By John Weigel
World renown researchers into the toxic effects of microwave technology – from cell phones to wi-fi and digital television – are fighting back against what appears to be a concerted effort tosimultaneously close their research facilities across Europe
The pattern of shutting down experiments began earlier this year as three noted researchers, Drs. Olle Johansson, of the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm; Dimitris Panagopoulos, of Athens University; and Annie Sasco, Bordeaux; had their positions threatened and their research premises requisitioned for other purposes, effectively silencing them.
The total value of the cell phone / microwave-based industry is an estimated $153 billion and involves the economic might of leading technology firms such as Motorola, Intel, AT&T, Apple, Nokia and Ericsson. Many of the firms hold close ties to the world’s military establishment.
Motorola developed and tested the Terrestrial Trunked Radio (Tetra) signal used by police and emergency services which uses a pulsed frequency matches the electromagnetic frequency of the human brain. Intel created the WiMAX signal which has been purchased by Sprint, The United States third largest telecommunications company.
Both signals were developed in Ireland where the government has a policy to invite overseas companies to test their technologies in alive environment. There is no provision for studying the health effects of the tests. Last week, Eamon Ryan, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, announced the roll-out of digital television.
The silencing of scientists for political and economic reasons began to form a pattern when a large number of scientists died prematurely or under unusual circumstances The much-documented pattern included the death of British UN weapons expert David Kelly in 2003. As questions about his death persisted, this year the Attorney General for England and Wales, Dominic Grieve, indicated that he remained “concerned” about the case and interested in exploring how to take the matter forward. The pattern of requisitioning offices and labs appears to be drawn from human resources techniques where institutions can exercise their right to manage their own space.
Prof. Johansson was told his lab was required to house ferrets while Dr. Panagopoulos’s office was reduced to a three by five foot room the size of a cupboard and Dr. Sasco has remained silent to date on the reasons for losing her post in France. A fourth scientist who claims harassment, Dr. Andrew Goldsworthy of the Imperial College, London, has retired.
The timing of the actions against the scientists appears to be silent testimony of a move against them and comes after they participated via a teleconference call to the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (HESA) to hear from witnesses on the dangers of wireless technology in Ottawa last April.
The significance of closing down scientific research is to limit growing public concern over safety issues relating to the mushrooming use of information-carrying microwave technology. Ordinary users appreciate the heat-generating properties of microwaves in their kitchens and feel safe because microwave ovens have sealed protective doors. Information-carrying microwaves, because they are broadcast into the environment offer no such protection and are attributed to lower property values, various diseases, infertility and death.
With Panagopoulos, Sasco and Goldsworthy either accepting decisions, remaining silent or slipping into retirement, Johansson has become the focus of the current conflict between industry and academia, lifting the bar to the issue of interference with academic freedom of enquiry. Just what is expected of an academic, Johansson is kindly in manner, hard-headed and used to controversy. In the 1970s his research led to higher standards for computer VDUs when his research revealed a threat to pregnant women using computer monitors and their unborn babies.
The current controversy began less than a year ago following a public meeting in Ireland where Johansson revealed DNA and cell changes to skin after only a half-hour’s exposure to microwaves and infertility in the fifth generation of mice following exposure. The meeting was held in Leixlip, home to Intel’s European headquarters. Within months, Johansson was informed by Prof. Staffan Cullheim, Chair of the Dept. of Neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute that his offices and lab were required for storing ferrets – an animal related to skunks and polecats.
The Karolinska Institute is home to the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine selected by the Nobel Assembly of 50 faculty members.
When Johansson refused to vacate his premises discussions were abandoned until last May when Cullheim informed Johansson that hispremises were again to be requisitioned, this time for an imaging facility. In addition to noting that Johansson’s premises were too large for his requirements, Cullheim noted that there had been staff rumblings that Johansson had received preferential treatment. Johansson’s work is independently funded.
Cullheim gave Johansson a deadline of July 31 to vacate his premises, immediately before he was to begin replication studies, an integral part of the scientific process, of work done by Dr. Magda Havas, of Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario. It was on the strength of Havas’ work that the City of San Francisco abandoned the Google / Earthlink contract for wi-fi in favour of fibre-optic cabling and this year required the labeling of cell phones for health purposes.
