Editor's Note

Authored by: Janie Page

We are now at the end of the journey for the bi-monthly newsletter per se, but not the end of the journey for The Bioelectromagnetics Society.  It has been my great honor to serve you as Newsletter Editor for these past seven years.  Before I go, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you, interspersed with quotes from a few prominent people.

 

I’ve wanted to work on the newsletter since I chaired the Publications Committee when I served on the Board of Directors.  I worked with the newsletter editor at that time (Mary Ellen O’Connor) to improve the content and timeliness of the publication, but ultimately those newsletters were hers.  She served the society well, and helped me find a way to serve it as well.  I remain grateful for her encouragement to get me involved on the board, and I hope she wasn’t too frustrated with me guiding her efforts to keep members informed.  I am also grateful for the guidance provided subsequently to me by Ben Greenebaum, Carl Blackman, Robert Goldberg, Dariusz Leszczynski, and Meike Mevissen who served as reviewers for the newsletters I edited.

 

We are in the throes of a transition where every publication has to think of their digital strategy.

    Bill Gates

 

We began with a printed newsletter whose production involved a team of many people to get it formatted, proofed, reviewed, printed and sent to you on a regular basis.  When it became feasible, we transitioned to a fully online version thanks to the hard work of Jeff Carson and his team, with only a few glitches in the process.  Now you can find all of the past newsletters, including those from the early days of BEMS, online.  So the change ahead is really just part of a continuum.

 

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

    Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

As we make one more transition, its important to remember that the change in formats will work as well as you make them work.  While the formal newsletters served the members with a particular format, sent on a regular basis, it didn’t accommodate things with deadlines that were out of sync with fixed publication dates.  The new approach holds much promise, but it will require your active involvement to make it work. The links for the Facebook page and Twitter feed are readily available at bems.org, where you will find information about job openings, the upcoming meeting, and much, much more, including how you can contribute.  The transition is already in place.

 

I don’t think BEMS would have survived as long as it has if there weren’t something to the notion that electromagnetic fields can and do influence biological systems.  While we don’t yet seem to have all the answers, Ehud Lamm and Ron Unger in the 2011 edition of Biological Computation, published by CRC Press, highlight some key differences between the way biological systems work in contrast to our more traditional way of thinking about processes as exemplified by computers:

 

 

 

Conventional

Biological

Operational Mode

Mostly sequential, few parallel processes

Mostly parallel, often massively parallel, based on thousands of local interactions running in parallel

Control

Centralized, global

Result of numerous local processes

Programming

Must specify in detail the behavior of the system (e.g. data structures, algorithms)

System behavior develops over time gradually and evolutionarily, without human intervention

Adaptability

Usually requires re-programming

Systems able to adapt to wide range of environmental changes and changes within the system, without external intervention

Error tolerance

Failures, especially extensive or prolonged failures, usually end catastrophically (complete shutdown of the system)

Some models capable of independent gradual correction of widespread failures

Requirements from components

System is as reliable as its weakest component; non-determinism typically cannot be tolerated.

Possible to build a reliable system from unreliable, slow, and noisy components.  Non-determinism can even contribute to reaching the system’s functional goals.

 

 

These distinctions suggest that may not be reasonable to expect biological systems to respond in the same way we expect computers and other electronic equipment to respond.

 

Based on what I’ve observed during my tenure, there are three hindrances to the kind of clear and accurate communication we will need if we want to unravel this puzzle:

 

  • Distinguishing hypotheses from proven facts
  • Separating signal from noise
  • Working together, not from the sidelines

 

Science is about formulating hypotheses then testing them in the real world.  Different professional disciplines necessarilyy have different criteria for proof.  On occasion, we’ve tried to spark some conversations in the pages of the newsletter by talking about this distinction.  We’ve done this in hopes of keeping hypotheses from becoming dogma prematurely and, equally important, not overlooking or dismissing real results that don’t coincide with our preconceived notion of reality but may point to the true nature of how fields and sytems interact.  These are important conversations to have, and I hope they will continue in the new forums.

 

Signal to noise issues arise both in the formal scientific work and in the discussions we have on the side.  The material I’ve seen proposed for inclusion in the newsletter, and inquiries from outside of BEMS on related topics, suggest that there are many different noise thresholds for different people, different points of view, and different interests.  In the end, the biological systems themselves tell us where that distinction really lies. 

 

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
    Franklin Delano Roosevelt

 

Becoming more clear about hypotheses versus empirical observations and signal versus noise is important because if we don't do it well, others will do it for us.  There is already ample evidence on the web of distraught people concerned that electromagnetic fields will kill them.  My own experience tells me that certain combinations of field characteristics can and do have particular biological effects, but extrapolations must be done very carefully.

 

Finally, I can only tell you that it is a very different picture working on something than it is viewing it from outside.  When I first became involved in BEMS, I didn’t have a clue how interesting it could become by getting involved.  We’ve got a long way to go, and many active discussions ahead – I encourage each of you to jump in and become more active in the process.  Like the fox, you might find that magnetic fields improve the effort.