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An independent consultancy based in UK and operating internationally, providing advice and measurements on public and occupational exposure to electromagnetic fields and  RF radiation.

 "Conflict of interest"

 

It's the go-to accusation levelled at anyone who doesn't think that phones are killing us.  But what does it mean to be disinterested,  and are any of us?

 

"Interest" is multidimensional, with two primary axes.  The first is whether we have a direct financial or career interest, and that's the one that often fires people up when they looks for "industry influence" in EMF studies. But it's more complex than that; anyone who has made a career in EMF has a vested interest in it continuing to be an issue - including the people who make a living out of promoting it as a concern just as much as the people who make a living out of trying to dampen down that concern  - and also the people who have made a career out of *research* on EMF. There's not one person currently active in EMF research, consultancy or advocacy - academic, industry person or activist  - who'd be more secure and financially better rewarded if the issue died. Certainly not us. Here at EMFields we get more work when concern and media coverage is highest, less when it dies away. 

 

And then there's the other kind of "interest". This one is less tied to career or money and is more about how we identify ourselves. When we take a stance on an issue, we invest our personal and professional integrity in that stance. If something comes along that challenges our position, we usually react by trying to maintain that stance, and indeed people can become entrenched when challenged by new evidence. Nothing new there; Karl Popper nailed this in his descriptions of how paradigms (eventually) come to shift. 

 

What's particularly interesting is how those two kinds of "interest" interact to define how we react to new studies on EMF; it's a matter of the extent to which they align to reinforce or to cancel.  If you're someone who makes a living out of promoting EMF as a concern and a study appears that suggests that the concern may not be warranted, then your direct pecuniary interest aligns with your "belief/position" interest  - and you're going to have a strong driver to criticise the research. On the other hand, if you make a living from EMF but you perhaps don't think there is a real health issue, the two types of "interest" pull in opposite directions. You like the confirmation of your biases, but you don't much like the idea that the issue that pays your mortgage may be evaporating. It's a heart vs head conflict, and head usually wins, but the outcome is perhaps less strong than those for whom the twin stars of "interest" align to reinforce. And then there's the people with no or little direct pecuniary interest.  Maybe amateur campaigners/activists or people on a mission to explain.  No pecuniary interest = no conflict of interest, right? Well, not really. Although their interest is purely of the second kind - the "belief/position" interest - it can be every bit as powerful a driver as the first kind, more so in some cases. It certainly does not leave these people "disinterested".