Mobile phones back in the news today, with Professor Stewart gradually inching is way towards the position occupied by campaigners like Alastair Phillips of Powerwatch for two decades; decades in which thousands of children will have been exposed to unsafe levels of microwave radiation.
There are four reasons for the delay:
First, because the Precautionary Principle is not applied. Government pays lip service to the idea that if there is a possible risk, we should behave as if it is a real risk, and loosen up the restrictions if subsequent research shows that the original fears were overdone. Instead, they act on the What Do We Care So Long As Our Friends In Business Do Well? Principle.
Second, scientists are innately conservative, preferring the safety of the wooly flock to the exposure of being the one who entertains the new thoughts, particularly thoughts which their paymasters in business might not much care for.
Third, the common misapprehension that science "proves things". This enables a politician, scientist, product manufacturer or journalist to stand up any time they like and say "there is no proof that X causes Y". (End of story. Stop being such a silly little fuss pot.)
In fact, it is the case in science that nothing is ever proved, only not-yet-disproved. There is a world of difference here, and it means that we have to deal with collected evidence, not just rely on the word of a respected authority.
Fourth, we need an Unwanted Effects Restitution Levy (UERL)to be placed on every new product - just a little levy in the pot at first. Then if prima facie evidence appears, the levy is notched up to pay for necessary research (remember it took 20 years and 20,000 scientific papers to persuade the scientific community that tobacco caused lung cancer. That research cost a lot of money.) Finally, if a harmful effect is established by the research, but it is nor severe enough to cause the product to be banned, the levy should be placed at a level sufficient to pay for the damage it does. For instance, sugar would have a levy on it to pay for the NHS dental service, and another research levy ot answer the question of whether it causes diabetes. (This line is developed in Bills of Health )
The beauty of the UERL is that the product price automatically goes up in proportion to its adverse effects, so consumption of harmful products is inhibited.