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EXAMINATION OF WTR’S OBJECTIVES SHOULD BE PART OF ASSESSMENT

Dear Editor:

Any fair assessment of the “unraveling” of Wireless Technology Research’s research program on health effects of radio frequency fields requires consideration of the goals it set out to reach.

Unlike a chemical company with a new product, the wireless industry does not have to “prove” the safety of RF energy to regulators. Nor did it have to prove its safety to prevail in the Reynard brain cancer case, since the plaintiff has the burden of proof.

The goals of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association in setting up the program, I presume, were different-to respond to public health concerns, and to exercise due diligence to ward off future tort actions. These goals have no clear benchmark.

Moreover, RF bioeffects research has long been incredibly murky and contentious. This calls for careful planning and good quality control.

WTR set out to do research of high reliability. Its extensive quality control measures, Harvard peer review group and so on made the operation very costly. Given good management, good will, good luck and a reliable funding stream, it could have sustained only a few major projects. It lacked all of the above. The epidemiology study it did produce was, at best, a preliminary effort.

One cynical interpretation is that the program was never meant to be a serious research effort, but a delaying tactic, to co-opt scientists and the Harvard risk group to buy time to allow carriers to build out their systems. I do not share this view, but that spin can certainly be placed on the history of the program, and it will, by critics less friendly to the industry than Jeffrey Silva. WTR has few tangible research results to counter that charge.

Industry-wide research into possible health and safety issues of the technology is surely prudent, however unlikely the cancer connection might seem to be. But CTIA needs to find a better model for it.

Kenneth R. Foster

Department of Bioengineering

University of Pennsylvania

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