A Personal Message from the Author
This is a story about what happened in the world I experienced and in me during my life-long journey through a part of science-land, the part that relates to the ability of electromagnetic fields to make people sick. What initially appeared to be a simple problem turned into something immensely complicated, and then turned again to reveal something I never expected, that the truth of the matter depended on values and assumptions. Not completely, but enough to guarantee that there will never be final answers, only differences in perspective.
I wrote the book for many reasons. The most frivolous was that I was sick and tired of books in which the scientist’s accomplishments were portrayed as heroically unemotional, and science itself was depicted as the highest form of knowledge, like Plato’s forms. It had been my experience that scientists were no more noble or unbiased than anybody else.
The second motivation was more complicated. As a professional scientists, I wrote for a living. I had written several hundred grant applications and publications, each of which dealt with only a tiny piece of the overall picture of EMFs. So I said to myself, “I’m going to write a book about EMFs that includes the whole truth as I understand it,” and I set out to see if I could do it.
Other motivations came more directly from my life. My concern with EMFs had always been from multiple perspectives. As a physicist, my gaze was objective because the conventions of physics required it, and I saw EMFs as something to be harnessed. After I learned biology I saw the mystical side of EMFs, that they make life possible. After I became a lawyer, I saw how EMFs could be a means of injustice, like pliers in the hands of a torturer. I didn’t set out to write a book that extolled or condemned EMFs, or maintain that one frame of reference was more fundamental than another. Rather, I wanted to write a story that integrated my different perspectives to test the hypothesis that they added up to something coherent.
Another motivation was to tell a story about having a career in science while still remaining free. Stories about scientists who escaped being controlled by others, and made a life pursuing their goals have traditionally involved larger-than-life figures, like those who won Nobel Prizes. I have not achieved such fame but I have led a successful life, based on what I counted as important. I wanted to tell a story about a man who takes charge of his destiny by means of the choices he makes, none of which are heroic, makes a life in science, and remains free.
Another important motivation was the need for a more inclusive approach regarding the intended consumer of knowledge about EMFs. I didn’t make much headway by writing only scientific articles that were intended for experts. Whenever I wrote about an experiment I did in which EMFs produced some kind of a cellular change, an industry expert soon appeared and wrote about how he had performed an improved version of my experiment but had not observed the cellular change. This state of affairs seemed cacophonous to those outside the EMF orbit, as if the science had not yet ripened to the point where the remedial steps needed to protect human health were clear. So people would say, “More research is needed to resolve the issue,” and then move on to something else. I had been writing for a small polarized audience consisting of truth seekers and truth deniers. I realized that a better tack would be to explain the cacophony to a larger audience by telling the story that was behind the controversy, rather than to try to resolve it on the basis of facts presented to scientists.
I wanted to write about something much bigger than proving that EMFs cause cancer. I wanted to write about what “causes cancer” means. I came to see that we cannot understand what EMFs do to people in the same way that we understand physical forces such as gravity; if we try we are like a man looking near a light post for something that he lost somewhere else. No sane person thinks about breaking the law of gravity, but many apparently sane people smoke. That alone tells you that there’s something fundamentally different between physics and the laws of disease causation. I wanted to explore that difference in the most honest way possible. I decided that way would be to describe particular events I experienced so that you could see and hear what took place, as if I had a video camera and tape recorder, to explain what the events meant to me at or around the time they actually occurred, and then to place all this in a narrative that would allow the deep themes to emerge.
Power companies love state regulatory commissions, and cell telephone companies love the Federal Communications Commission because companies can use their political influence to set low standards that can be met easily and economically. Then the companies can honestly say, “Our equipment meets all applicable standards.” I wanted to make it possible for people to see the situation in a new, more realistic way. EMF standards represent a political choice, not an objective scientific determination. That’s a big part of the truth that I wanted to write about. I didn’t want to serve as the vanguard for a movement to raise the standards. I don’t know if they should be raised; maybe they should be lowered. I just wanted to look at the situation more truthfully.
