A morning radio news report here in Washington, DC reported that a commercial airline crew noted a fire alarm signal from a cargo hold in mid-flight. Upon returning to their originating airport, the cargo hold was examined carefully, and no evidence of fire was found. Apparently, a cellular telephone in a passenger's luggage had received an incoming call, that activated the smoke (I assume) detector via RF interference. This occurrence shows why we have systems engineers. That is, someone who must consider not only electromagnetic compatibility between system components, but also with other systems in the same operating environment. As a result of this event, the aircraft companies may have to redesign a lot of sensors. Dave Davis, MITRE Corp., McLean, VA
From the 'Los Angeles Times' 14-Aug-89: Phoenix police arrested four people as they continued to unravel a bogus airline ticket ring that allegedly sold millions of dollars of stolen tickets by advertising discounted fares in national publications. Investigators said the individuals put together a major conspiracy by knowing how to access airline computers to put travel itineraries in the computer system.
The 1989 Annual Meeting Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility October 20-21, 1989 Washington, D.C. The Friday, October 20, program of the CPSR Annual Meeting will be held in the auditorium of the Pan American Health Organization, 525 23rd Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. Keynote speaker: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), on "Technology, Privacy and Civil Liberties." Panel discussion, "Federal Support for Computer Science R&D and the Nation's Technological Base." Moderated by Lance Hoffman, professor of computer science, George Washington University. Panelists: Frederick Weingarten, Congressional Office of Technology Assessment Division of Information Technologies Kenneth Flamm, researcher in information technologies and public policy, the Brookings Institution William Scherlis, director of the software division of the Information Science and Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Marilyn Elrod, staff director, House Armed Services' Committee Subcommittee on Research and Development Ann Markusen, professor of urban planning and development, Rutgers University, nationally-known expert on the economic impact of military spending and economic conversion Awarding of the Norbert Wiener Award for Professional and Social Responsibility to Professor Daniel McCracken of the City University of New York Luncheon speaker: Karen Nussbaum, founder and executive director of the National Association of Working Women, or 9to5. Speaking on "Electronic Monitoring, Privacy, and Public Policy." (Faculty Club of GWU) Panel discussion, "Computers in Education: Mixed Agendas and Uncertain Outcomes", Moderator: Terry Winograd, professor of computer science, Stanford University. Panelists: Carol Edwards, Director of the Southern Coalition for Educational Equity and Project MICRO Linda Roberts, Program Director, Office of Technology Assessment Sherry Turkle, professor of sociology, MIT, author of the book, The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit Chet Bowers, author of The Cultural Dimensions of Educational Computing Panel discussion: "Patrolling the Programmers: Computer Ethics and Computer Accountability". Moderator: Rachelle Hollander, Coordinator, Ethics and Values Studies Program, National Science Foundation. Panelists: Bryan Pfaffenberger, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, University of Virginia John Shore, Vice-President, Entropic Systems, Inc., author of The Sachertorte Algorithm and Other Antidotes to Computer Anxiety Carol Gould, professor of humanities, Stevens Institute of Technology On Saturday, October 21, CPSR activists, leaders, and members and interested people will meet to talk about the organization. There will be workshops on computers and civil liberties, computers and the military, computers and education, and other subjects. There will be reports from the chapters around the country, and a report from the national staff about the finances of the organization. A highlight of the Saturday program, to be held at the George Washington University, will be a workshop on local organizing led by Monica Green, National Field Director for SANE/Freeze. For more information, call the CPSR National Office at (415) 322-3778, or write P.O.Box 717, Palo Alto, CA 94302-0717, or netmail to Chapman@csli.Stanford.EDU. [By the way, the August 1989 issue of the Communications of the ACM has a set of papers from CPSR's Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing (DIAC) symposia, guest edited by Doug Schuler and Jon Jacky. PGN]
I have received numerous e-mail responses, as well as the ones that have appeared in Risks Digest, to my posting on Paul Brodeur's articles on electromagnetic fields (EMF) health risks in the New Yorker. I am forwarding this message to those who have asked for additional information; references to published sources on the subject appear at the end of it. My apologies to anyone who feels that I have not resonded adequately to their requests. Please send me mail and I will try to respond, but I simply do not have time to respond individually to all of the mail I have already recieved. First, several people have quite correctly taken me to task for calling Brodeur's use of the term "radiation" in his article titles "a complete misnomer." You are all correct: tecnically speaking, EMF is a form of radiation. My point, which I obviously did not make clearly, is that the use of this term will create an association in the minds of readers who are neither scientists nor particularly well-informed about radiation ( and I feel confident that that includes virtually all regular readers of The New Yorker) to atomic or ionizing radiation. Public fear of atomic radiation and nuclear power is well known (and I say this without intending to make any judgment about whether that fear is justified, as that is irrelevant to the issue of EMF). I feel fully justified in characterizing Brodeur's use of the term radiation as misleading; it is one of many instances where he gives information that is in itself correct but that, due to a failure to include additional information, will tend to lead many readers to draw conclusions that are not justified. I was considerably more disturbed by Jan Wolitzky's response to my comments on Brodeur's articles, and would like to respond in some detail to his criticsms. I find it very ironic that he chose not to resond to my point that