John Libbey Eurotext

Environnement, Risques & Santé


Radio-frequency waves and health: Science in the face of uncertainty and partiality Volume 12, issue 3, Mai-Juin 2013

Faculté de philosophie de l’université Jean-Moulin Lyon 3 Institut de Recherches Philosophiques de Lyon EA 4187 1 rue de l’Université 69007 Lyon France, Université Claude-Bernard Lyon 1 Unité mixte de recherche épidémiologique et de surveillance transport travail environnement (UMRESTTE) UMR T9405 Institut français des sciences et technologies des transports de l’aménagement et des réseaux (IFSTTAR) 25 avenue François Mitterrand case 24 69675 Bron cedex France
  • Key words: electromagnetic radiation, environmental exposure, expertise, health risk appraisal, methods, uncertainty
  • DOI : 10.1684/ers.2013.0616
  • Page(s) : 222-30
  • Published in: 2013

For a decade now, the potential health risks of mobile phone use and more generally, exposure to radiofrequencies have been a very controversial subject. The core of this debate is our uncertainly about the risks entailed by ubiquitous but low-level exposure to the electromagnetic spectrum emitted by telecommunication technologies. The analysis of the health risks from this kind of exposure is very complex; and it divides experts and activists, and even experts among themselves. This paper, which adopts simultaneously a historical and epistemological perspective, shows that this controversy highlights the complexity and ambivalence of how we deal with the uncertainty of environmental risks. The analysis of the institutional and political responses to this debate in France shows the shifts in expert opinion that have followed it. This paper argues that it is essential to reevaluate our view on the links between science and uncertainty if we are to overcome some of the challenges of this kind of controversy.