I recently watched the 2015 film, ‘Concussion’, starring Will Smith about the epidemic of brain damage injuries in the NFL. And it has a great lesson for those trying to understand how big business controls EMF science.
If you don’t know, ‘Concussion‘ follows the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu (played by Smith) who diagnosed a traumatic brain injury in a deceased football player.
This, in turn, led Dr. Omalu to discover what has become known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or CTE).
CTE is a neurodegenerative disease that is estimated to affect 28% of professional football players and can lead to devastating outcomes like early-onset alzheimer’s and debilitating dementia.
Now, the movie is a good one, with a great performance by Will Smith. And the story is incredibly compelling.
But that’s not why I’m writing about it.
I decided to write about this movie because when I watched it, I was struck at just how much the NFL’s response to Dr. Omalu’s findings mimicked what we see in how the wireless industry responds to concerns about EMF health effects.
Now, keep in mind, Dr. Omalu’s findings essentially boiled down to ‘getting hit in the head, tens of thousands of times, with the force of a jackhammer, can damage the brain.’
(Of course, I don’t mean to diminish Dr. Omalu’s work; he did the science, determined the mechanisms and specific, measurable biological outcomes– he did real science and important work. But also, his findings essentially boiled down to ‘getting hit in the head, hard, a lot, can damage your brain’.)
I state Dr. Omalu’s work in such simple terms because, well, when you hear it in those terms, you naturally think: ‘well, of course!’
Of course getting pummeled in the head 10s of thousands of times can damage your brain.
It’s just common sense.
But, as the movie shows, that’s *not* how the NFL reacted. Or the media. Or the public.
Not at first.
No, the NFL paid for their own science, performed by their own hand-picked ‘experts’. These experts found there was no link between football and brain injuries.
The media covered it as a ‘he said, she said’. As though there was any real basis for a debate.
The NFL told retired players who were suffering from the devastating effects of CTE that their condition did not exist.
They harassed Dr. Omalu and his colleagues.
They attempted to suppress his findings.
And it worked for several years.
Dr. Omalu ended up having to move across the country and get a new job to avoid deportation.
Until, years later, his findings were vindicated by the NFL, and the NFL settled a lawsuit (for an undisclosed sum) from 5,000 players. And the NFL has also modified the design of the helmets that players are required to wear for increased safety.
Big Business & EMF Science
And as I watched this all play out in the movie, I was constantly reminded of the tactics of the wireless industry.
My father and I devoted an entire chapter of ‘Overpowered‘ (Chapter 9, ‘Doubt, from Tobacco to Interphone’) to the subject of how the wireless industry has adopted the tobacco industry playbook to combat serious health concerns about their product.
Because understanding the influence of big business is crucial to understand how EMF science works.
This is the same playbook used by the NFL in their battle against recognizing CTE.
But, what struck me most about this movie, was that the NFL was able to successful employ the tobacco playbook against claims that were just obviously true.
How could it be controversial to claim that smashing your head with a massive force tens of thousands of times can lead to brain damage?
But the NFL was successful. For many, many years. By using the tobacco playbook.
And if the NFL could successfully delay and avoid recognition of, and liability for, something so obviously apparent to anyone with common sense willing to look, then you start to see why the wireless industry has had such success employing this very same playbook against the health concerns of EMF exposure.
What’s more, while the NFL is big (currently valued at tens of billions of dollars), that pales in comparison to the value of the wireless industry.
And while football fans love the NFL, that love pales in comparison to everyone’s actual economic and social dependence on wireless technology.
- EMF is a more complex force than the force of getting hit in the head.
- EMF health effects are harder to demonstrate and communicate than CTE.
- The financial power of the firms who oppose recognition of EMF health effects is much greater than that of the NFL.
- More people are more addicted to the products of the wireless industry, than there are fans of the NFL.
In other words, advocates of stricter regulations on EMF have a muchtougher row to hoe than Dr. Omalu.
And this is critical to understanding why strengthening EMF regulations has proven so difficult, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence of harm to human health.
If you get the chance, check out ‘Concussion’. It’s a really good movie– and a terrific illustration of the tactics used by big business to control science and combat regulation.