Some researchers on mobile radiation may get 24hr fame

On June 24, 2013 Government of India published an advertisement seeking research proposals to study the possible impact of mobile radiation on humans and living organisms.

Now Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) has identified a few projects and started funding them. All are short term projects. Whatever be the outcome, a few researchers are likely to get “24 hr” fame by publishing their results in news papers and other media.

This development is nothing new in this field. Low quality papers have its nuisance value. However, no one should underestimate them. The scare on adverse effects of mobile phone/tower radiation is deliberately created by unscrupulous vendors of “radiation-protective” accessories masquerading as experts. Incidentally, some of them have impressive academic credentials!

As soon as the Research Board sought proposals, The Times of India published a brief news story on the programme.

This can be accessed at:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/environment/pollution/Government-seeks-research-proposals-to-study-mobile-radiation/articleshow/20586821.cms?re

In the online version of the news story I made the following comments:

Interesting report. What is envisaged appears to be the broadest program ever undertaken anywhere in the world. The Interphone study co-ordinated by the WHO spent 19. 2 million Euros. The scope of the study as given by the WHO is:

“Interphone was therefore initiated in 2000 as an international set of case-control studies in 13 countries around the world focusing on four types of tumours in tissues that most absorb RF energy emitted by mobile phones: tumours of the brain (glioma and meningioma, of the acoustic nerve (schwannoma and of the parotid gland. The objective was to determine whether mobile phone use increases the risk of these tumours. Interphone is the largest case- control study of mobile phone use and brain tumours yet and includes the largest numbers of users with at least 10years of exposure.” The scope was limited and did not thus far give any definite actionable conclusions.

The present announcement from the Research Board is open ended. It is not clear how much money is available. There were news reports that some studies have already been started in Jawaharlal Nehru University with the support of ICMR. According to a review published by the UK Health Protection Agency, some of the JNU studies need repetition as the results obtained require independent verification. In the first instance, it will be worthwhile to repeat these experiments independently.

I believe that the laundry list of ideas proposed by the Research Board should be reviewed and segregated into concrete research projects with clearly identified deliverable s. Currently published papers from India do not indicate that there is enough talent in the country in this area. But that must not stand in the way of organizing well designed projects. We also noticed that disproportionate news paper coverage of many “suspected” findings over the past few years raised unwanted concerns. We must not end up unethically scaring the public more as is presently done by those masquerading as “experts”, selling shields, curtains etc against cell tower radiation!

The Research Board must establish a competent team to evaluate the proposals before extending support. I have no reason to believe that this may not be done. I am cautioning the Board as ill- designed research projects may do incalculable damage.

There are a few Indian specialists, settled abroad, who did significant work in the area. Some of them are members of international review boards. They may be invited to join the expert committee

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About ksparthasarathy

I am a former Secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. I am a former Raja Ramanna Fellow in the Department of Atomic Energy. Free lance journalism is my hobby
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