Brodeur incorrectly assumes that researchers who have done studies that have yielded negative results on EMF health effects (that is, the results of which have been inconsistent with hypotheses that some such effects exist) have "cooked" their data to suit the preferences of their industry or government funding sources. Nevertheless, he accuses those of us who are working on this issue of doing exactly that! In describing a booklet on EMF risks prepared by my colleagues here at Carnegie Mellon University, Wolitzky claims to have found "in the fine print in the front of the booklet" information that our research is supported by, and the production costs are paid for, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). He asserts that this is the reason we are "go[ing] to such lengths to try to dampen public interest in the health effects of EMF." Wolitzky omits other information that also appears on the first page of the booklet: that our research is also sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, that preparation of the booklet (distinct from production costs) was supported by NSF, and that EPRI has NOT reviewed or approved the contents of the booklet. (They have, of course, seen it since it was produced.) This information is obviously relevant. By the way, the booklet is available from teh Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. there is a charge of $3.00 to defray production and mailing costs. (The funds EPRI provided for production are not separate from the research money we have; we charge this amount only to cover costs and do not make any profit. This is definitely NOT a commercial solicitation.) The booklet is titled "Electric and Magnetic Fields from 60 Hertz Electric Power: What do we know about possible health risks?" It is 45 pages long. It was produced, by the way, primarily for use in research on communicating to the public about this issue. It is being made generally available only because there is a paucity of information on the subject written in a way that is accessible to the public. Wolitzky also writes of the booklet, "It also tries to discount epidemiological data that establishes a correlation between ELF [extremely low frequency] radiation and cancers and birth defects, by saying that just because a rooster crows in the morning when the temperature is rising doesn't mean that the rooster CAUSED the temperature to rise." This is simply a distortion. This analogy is used in the booklet to explain the difference between establishing correlation and establishing causation, but the booklet does not try to discount the cause for concern created by the existence of positive epidemiological studies. It does show results from nine epidemiological studies of cancer, four of which are positive (i.e., the 95% confidence intervals fall entirely above the level of no change in cancer risk). Finally, Wolitzky characterizes the group of researchers at Carnegie Mellon as trying to "lobby the public that there's nothing to get excited about here, that scientists don't all agree on the interpretation of the data, and that therefore we should follow a "prudent" course (they use that word a lot), by which they mean no government regulation at all, just maybe you should put your electric blanket on the shelf in the closet." There are four points here, which I will respond to in the order presented. First, no one at CMU is trying to lobby the public. We are researchers, not politicians. We have made no attempt to widely distribute information to the public. We do, of course, provide information to research subjects who are drawn from the general population, both as part of our research and after their participation in that research. It is our responsibility as scientists to do this; it is also required by our university's policy and by generally accepted standards of scientific organizations. We also publish results of our research. Our publications sometimes appear in journals whose audiences include policymakers, but I don't think it would be accurate to describe this as "lobbying the public" by any means. Second, we do not characterize the possibility of EMF health risks as "nothing to get excited about." If we believed this, we wouldn't be interested in doing research in this area in the first place. I think it is fair to say that each of us currently is of the opinion that a conclusion that there definitely are health risks from EMF is not justified by the scientific evidence, although our opinions are individually held and I cannot presume to speak for my colleagues. In the booklet referred to here, which is the responsibility of M. Granger Morgan (others, including me, acted as advisors), the following appears under the heading "Do 60 Hz fields pose health risks?" "The honest answer is that nobody knows for sure. Scientists have found that fields can produce a variety of biological effects, like changes in the levels of specific chemicals the body makes and changes in the functioning of individual nerve cells and the nervous system. Whether any of these changes lead to health risks is less clear." In my opinion, this is a fair statement of the facts. However, it certainly does not mean that there is no cause for concern on the part of the public, government, researchers, or the utility industry. To the contrary, the scientific evidence now available is certainly cause for concern on the part of each of these groups. Third, it is a FACT that scientists don't agree on how the currently available data should be interpreted. In his articles, Brodeur quotes the few people who are willing to conclude that there definitely is a health risk extensively - though I would not accept that those people as responsible scientists, any more than I would those who are now willing to conclude that there definitely is not a health risk. It is notable, however, that Brodeur does NOT have any quotes from some of the quite responsible scientists he refers to in his articles to the effect that there definitely are significant public health risks - Ross Adey and Nancy Wirtheimer are the two examples that come to my mind. These people do say, and quite justifiably, that there is now cause for concern and for a concerted effort at doing more and better research - as do many other scientists. But that is not to say that they agree on how to interpret the available data. Fourth, it is true that the booklet advocates a "prudent" course of action, and devotes some consideration to what is prudent. One thing that seems like it would probably be prudent for most people is to not use electric blankets, or at least not