The Procrustean Approach
According to ancient Greek legend there once lived in Attica a bandit named Damastusor Polypemon, who was nicknamed Procrustes, or “The Stretcher”. He was known toentice, by force if necessary, passing members of the public to lie down on his iron bed.If they were too long he would cut off their limbs in order to fit the bed. If they were tooshort he would place them on a rack and stretch them until they would fit thedimensions of his bed – referred to as the Procrustean bed. Procrustes was eventuallyslain by his own method (cover image) by Theseus, a legendary king of Athens who, as ayoung man, had the habit of slaying robbers and monsters whenever he encounteredthem on his travels.One of the derived meanings of Procrustean bed is an arbitrary standard to which exactconformity is forced. It was used to refer to Western radiofrequency (RF) humanexposure standard setting by Professor V. V. Parin, a member of the USSR Academy of Medicine and quoted in the Foreword of A. S. Presman’s book
Electromagnetic Fields andLife
(1970).In the case study of the Standards Australia TE/7 Committee: Human exposure toelectromagnetic fields (Chapter 5) the central issue of discussion was what constituted asuitable precautionary approach when setting RF exposure standards in order toaddress scientific uncertainty and provide adequate public health protection. Thatcommittee was ultimately disbanded because a suitable definition of a precautionaryapproach could not be agreed to and the proposed standard was therefore unable togain the required 80% approval in order to be passed.This thesis contends that, rather than taking a precautionary approach, Westernstandard setting organisations have actually followed what can best be described as aProcrustean approach. This approach consists of cutting off from consideration scientificdata that does not conform to their bed of knowledge. Such an approach can beconsidered just as inimical to public health protection as was Procrustes’ mythical bedfor the public of his time.
Photo Attribution Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.