found a significant increase in brain tumors from cell phones and cordless phones. Despite that, inconsistent findings are still cited in the literature and the press.
These studies indicate the funding source appears to have an influence. (20, 21, 22 ) Research to define effects of radiofrequency EMR on causation of brain cancer are complicated by shifts in phone usage, changes in device use, latency for brain cancer development and need for robust brain tumor registries with robust data questionnaires as well as funding bias. The weight of evidence may appear to be equal on both sides, however, taking into account inherent bias may shift the “weight of evidence” into a more precautionary perspective.
The Interphone Study was initiated in 2000 as an international set of case-controlled studies in 13 countries to assess the relationship between brain cancer risk and phone use. Many use this study to state there is no increase in brain cancer with cell phone use. A closer look indicates that with the highest user group there is an association.
The World Health Organization (WHO) commented on the study, “the largest ever international study of mobile phone safety has concluded that the devices do not raise the risk of brain cancer, except for a possible slight increase in tumours among the most intensive users. ….. Biases and errors limit the strength of the conclusions that can be drawn from these analyses and prevent a causal interpretation.” (17)
The WHO also notes that at the time of the study cell phone use was not prevalent. They state, “The majority of subjects were not heavy mobile phone users by today’s standards. The median lifetime cumulative call time was around 100 hours, with a median of 2 to 21⁄2 hours of reported use per month. The cut-point for the heaviest 10% of users (1640 hours lifetime), spread out over 10 years, corresponds to about a half-hour per day.” (17)
Source of Funding and Positive Findings
In 2007, Dr. Anke Huss, a researcher with the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Bern, Switzerland, examined the source of funding and results regarding the association of cell phone use and brain tumors with a large systematic review. He found that “Studies funded exclusively by industry reported the largest number of outcomes, but were least likely to report a statistically significant result.” They used only 59 high quality studies out of the 222 that were potentially relevant. For industry studies, 33% of the time an effect was found whereas non-industry studies showed an 82% association. In addition, they found that none of the 31 peer reviewed journals listed conflicts of interest for the authors. (20)
A 2009 Meta-Analysis of mobile phone use and brain cancer was led by Dr. Seung-Kwon Myung, of the National Cancer Center in Korea. (21) They found that there was a mild increase in the risk of tumors with cell phone use. The most significant effects were seen in the highest quality studies, where phone use was 10 years or longer and with ipsilateral phone use. They state “all of the studies by Hardell et al used blinding to the status of patient cases or controls at the interview and were categorized as having a high methodologic quality when assessed based on the NOS, whereas most of the INTERPHONE-related studies and studies by other groups did not use blinding and were thus categorized as having low methodologic quality.”
They also noted the Hardell group was supported by grants from independent sources while most of the INTERPHONE-related studies were mainly supported by funds originally derived from industry, i.e. the Mobile Manufacturers Forum and the Global System for Mobile Communication Association. Myung concludes that an increased risk of tumors is linked to mobile phone use when low-biased studies are used and more prospective cohort studies are needed to provide a higher level of evidence.
In 2017 Dr. Prasad , an Indian neurologist, medical researcher and head of the department of Neurology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi (AIIMS), also discovered an interesting pattern looking at risk of brain tumors and cell phone use. His team analyzed results of 22 case-controlled studies conducted globally on 48,452 participants from 1966 to 2016 that reported the results for the risk of brain tumour. He found that government-funded studies show increased risk of brain tumor on long-term exposure to mobile phone radiation while industry-funded research tended to underestimate the risk.
