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Editorial: Science needed, not just lobbying

The House of Commons standing committee on health wants the federal government to launch a public-awareness campaign on the hazards of cellphone radiation and to consider funding research into possible links between electromagnetic radiation and asso

The House of Commons standing committee on health wants the federal government to launch a public-awareness campaign on the hazards of cellphone radiation and to consider funding research into possible links between electromagnetic radiation and assorted health problems.

Good luck with that. This is not a government renowned for encouraging unbiased scientific research. The committee would do better to urge the Harper government to end its war on science and focus on imminent health hazards, such as those associated with pollution and climate change.

That does not mean concerns about electromagnetic radiation should be dismissed. While billions of people use cellphones daily, the technology is relatively new. We cannot say what the long-term effects will be, because there hasn’t yet been a long term.

It’s something that should be monitored, and it is being monitored by the World Health Organization and other agencies.

“A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk,” says the WHO website. “To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile-phone use.”

Unlike radiation such as X-rays and gamma rays, the radio waves used by cellphones cannot break chemical bonds or cause ionization in the human body.

Nevertheless, says WHO, “given the large number of mobile-phone users, it is important to investigate, understand and monitor any potential public-health impact.”

While members of the committee are raising the alarm about something few scientists and health experts consider to be an urgent problem, all around us are scientists frantically trying to tell us about the effects of ocean acidification, the shrinking of mountain glaciers and the declining quality of fisheries. These are not theoretical possibilities, but real situations that threaten our health, perhaps our survival as a species.

The ocean’s acidity is of particular concern. Researchers such as University of Victoria oceanographer Ken Denman report die-offs among B.C.’s farmed shellfish, which are linked to the rising acidity of the ocean. Pteropods, a key source of food for salmon and other fish, are also harmed by acidity.

Out in the North Pacific Ocean is a large area of unusually warm water that has become known as the Blob. The Blob has disrupted ocean currents, affected the distribution of marine species and reduced the oxygen content of the water. Cold-water zooplankton have become more scarce within the Blob, and that scarcity will be felt all up the food chain, from salmon to seals to orcas to humans.

It is not yet known if the Blob is the result of climate change, but it does illustrate what happens when the water temperature rises a degree or two.

Scientific research of these and other phenomena are vital to the well-being of the planet and all who live upon it, and yet the Harper government has made that research more difficult by cutting programs, closing facilities and restricting government scientists’ ability to share information.

Industry funds much research, and rightly so, but sometimes results of such research are questioned because the scientists involved are seen as beholden to industry. People depend on the government to provide unbiased science that can be used for the benefit of all, That disinterested science, not lobbying from industry or pressure groups, should guide sound government policy.

Although accepted scientific studies have uncovered little evidence of harm from cellphone use, it’s something that should be watched. Research has shown beyond doubt that ecosystems all over the planet are threatened, and solutions are needed. In both cases, we need solid science and a government that respects the work of scientists.