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Modernes Gebäude
Annual summit meeting of the scientific community

Finger on the pulse in terms of research

It is important for Swisscom to be aware of the latest findings from research into mobile communications and the environment. As the person responsible for this task, I took part in BioEM 2021 in Ghent, Belgium and had my finger on the pulse of science.
Cedar Urwyler
Cedar Urwyler, monitors and analyses research on mobile communications and the environment on behalf of Swisscom
19 October 2021

BioEM is a scientific conference on the bioeffects of electromagnetic fields such as those generated by mobile communications. Many of the most important researchers in the field took part in the hybrid event. I found the following topics particularly relevant for the public debate:

Workshop on electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS)

EHS sufferers are people who are convinced that they can feel electromagnetic fields and therefore suffer from headaches, insomnia or other non-specific symptoms. The basic message was clear: The suffering of these people is genuine, but there is no scientific evidence that mobile communications or other electromagnetic fields (EMF) are responsible for this. Of the many individuals examined, none were able to feel the fields in a double-blind test.

 

Are there people who are more likely to become ill due to exposure to EMF? The Swiss national, Martin Röösli, and the controversial Dariusz Leszczynski discussed matters more politely than their Twitter feud would suggest. Röösli put forward a persuasive argument that there can only be a very small number of people affected, as the incidence rates in national cancer registries have remained the same over the past 30 years despite the major expansion of mobile communication.

Study quality

Why is there still no certainty after 40 years of research? Myrtill Simkó posed this rhetorical question and immediately provided the answer herself: Because many studies are of poor quality and do not even meet the five most basic requirements: positive control, negative control (sham), temperature monitoring, blinding and dosimetry. Interdisciplinarity is to blame, as biologists, chemists, physicists and engineers work in this field. Engineers conducted poor cell experiments, whereas biologists made poor exposure devices. It is important to work together and to get help. And actually, more money would be required for more complex experiments.

Systematic reviews

Individual studies should always be viewed with caution and can be picked out too easily to substantiate a point of view. That’s why you get an overview by looking at and comparing many studies at once. If a strict, systematic approach is followed in order to rule out researchers’ prejudices, this is referred to as systematic reviews.

 

Emilie van Deventer works for the WHO in Geneva and heads the International EMF Project. The aim of the project is to have groups of experts carry out ten systematic reviews on different bioeffects and to summarise them in a report. This will lead to a comprehensive risk assessment for electromagnetic fields over the next few years.

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