He stated, “Our aim is not to denigrate the technology that has revolutionized the way we communicate. We want people to avoid non-essential use to reduce the risk of health hazards such as brain tumour,”. (27)
Cell Phone Russian Roulette
In 2001 research engineer and product designer for portable phones, Robert Kane, published an important but not well known book called “Cellular Telephone Russian Roulette: A Historical and Scientific Perspective.” (25) The book summarizes the history and science of the cell phone industry and tactics used to minimize or ignore warnings from scientists who found radiofrequency radiation could be harmful. As an executive designer at Motorola, he worked on radiofrequency mobile radios, microwave telecommunications systems, video display systems, and research on the biological effects of radiofrequencies. Dr. Kane developed a brain tumor in 1992 and blamed his work on cellular antennas for his cancer. (26) He died of his brain tumor several years after his book was published.
He states “Many of the problems of the industry could have been avoided had the influences of the scientific researchers superseded those of the product marketers. But the industry chose to ignore researchers who were providing unfavorable answers. The industry instead organized a broad and comprehensive public relations campaign to persuade users of portable cellular telephones that the operation was safe. The cellular telephone industry engaged in the business of preaching a ‘belief system’.”
Is the Tech Industry the New Tobacco?
Psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Dunckley in her article Is the Tech Industry the New Big Tobacco? discusses the similarities between Tobacco and Technology encouraging us to view technology in a different light. She reminds us that 1) technology is an industry beholden to shareholders 2) Industry is motivated by profit not scientific truth 3) Early warnings of harm were dismissed and undermined 4) Industry fought regulation as a violation of personal freedom but with data from internet use, especially for children, being “mined” individual freedom is being eroded 5) Industry funded studies to counteract independent research showing harm 6) Industry “spins” healthy education technology just as tobacco spins “safe cigarettes”
Disconnect: Scientists vs Industry
Epidemiologist Dr. Devra Davis, in 2010 published a book documenting how experienced scientists were discredited and lost their jobs when their research uncovered harm from radiofrequency radiation emitted from common wireless devices. Her book, Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family, is an alarming and critical publication in this era of industry dominance over public health. Her book received the Silver Medal from Nautilus Books for courageous investigation in 2013. (29)
Doubt is Their Product
In his book “Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your health”, epidemiologist and former Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Heath in the Department of Energy, David Michaels accurately documents how scientific integrity was compromised not only for cigarettes but also for lead, asbestos, hexavalent chromium(6), beryllium and other hazardous chemicals when attempting to set protective health standards. The title of his book, he notes, is from a cigarette executive who wrote “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the “body of fact” that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.” (22)
In this CBC broadcast epidemiologist and public health expert Dr. Devra Davis is interviewed about her 2010 book which investigates industry influence in the telecommunications industry towards science and scientists. Dr. Davis is author of three books including Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family
1) Tobacco Industry Influence on Science and Scientists in Germany. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470431/
2) How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public’s Expense (2012). http://www.ucsusa.org/center-science-and-democracy/promoting-scientific-integrity/how-corporations-corrupt-science.html#.WWWcwHeZNo4
3)ALEC’s influence Over Lawmaking in State Legislators. Dec 6,2013. https://www.brookings.edu/articles/alecs-influence-over-lawmaking-in-state-legislatures/
4) In new battleground over toxic reform, American Chemistry Council targets the states. Sept. 9, 2013.https://www.publicintegrity.org/2013/09/09/13323/new-battleground-over-toxic-reform-american-chemistry-council-targets-states
5) Bad Chemistry: How the Chemical Industry’s Trade Association Undermines the Policies That Protect Us (2015) . http://www.ucsusa.org/center-science-and-democracy/fighting-misinformation/american-chemistry-council-report#.WWWpfHeZNo4
6) List Of US State Bills Streamlining Wireless Small Cells/DAS/Nodes On Rights Of Way. https://ehtrust.org/list-us-state-bills-streamlining-wireless-small-cellsdasnodes-rights-way/
7) You Tube- Texas Small Cell Bill Streamlining Wireless Would Cost State Millions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwMA-3uY-ZA
8) AT&T grudgingly accepts $428 million in annual government funding. 8/28/15. https://arstechnica.com/business/2015/08/att-grudgingly-accepts-428-million-in-annual-government-funding/
9) Captured agency: How the FCC is dominated by the industries it presumably regulates. Alster, N (2015) Harvard University. https://ethics.harvard.edu/files/center-for-ethics/files/capturedagency_alster.pdf
10) Consumer Reports (2015). “Does cell-phone radiation cause cancer?” http://bit.ly/CRoncellphoneradiation
11) World Health Organization, radiofrequency radiation and health – a hard nut to crack (Review).(2017) Lennart Hardell. International Journal of Oncology. Published online June 21, 2017. https://www.spandidos-publications.com/10.3892/ijo.2017.4046
12) Center for Responsive Politics. Telecom Services 2016. https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/indusclient.php?id=B09&year=2016
13) Public Interest Pretenders. Consumer Reports. 1994.Vol 59. http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/9406171432/public-interest-pretenders
14) Toxic Sludge is Good for You. John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. 1995. Common Courage Press.
