The Value of Credibility in a Conflicted World

The most accurate of scientific facts, the best done research in the world and the most legitimate of movements can be instantly discredited if the people involved are seen to have conflicts of interest and credibility issues.

A couple of years ago, STS called me for advice. People in his building and neighborhood led by some activists were planning a session on the ill effects of mobile towers. Since I have some knowledge of x-ray radiation related issues, he thought I would be able to give him a more balanced viewpoint. At the time, I did not know much about cellphone and cellphone tower radiation related issues, though I had seen the non-scientific noise that one of our national dailies was drumming up to get some “social responsibility” mileage. That spurred me to research the subject, which eventually led me to write the piece “Questionable Cause and the Nocebo Effect of Mobile Towers” in August 2013.

STS had also told me about one Mr. Girish Kumar from IIT who was to be the expert at that meeting, and whose daughter was running a company selling radiation shielding materials. This “conflict” immediately raised our “suspicion” antennae.

This Tuesday, the Indian Express featured on the front page, what many of us have known for some time now. That by not making a full disclosure of his commercial interests, and by making unsubstantiated statements regarding the possible ill-effects of cellphone towers, Mr. Kumar compromised the  “anti-cellphone tower” movement. Even if the misguided activists had been correct in their assumptions, it was doomed to fail because of Mr. Kumar’s associated money making activities.

Here is my “full disclosure”.

A few months after the “nocebo” article was published, I was approached by officials of an umbrella organization of cellphone operators called COAI that wanted to publish my article in a compilation they were bringing out on the subject. I gave my acquiescence. No money exchanged hands and I had all of one meeting with the COAI officials because they wanted to understand my point of view better.

Each time I praise a brand in this column, someone or the other writes in asking me how much money that company has paid me. This is how cynical people have become of the press, especially because of the insidious use of “paid news” that many of our major dailies indulge in. Which is also why, since I started this column, I have never written about my profession and subspecialty, because anything I say about my work would immediately be construed as an act of solicitation for clients and customers and compromise my credibility if not in front of the general public, definitely in the eyes of my peers and colleagues.

Credibility in today’s day and age where people assume that everything and everyone is up for sale is a highly valued asset that can be eroded virtually instantaneously by any act of conflict of interest. The truism that it takes years to build a reputation and just seconds to destroy it has never been so true.

The anti-cellphone tower activists were anyway barking up the wrong tree. To top it all, they had with them a person of disputed credibility and significant conflicts of interest. While we have very low expectations from our politicians, we hold our teachers, professors and scientific experts to higher standards.

Credibility and reputation! They are still very relevant in our “kalyug” world and the less we have of them around us, the more valued they and the people who have them automatically become.  

12 Comments

  • Norman wrote:

    Little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
    We in the Oil field with over 40 years experience never say we are specialists. We are still in the learning process. And mind you we are not involved with the public life.
    How come you are so sure that there is no ill affects of mobile towers.
    Kindly stick to your own profession, or……

  • Sundaram wrote:

    The more I read, the more confused I get oon this!

  • Dr mona badani wrote:

    So true
    It takes so much to build that trust in d society
    But once u build it, and strive with all ur conscience to preserve it, believe me, it is acknowledged by ur peers n by d community

  • H.L. Chulani wrote:

    Bhavin, closer to home you should write about doctor -institution nexus where the referring doctor receives up to 30 per cent slice of fee charged to the patient raising medical costs. In the 60’s only those who did not get any other post-graduate seat did radiology. Today the going rate for seat is Rs. Two crores!

  • Jayesh Desai wrote:

    Unfortunately in our country everything is done out of fear and anxiety, there is absence of scientific temperament. Opinion are formed on heresy not on evidence. Evidence are not cross checked. So when someone mentions rational thinking, he/she is generally not taken seriously. More often made fun of. Hence let us stick to light hearted banter and inane topics.

  • laxman wrote:

    Credibility and reputation can not go hand in hand.A person may be non corrupt/sincere/honest etc.But his character can cause damage to his reputation if he indulges in rape/molestation.
    Now, ur views on ill effects of cell tower may not hold water as u r a medico and the radiation effect of Cell tower could be hazardous to human beings.
    U as a doctor has failed to justify or condemn the evil practice of kick backs given by x-ray/diag clinics to Dr’S and hosp for referring patients to them @30% per bill per person.Why u are silent?
    There is no value of credibility as on date anywhere and everything is incredible from med profession to prostitution.

  • The term that law uses for such situations is “conflict of interest”

    Most laws require that the person who has a ‘conflict of interest’ should declare his interest and withdraw from the decision making process.

    Simple ethics that are often flouted.

  • Jayaram, M wrote:

    Dear Bhavin – (I’m older !) : welcome to “this world” where facts & research (what’s that ?) is a dirty phrase & “conflict of interest” is more so.
    Now; a person’s viewpoint / (& facts) are more prone to attack (especially in a public forum like this …) so: keep u’r cool & continue to write – what most people do not recognise is all this writing & reading is like the safety valve on a pressure cooker – cooks the food safely !

    Regards,

  • Prakash Nanavati wrote:

    Yes Bhavin, believe Mr. Jayaram and ignore Mr. Laxman who continues to irritate!

  • a2z123 wrote:

    w-h-y-t-h-e-l-i-t-r-a-l-s-t-a-mm-r-n-gg —d-r-BJ

  • Ajay Bhonsle wrote:

    There is a paradox here. People condemning cell sites (towers) for their radiation effects wont let go of their cell phones! How on earth do they expect their cell phones to work? Yes, there may be a certain amount of radiation emitted by these towers, but as long as it is within limits it can be accepted as a necessary evil. After all, though we know X rays are bad do we shun them totally? What about security scanners,TVs, Microwaves etc etc?? (And I don’t know why people go off on a tangent & speak about irrelevant things totally unconnected with the blog)?

  • What happened Dr. Bhavin did not like the truth?
    I always knew that you are a fake just like the others.

    That is why you deleted the truth which i spoke here.

    Feel sorry for you guys who live of the poor

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