The “Report on possible impacts of communication towers on wildlife including birds and bees,” is a textbook example of how not to write scientific reports.

An expert committee, also comprising a few scientists from reputed institutions, was constituted in August 2010 by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to study the issue. It was on the basis of their recommendation that the Central Department of Telecommunications was recently directed to ensure that new mobile towers do not come up within a one-kilometre radius of existing towers.

The report begins by emphatically stating that “adverse effects… from mobile phones and communication towers on health of human beings are well documented today!” Nothing can be more incorrect than this. Brain cancer is one of the most feared adverse effects of extended duration of usage of mobile phones over a long period of time. However, many large-scale studies, including the Dutch and Denmark study and WHO’s INTERPHONE study have not found any significant risk.

Shortly after the WHO labelled electromagnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B),” it clearly communicated in June 2011 that “no consistent evidence of adverse health effects” has been found in humans from radiofrequency fields.

Large-scale investigation into harmful effects of radiofrequency fields from mobile phone towers is lacking.

But despite several studies not finding any significant or “consistent” effects, it is prudent to adopt a precautionary approach and reduce the duration of usage and number of times mobile phones are used. Most importantly, children, especially younger children, should be discouraged from using mobile phones.

In the same vein, steps to reduce exposure to electromagnetic radiation from mobile towers should be taken.

Contradiction

The report contradicts itself in some instances. After stating that wildlife “appear to be at high risk” from electromagnetic field, it retracts by stating that not much information is available on the “biological impact on wild species!”

There is also wilful misrepresentation of facts when they chose not to include details from the cited work that would in any way weaken their argument. For instance, one paper does indicate that other variables in addition to mobile tower radiation might be causing some adverse effects. By not mentioning the co-founding factors, the committee report conveys a completely different message.

Plagiarism

The egregious part is the rampant plagiarism found in the literature survey section. Some sentences have been reproduced verbatim from published papers without any attribution. While some parts of the report on the effects of electromagnetic radiation on birds/house sparrows and honey bees have been attributed, they still fall under the gambit of plagiarism.

This is for the simple reason that the sentences or chunks of material have been reproduced verbatim without quotation marks. According to the IEEE guidelines, “the absence of quotation marks [that] does not clearly reference or identify the specific, copied material” amounts to plagiarism even when the source is cited.

Some of the papers referred to have been published in less credible journals. The report also suffers from a lapse that is commonly encountered at the student level — references cited in the text missing in the bibliography.

What ails science education is that people who are in a position to guide students on the correct ways of science writing are found wanting.

More In: Science | Sci-Tech