And while on the subject of electrosensitivity, ES-UK, the UK’s leading electrosensitivity charity and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have been having a somewhat wordy battle over this poster.
In June last year the ASA received, apparently, three complaints about ES-UK’s new poster on display in railways stations. Complainants maintained that ‘the implication in the ad that electromagnetic radiation and associated products posed a risk to health was misleading and could not be substantiated.’
The ASA ‘reviewed the evidence’ and upheld the complaints. They told ES-UK to take down their posters and ‘to ensure they did not make claims that implied there was robust scientific evidence emerging that demonstrated negative human health impacts caused by mobile and cordless phones, WiFi and other electromagnetic fields or that specific medical conditions had been shown to be caused by exposure to mobile and cordless phones, WiFi and other electromagnetic fields, unless they held adequate substantiation for such claims.’
There then ensued many hundreds of pages, penned mainly by Michael Bevington who is chair of Trustees of ES-UK (and who I am sure now wishes that no one had ever come up with idea of a poster at all) and by the ASA. Michael cited the now genuinely huge numbers of studies (around 20,000 in total) linking electromagnetic radiation to a wide range of human, animal and environmental health concerns – and giving specific, referenced details of those relevant to the conditions named in the poster. The ASA referred back to much earlier and now outdated studies showing no evidence of harm.
Finally, the dispute was referred to the Independent Reviewer of the rulings of the ASA Council. He/she has, as of this month, upheld the ASA’s decision even though, among many other issues, the ASA had failed to supply a single peer-reviewed study to disprove the many hundreds of peer reviewed studies cited by ES-UK in support of the information offered in the poster.
But, one has to ask, what was the ASA’s issue?
The poster does not make any outlandish claims. Far from it. It is couched in extremely measured and non-confrontational terms:
‘More and more research is starting to show potential health risks from mobiles etc’. And then it offers a website for more information. All the icons do is to list the areas in which ‘more and more research is starting to show….’ Even the headline puts the reader totally in the driving seat – ‘It’s your call…’
If there genuinely are 20,000 studies out there (and the ASA does not dispute the numbers) which suggest the possibility of a risk to human or environmental health – they cannot all be rubbish Even if you assume that only 25% of them show a risk that would worry you, that is still 5,000 studies suggesting that there might be a problem. Might you not think that it was worth at least finding out about them? If the ASA (or their complainants) really believe that the studies are not worth the paper they are written on, then surely the best thing to do is to let the public have access to them and find that out for themselves.
The mantra these days is ‘informed choice’. If that is what the government want us all to have, we have to have access to the information so as to ‘inform’ our choices. If the ASA had a problem with the poster, rather than telling them to take it down, maybe they should have required ES-UK to include details of the research that they maintain is more credible than ES-UK’s 20,000 studies?
Maybe, if the ASA would like to add to their reading list, they could have a look at the recent report from EU environmental group EKLIPSE. EKLIPSE looked at 97 studies on how EMR might affect the environment and concluded that it could ‘pose a potential risk to bird and insect orientation and plant health’ – possibly even have a role in the decline of certain bird and insect populations. Reports/comments here in the Telegraph, here in Newsweek.
Or, in an ideal moment, they could even look at ES-UK’s own selection of research material – over 2,000 studies and references listed on their site this March.