A similar situation arose for Dr. Dimitris Panagopoulos, a biophysicist with the University of Athens and lead author of “Cell death induced by GSM 900-MHz and DCS 1800-MHz mobile telephony radiation” published in 2006. His group’s research outlines DNA fragmentation and cell death following exposure to microwaves. On May 6 construction work began in space adjoining his office following notice a week earlier that he was to leave. Panagopoulos says he was “out because he did not follow … instructions” to not participate in the Canadian conference. “I spoke as an individual reporting the results of my published works”, he says.
Anticipating difficulty, Panagopoulos removed his equipment and found that the lock on his office had been changed. Although he has asked for an explanation from the President of the Biology School, as of last week he had no response and works from a windowless cupboard.
Speaking on behalf of Prof. Johansson, Panagopoulos said, “As a biophysicist myself specialized in the Biological Effects of Non-Ionizing Electromagnetic Radiations, I am very familiar with the pioneer works of Dr. Johansson in this field. In fact a lot of people within the international scientific community and me personally, know his work and consider him as one of the leading international experts in this field. Moreover, Dr. Johansson is one of the most active scientists involved to the moral aspect of this scientific field which is directly related to human health and the protection of our natural environment.
“The world needs scientists like Dr. Johansson not only for his groundbreaking research on the effects of man-made electromagnetic fields/radiations on human health (cancer induction, electrohypersensitivity etc.) but also for his courage to fearlessly speak the scientific truth, a matter of vital importance for the public health and the moral values which are in great danger in our modern society.”
Panagopoulos is not alone in his concerns. He has been joined in a chorus of support from around the world – from New Zealand, to California, to Virginia, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Irish supporters of Prof. Joansson have lobbied the Nobel Assembly, warning “If you fail to assist Prof. Johansson, which member of the Nobel Assembly will be the next victim of this process?” and have referred the issue to Amnesty International in London which is investigating the circumstances.
“Imagine a world,” said Panagopoulos, “where pollution of all kinds is destroying our planet and spreads terrible diseases, where some people get huge amounts of money out of this destruction and no one dares to speak the scientific truth. This would be the living Hell.”
In defense of Paganopoulos, Daryl Vernon who writes a blog for the Green Party in Toronto asked the Greek ambassador to enquire into Panagopoulos’ circumstances. “Will you express the great dismay felt here, and the desire to avoid further internationally embarrassing repercussion? Will you intervene to restore our confidence that an institution such as the University of Athens not be a venue where inappropriate influences on academic independence are had, but rather continue to provide scholarship of world importance,” she said.
Writing to Prof. Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson, President of the Karolinska Institute, biophysics writer Blake Levitt observed, “Over the years, I have followed Dr. Johansson’s important professional contribution to what must be the most contentious area of science & public health policy today — that of the health and environmental effects of non-ionizing radiation. This is a critically important subject with over 4 billion cell phone users now and all of the wireless infrastructure needed to make those technologies function. The human race has never been exposed to this form of radiation before, with its odd signaling characteristics, at such intensities, and with long, chronic exposures. We are in the throes of a massive global experiment with no end in sight, and little cautionary intelligence being brought to bear.”
Agreeing with Levitt is Dr. Martin Blank, Associate Professor of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons and past president of the Bioelectromagnetics Society. “I urge you to reevaluate your decision, and change the current plans to enable Dr. Johansson’s vital research program to continue,” he said. Neither Wallberg-Henriksson, Cullheim nor Dr. Bernd Huber, chairman of the League of European Research Universities have responded to requests for comment.
Cautioning Profs. Wallberg-Henriksson and Cullheim of the possible consequences of appearing to suppress critical scientific research by Prof. Johansson, Dr. M.W. Brown-Beasley of Boston, a Harvard academicand research alumnus, formerly having been of service to Merck and Co. pharmaceuticals), (Royal Dutch) Philips Medical Systems (medical devices), and Lotus Development Corp., wrote, “It would be unfortunate – indeed a tragedy — for you to proceed on a course leading to your personal failure, leaving behind a legacy of embarrassment and shame not only for yourselves but staining the integrity and reputation of the institute as well.”