Different roles of electromagnetic field experts when giving policy advice: an expert consultation

P. Spruijt, A.B. Knol, A.C. Petersen, E. Lebret

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: The overall evidence for adverse health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF) at levels of exposure normally experienced by the public is generally considered weak. However, whether long-term health effects arise remains uncertain and scientific policy advice is therefore given against a background of uncertainty. Several theories exist about different roles that experts may take when they provide advice on complex issues such as EMF. To provide empirical evidence for these theories, we conducted an expert consultation with as main research question: What are the different roles of EMF experts when they provide policy advice? Methods: Q methodology was used to empirically test theoretical notions on the existence and determinants of different expert roles and to analyze which roles actually play out in the domain of EMF. Experts were selected based on a structured nominee process. In total 32 international EMF experts participated. Responses were analyzed using Principal Component Analysis and for the open questions we used Atlas.ti. Results: Four expert roles were found. Most striking differences between the four roles are whether experts consider current EMF policies adequate or not, whether additional -precautionary- measures are needed, and how experts view their position vis-à-vis policymakers and/or other stakeholders. Conclusion: This empirical study provides support for the so far mainly theoretical debate about the existence of different roles of experts when they give policy advice. The experts' assessment of the degree of uncertainty of the issue turned out to be highly associated with their role. We argue that part of the controversy that exists in the debate regarding scientific policy advice on EMF is about different values and roles.
Original languageEnglish
Article number7
JournalEnvironmental Health
Early online date21 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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