“The potential danger from EM fields is making millions of human beings into test animals,” Ted Koppel solemnly intones in a 1990 Nightline report on electromagnetic fields from power lines. But two decades and hundreds of studies later, there has been no great cancer epidemic caused by power lines. Why did we get so scared in the first place?
The latest video from Retro Report, a series reexamining the breathless news coverage of yore, delves into the late ’80s and ’90s panic over electromagnetic fields. A small number of suggestive — but inconclusive — studies showed a possible link between the presence of power lines and cancer in children. With power lines threading through every neighbourhood, parents naturally panicked.
Retro Report tracks down David Savitz, one of the first epidemiologists to find a link between power lines and childhood cancer. Savitz now disavows that link, dismissing those early studies as aberrations in what is now a huge body of literature that finds no risk from electromagnetic fields. This is just how science works — with contradictions and in fits and starts.
The evening news may no longer be yammering about power lines and cancer, but the same story is still playing out with GMOs and mobile phone radiation. [Retro Report]