The Economist -- a "usual suspect?"


30 March 2001
Hi folks:

I first became a reader of _The Economist_ while I was in Tokyo working at the U.S. Embassy.  That was the 1960s, just before I was sent from my comfortable Assistant Naval Attaché job to become the exec of a destroyer in the Vietnam War.

From that day to the present, _The Economist_ enjoyed a place of high regard (in my mind) because of its broad, scholarly, and (almost) always balanced presentation of facts and events -- though it was, admittedly, by and large a pro business publication.  Not so balanced when it came to the presentation of views that had to address issues in terms of values other than the dollar or the pound-sterling.

That is what I see in the story below.  It is not up to the expected quality of the publication. It carefully selects the evidence it reviews. And it echoes the shallow final judgment of the NRPB -- which readers of this list already know was sadly unscientific in its recent summary of the epidemiological evidence concerning power lines and cancer.

I'm sure that the paper "thinks" they have even handedly presented the evidence -- but they have not.

They have failed to "see" the totality of biological and epidemiological research, which establishes beyond any doubt (in the minds of the fully informed EMF science community), that power lines (along with EMF of other wave-lengths) CAN interact directly with human cells and tissue to cause biological effects, which in turn CAN have adverse health consequences.  Cancer NOT being the only case.  These power lines can ALSO influence the immediate human environment in such a way as to concentrate the corona ions and thereby cause certain aerosols (including radon and other airborne pollutants) to interact with the human system to result in human health problems.  Again, NOT confined to cancer.

The latter subject matter has been reported by the researchers of Bristol University in the U.K. (under the leadership of Professor Denis Henshaw) over the past two to three years.  The corona effect, itself, has been a scientific reality for decades, repeatedly demonstrated, widely reported -- particularly in the U.K. -- and all these facts are readily available at the Bristol U. website <>.....

So, why did the _Economist_ provide such a poor review of the subject as we see below???  It is the kind of industry friendly statement that we have come to expect from the "usual suspect" element of the science/press community.  It reassures the industry folks concerning the misinformation they already have in abundance and it soothes the public/government readers in the belief that they want SO TERRIBLY to believe:  That there is no problem.

There IS a problem all right!!  And the continuation of the "ostrich, head in the sand behavior and reporting" that is reflected below ... will do NO GOOD for anything or anybody!!!

It will not change the course of history which Mother Nature has imposed upon us.  It will not prevent the growing numbers of childhood leukemia, breast, brain, prostate and other cancers.  It will not ease the suffering caused by diabetes, asthma, Alzheimer's or other chronic illnesses which have also been associated with EMF exposure, probably a result of induced changes within the neuroendicrine system. It will not cut short the rapidly increasing medical bill which society is accruing to cover the costs of treating billions of pounds/dollars worth of medical treatment, resulting from this wholesale and irresponsible industry/governmental indifference.

It is with much regret ... and sorrow ... that I must add _The Economist_ to that growing list of "usual suspects" who do not see the forest because of the trees......  Or is it because of the $$$$$$$$$......????


Roy Beavers (EMFguru)

It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.....


The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
........Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

Power lines and cancer

Current concerns
Mar 8th 2001
From The Economist print edition

BACK in the 18th century, magnetism was all the rage for treating a wide variety of ailments. Today, however, the rage is mainly confined to those who feel that electromagnetic fields (EMF)—particularly those emitted by overhead power lines—are the cause of their dread diseases.

For the past 20 years, scientists have been investigating a possible link between rare ailments, such as childhood leukaemia and certain adult cancers, and exposure to EMF, either through living at close quarters to electricity lines or working alongside them at electrical utilities. Several large studies carried out in Scandinavia, America, Canada and Britain have, on the whole, concluded that there is little risk of cancer associated with EMF exposure. But shortcomings in some of their methods, and a lack of agreement between their results, has kept the debate electrified.

This week, a group of British researchers advising the government’s National Radiological Protection Board weighed in with their assessment of the dangers of EMF. Having trawled through hundreds of epidemiological and laboratory studies published on the subject and taken into account their various flaws and biases, the advisory group agreed with the prevailing view that the association between EMF exposure and human cancer is weak. Its members found little convincing evidence of a connection between the sort of heavy-duty occupational exposure which, say, an engineer at an electrical substation might experience and either adult leukaemia or brain cancer. The advisory group did note, however, that prolonged residential exposure to relatively strong magnetic fields of greater than 0.4 microteslas is associated with a doubling of the risk of a child developing leukaemia.

This might sound alarming on the surface, but is less frightening in the detail. The British study estimates that around 300,000 people (0.5% of the country’s population) are exposed to magnetic fields with a strength of 0.4 microteslas or more. (Background field-strengths in most British homes range from a fortieth to a half of this level, with occasional brief surges due to electrical appliances such as shavers and blenders.) So quite a few British children fall into this risk category. But childhood leukaemia is an uncommon ailment in the first place, with 500 cases reported each year in Britain. The researchers estimate that exposure to strong magnetic fields might be associated with an additional two cases of leukaemia a year.

But Anthony Swerdlow, an epidemiologist at the Institute for Cancer Research in London and a member of the advisory group, is quick to point out that even if EMF is associated with childhood leukaemia, that does not mean that it causes it. Laboratory testing, using isolated cells or experimental animals, has failed to show much of an effect on biological processes by the sort of EMF that might come from electrical supply lines. And since it is known that EMF does not directly alter DNA, one of the key steps in causing cancer, researchers are hard-pressed to come up with a plausible mechanism as to how such fields might cause trouble.

It is possible that EMF acts in conjunction with another agent which causes cancer, but this is hard to pin down in population-based studies since there are countless suspects lurking in the real world. It might be easier to expose such a carcinogenic conspiracy in the laboratory, but there are few adequate animal models of childhood leukaemia yet available to test the hypothesis.

In any case, this latest report on EMF and cancer is unlikely to be the final word on the subject. The researchers themselves call for additional studies on cells and animals. And while there are too few people in the high-exposure category in Britain to do further useful epidemiological studies, the group does recommend more population-based work, using the best techniques available, in other countries with higher exposures. Researchers also want to address the curious finding that four-fifths of the children in the high-EMF exposure category in Britain do not live near overhead power lines. The source of their EMF exposure, whether from household wiring or other causes, will need further investigation.

The bottom line, as Dr Swerdlow points out, is that exposure to EMF is linked to a modestly elevated risk of a very rare disease in a small section of the population. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to quieten public fears of widespread danger from electricity lines. Childhood leukaemia is a cruel disease, and parents are naturally keen to find the cause. Blaming menacing electrical pylons and invisible, malign radiation is understandably easier than accepting the fact that science does not yet know what triggers this affliction in some children. In an age which expects iron-clad scientific solutions, living with uncertainty, however small the danger, is no easy thing.

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