15) Chemical companies, Big Tobacco and the toxic products in your home. Chicago Tribune. 2014. http://media.apps.chicagotribune.com/flames/index.html
16) Interphone study reports on mobile phone use and brain cancer risk. May 17, 2010. https://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2010/pdfs/pr200_E.pdf
17) Interphone study on mobile phone use and brain cancer risk. August 6, 2010. http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases/cancer/news/news/2010/7/interphone-study-on-mobile-phone-use-and-brain-cancer-risk
18) Cellular Telephones and Brain Tumors. https://dceg.cancer.gov/research/how-we-study/exposure-assessment/cellular-telephones-brain-tumors
19) U.S. population data show no increase in brain cancer rates during period of expanding cell phone use. March 8, 2012. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/press-releases/2012/GliomaCellPhoneUse
20) Source of funding and results of studies of health effects of mobile phone use: systematic review of experimental studies. Huss et al. Environ Health Perspect. 2007 Jan;115(1):1-4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1797826/
21) Mobile Phone Use and Risk of Tumors: A Meta-Analysis (2009) Seung-Kwon Myung, Woong Ju, Diana D. McDonnell, Yeon Ji Lee, Gene Kazinets, Chih-Tao Cheng, and Joel M. Moskowitz. Mobile Phone Use and Risk of Tumors: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 20(33):5565-5572. Nov 20, 2009. (Published online first Oct 13, 2009.) http://ascopubs.org/doi/full/10.1200/jco.2008.21.6366
22) Estimating the risk of brain tumors from cellphone use: Published case- control studies. LL Morgan Pathophysiology. 2009 Aug;16(2-3):137-47. Epub 2009 Apr 7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19356911
23) “Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.” David Michael’s. Oxford university Press. 2008
24) UW Scientist Henry Lai Makes Waves in the Cell Phone Industry. UW scientist Dr. Henry Lai never set out to link cell phones to cancer, but his work—and efforts. January 2011. http://www.seattlemag.com/article/uw-scientist-henry-lai-makes-waves-cell-phone-industry
25) Cellular Telephone Russian Roulette: A Historical and Scientific Perspective. 2001. Robert Kane, PhD. Vantage Press. https://www.icems.eu/docs/Robert_C_Kane.pdf
26) Blamed for tumor: A 45-year-old engineer for Motorola Inc… . December 15, 1993. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1993-12-15/business/9312150021_1_antenna-phones-motorola
27) Mobile phone use and risk of brain tumours: a systematic review of association between study quality, source of funding, and research outcomes. Prasad et al. (2017) Neurol Sci. 2017 May;38(5):797-810. . https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28213724
28) Industry-funded research plays down risk from mobiles: Study. March 6, 2017. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/industry-funded-research-plays-down-risk-from-mobiles-study/articleshow/57485854.cm
29) Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family. Dr. Devra Davis. 2010.
30) Video. Canadian Broadcasting Company. Disconnect 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xtd-y2C9lH4