sleep under them. Another is to not sleep with your head near an electric clock that is motor driven - even small electric motors produce fairly strong magnetic fields. These are, clearly, actions that can be taken at an individual level, and at minimal cost. But large-scale societal action is not prudent at this time, given the uncerainty about whether there are any health effects from EMF and the possible extent of effects that may occur, for two reasons. First, the public expenditures that might be required are potentially enormous. It is not prudent to undertake those expenditures, which might accomplish literally nothing beneficial, when there are many other public health risks that are known to exist for which resources could be used and used effectively. Second, even if we were willing to take drastic measures, it is not clear what measures would be effective. The currently available evidence is not sufficient to give a clear indication of the measures of EMF exposure, if any, that are biologically effective and potentially pose health risks. (For example, the appropriate measure might involve time-averaged field strength, magnetic but not electric fields or vice versa, the specific wave form of the fields, the peak strength of the fields, or even exposure only to fields of specific intensities and frequencies and no others.) For exactly this reason, government regulation cannot be undertaken at this time with any confidence that it will be effective in reducing public health effects, even if one is willing to assume that such effects exist. It is quite conceivable that government regulations that arbitrarily limit field strengths (and such limits would necessarily be arbitrary, at least with respect to the potential for health effects) would actually INCREASE any public health effects that do exist. (Several states have nevertheless adopted such limits.) There is one action that government can undertake that would definitely be prudent, and those of us at CMU who are working on this problem advocate it strongly. That is to support further research. Unfortunately, it is the case that government support in this area has been declining rather than increasing over the last few years. Now for some references: 1. Bilogical effects of power frequency electric and magnetic fields - background paper. Published by the Office of Technology Assessment, U.S. Congress. 1989. 103 pages. This is a fairly accessible summary of the EMF health effects literature. It also discusses policy issues, regulatory activity, and research programs briefly. Let me "warn" you that this report was prepared by my colleagues here at CMU, though they were commissioned by OTA. If you view us as a biased group, I guess you will have to look elsewhere. Available from gov't printing office, stock #052-003-01152-2, price $4.75. 202-783-3238. 2. Electrical and biological effects of transmission lines: a review. Focuses on transmission lines, as the title implies. Prepared by staff of the Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, Portland, Oregon 97208. 1986. 3. Biological and human health effects of extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields. Prepared by American Institute of Biological Sciences, 1985. Commissioned by the U.S. Navy. Disparaged in the Brodeur articles, by the way. Available from NTIS as Report # AD/A152 731. 4. Electromagnetic fields: cell membrane amplification and cancer promotion. By W. Ross Adey. Review paper presented at the National Council on Radiaton Protection and Measurements Annual Meeting, National Academy of Sciences (Washington DC, 20418). 1986. A quite technical review of the scientific literature on cellular-level studies of EMF effects. I presume it is available from the Academy. 5. Biological effects of power line fields. Technical report prepared for the New York State Power Lines Project (also disparaged by Brodeur). NYSPLP, Wadsworth Labs, E-297, Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY. 1987. These are the most recent reviews available, and I think they are from a wide variety of sources. If I knew of a source that in some way represented the view that EMF exposure definitely causes health effects I would provide it, but I don't. For specific papers, articles, etc., please see the bibliographies in the above sources. Gordon Hester, Department of Engineering and Public Policy Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 [See also the collection of comments on this subject in RISKS-9.10. PGN]
I have watched with interest the discussion of the biological effects of low frequency electromagnetic radiation although I have not followed it in great detail or done research in the area. I have been a participant in the nuclear power safety debate and I find certain similarities in both the content and the players. [...] While I expect that the objection to the use of the term "radiation" in this case is basically a public relations objection, there is a possible real distiction to be made. For the low frequency fields much of the exposure occurs in the near field region. The fastidious might wish to limit the use of the term "radiation" to the far field region. Since I am more impressed by mechanistic explanations than I am by statistical epidemiological evidence, I am willing to believe that the differences in field configuration in the two regions may cause different biological effects. >There seems to be a concerted effort on the part of the Dept. of Engineering >and Public Policy at CMU to lobby the public that there's nothing to get >excited about here, that scientists don't all agree on the interpretation of >the data and that therefore we should follow a "prudent" course (they use that >word a lot), by which they mean no government regulation at all, just maybe you >should put your electric blanket back on the shelf in the closet. This is what I have come to expect of this group at CMU. My own feeling about prudence is that exposure should be minimized in the face of uncertainty about safety. However I think that this can be taken too far. Wide right-of-ways under high voltage transmission lines seem reasonable to me. But I'm not going to get too excited about the effects of electric blankets. (But then, I don't use the things.) BTW, don't be fooled by the signature. I am a theoretical physicist by training and spent twenty-some years of my life on the faculty of physics at a large state university. Dan Schlitt, Manager, Science Division Computer Facility, City College of New York, New York, NY 10031 (212)690-6868
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