The law doesn’t know what to do with science. It just doesn’t. It allows any Tom, Dick, or Harry with an M.D. or a Ph.D. to testify in court as an “expert,” and whatever he says is “true” is regarded as such. The only gatekeeper for the process is the trial judge. But how does he know what is reliable? Like the lawyers, the last time he studied science was in high school. This situation couldn’t be more perfect for the power companies and cell telephone companies, for the law firms that represent them in court, and for the law firms that sue the companies. What these law firms call “science” is a distortion specifically designed to promote victory, not truth or justice; the firms are to science what Rush Limbaugh is to Socratic dialogue. The scientific testimony offered on all sides in the EMF cases for the last thirty years has been nothing more than eristic, and not the principled version as in Protagoras or Gorgias, but the kind we get from Euthydemus or Dionysodorus. I finally reached the point where I decided—another motivation—that I had a responsibility to show how our legal system often prevents reliable science from entering the mainstream of society. To tell this story you have to be a working scientist, a lawyer, and a person who is free to do what he thinks best. I met those criteria, and I don’t know of anybody else who has, so I felt qualified and responsible.
EMFs were an obscure, uncharted area when I started to study them. I did my first experiments in 1972 and found EMF-induced effects in rats and mice. At that time, there was no ready explanation in terms of prevailing theories for what I observed, nor any obvious application. The experts told me that there was no “persuasive” evidence that such effects could occur and therefore that there was something wrong with my experiments. “Persuasive” is a hideously misleading word in biology because it is a seemingly objective way of expressing a subjective sentiment.
I began to keep notes of who said what regarding EMFs, and why. Around the time that I was interviewed for 60 Minutes I first suspected that my experiences were important. No one told me, “You ought to write about that,” I just started to do it, and I began collecting a vast amount of material, letters, reports, minutes of meetings of state and federal agencies, and documents that had never been intended to see the light of day but which I obtained as a result of Freedom of Information requests. So, I didn’t have to trust too much to memory. All I had to do was decide what to put in and what to leave out.
What to put in? Well, the book is about a man on a journey through the world of science. In the beginning he doesn’t even realize that he’s on a journey. Instead, his metaphor is one of science as a beautiful object, to be possessed. He sees that science can be selfish and tawdry, but that doesn’t diminish his love for it. One day he chooses a destination and begins heading toward it, not knowing if he will ever arrive, but completely content with simply the process of traveling. In essence, then, the book is about a man’s growing understanding of the world of science. So I put in that I worked in Dr. Becker’s laboratory, learned to be a scientist, and discovered my destination. I put in stories about people who helped me along the way, and about those who tried to stop me from going where I was going. Trying to stop me from doing what I wanted to do, it turned out, was roughly like trying to stop a bull by waving a red flag.
What to leave out? Well, I’m not writing a textbook so I left out all of the deep science and math of EMFs. I’m not writing a legal treatise so I left out almost all of the legal mumbo-jumbo of the court cases in which I was involved. I didn’t include anything unless I had a good reason to put it in, and I refrained from indulging in sentimentality.
At one level, this is a book about who was right about the health hazards of EMFs, and it turned out that I was right. I don’t see the point of being right if you don’t write about it, and now I’m mature and confident enough to do that. But it’s dangerous to describe yourself as a victor because you run the risk of sounding arrogant or impudent. I did the best I could to leave out hubris, or at least to deflect attention from it.
My greatest achievement is that I’ve been married to the same woman for forty-five years, all four of our children earned advanced degrees in law, science, or business, have happy families, and we all still love one another very much. I put in almost nothing about this because it did not directly serve my story even though my family was as essential to my life as the air I breathed. I intended to write a work of nonfiction literature about what scientists actually do in the laboratory, why, and how lawyers use them in courts.
I felt that my most serious responsibility to the reader was to tell the truth. Second-most, was my responsibility to avoid trivial matters; otherwise, the story would drown in a sea of countless insignificant details. The distinction that really mattered to me was between what was true and important, and what wasn’t.
When I look back on my life I am amazed at how fortunate I’ve been. I’m the son of a working-class Italian immigrant, yet there are few people whose education has been as broad and deep as mine. I can’t remember a day when it wasn’t a joy to go to work in the laboratory. While working there I discovered something new and important about nature. I also learned something about myself. I’m not weak. I’m not a coward. I’m not afraid to speak to power about my understanding of the truth. I did it. With each controversy I became even happier and more energized, and I survived to write this story. I hope you find it edifying.
Andrew A. Marino, PhD, JD