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Martin Blank (1933-2018)

It is with great appreciation for Martin Blank that the BioInitiative Working Group acknowledges his many contributions, and sadness we feel in losing a cherished friend and humanitarian.

Martin was the kind of scientist and colleague who understood that science needs a human voice. In his professional life, he gave endlessly to promote public communication on complex health issues. He understood that waiting for academic certainty on scientific issues would penalize families who should be preventing EMF exposures in their children’s critical developmental phases of life. He didn’t shy away from criticism from industry, nor from the old guard academics and editors who would have preferred to stay within the safe, scientific mainstream.

He was a founding member of the BioInitiative Working Group, contributing chapters on stress proteins in both the 2007 and 2012 BioInitiative Reports. Martin knew the power of lending his academic and professional research ‘capital’ to efforts to bring the health dangers of EMF to the public, knowing that federal agencies are slow to act.

His book “Overpowered” was a lesson in translating the evolving science on this subject so the public could be informed and make safer choices about new technologies. His wry humor and deft use of real-world examples illuminated our understanding of his subject.

Many of you may remember Martin at the Munich Bioelectromagnetics Society (BEMS) annual meeting (2000) launching into naysayers – at a time when the BEMS platform was dominated by industry and military interests. Few had the gumption to take on this kind of audience with dissenting opinion (his opinions were informed by actual lab work, and multi-disciplinary research competency which others lacked). Martin was resolute and did not back down.

In 2006 at the BEMS Cancun annual meeting, he organized a mini-symposium on EMF Research and the Precautionary Principle. Following three 25-minute presentations (Blank on mechanisms, Michael Kundi on responses to previous environmental hazards like smoking, and Sage on EMF implementation under the precautionary principle), the scheduled 15-minute question and answer session was extended to the end of the day, and then the next day as well due to enormous interest the subject invoked. It broke loose the straight-jacket mentality prevalent at these professional meetings, which had tabled free discussion of non-ionizing biological effects for so many years.

You could feel the shift, and Martin relished the entertaining intellectual jousting of hundreds of BEMS participants as a consequence of his workshop. And his commentary often extended into the halls outside meeting rooms where you could hear him loudly contesting his critics as they walked beside him to the next event. In his book “Overpowered”, he described this Cancun event as the impetus for the creation of a grass-roots group of scientists closely involved in research on biological effects of EMF and actively involved in the Bioelectromagnetics Society. That was the beginning of the BioInitiative.

As principal editor of the special double-issue of Pathophysiology (2009) much of the BioInitiative 2007 Report was published under peer-review. This accomplishment was seen as a major contribution in defending the quality of science of the BioInitiative Report, and furthering our efforts for new, biologically-based public exposure standards for non-ionizing radiation.

Thank you. Martin.

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