Journal grounds paper on radiation exposure in air traffic controllers because it was “published inadvertently”

indjoccenvtmedThe Indian Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine has retracted a 2013 article by a pair of researchers who’d claimed to find that air traffic controllers suffer poor health from exposure to microwave radiation. But that turns out to have been an, um, flight of fancy.

The article, “Adverse health effects of occupational exposure to radiofrequency radiation in airport surveillance radar operators,” was written by Naser Dehghan and Shahram Taeb, both of Shiraz University in Iran. According to the abstract:


Radar workers are exposed to pulsed high frequency electromagnetic fields. In this study, health effects of these radiations in personnel who routinely work with radar systems are investigated.

Materials and Methods:

The 28-item General Health Questionnaire was used as a self-administered tool for assessment of general mental health and mental distress. One hundred workers occupationally exposed to radar radiations (14-18 GHz) participated in the study. Visual reaction time was recorded with a simple blind computer-assisted-visual reaction time test. To assess the short-term memory, Wechsler Memory Scale-III test was performed.


Twenty to 39% of the radar workers reported different problems such as needing a good tonic, feeling run down and out of sorts, headache, tightness or pressure in the head, insomnia, getting edgy and bad-tempered. Furthermore, 47% of the radar workers reported feeling under strain. In response to this question that if they have been able to enjoy their normal day-to-day activities, 31% responded less than usual. It was also shown that work experience had significant relationships with reaction time and short-term memory indices i.e., forward digit span, reverse digit span, word recognition and paired words.


To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to show that occupational exposure to radar microwave radiation leads to changes in somatic symptoms, anxiety and insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression. Altogether these results indicate that occupational exposure to radar microwave radiations may be linked to some adverse health effects.

To be sure, we could all use a good tonic every now and again — particularly if that tonic includes more than just fizz. But it turns out the article fell flat.

As the retraction notice states:

The following Original Article, which was published in the print issue of the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine; April, 2013; Vol 17; Issue 1 are being retracted, as this article was published inadvertently by the journal.

Adverse health effects of occupational exposure to radiofrequency radiation in airport surveillance radar operators

Naser Dehghan, Shahram Taeb

The error is regretted

Editor, IJOEM

We’d love to know what the “inadvertent” is doing in that sentence. Was it a case of a paper that was rejected but published anyway? Or does the inadvertent refer to post-publication regrets?

We’ve contacted the journal and will update with anything we learn.

3 thoughts on “Journal grounds paper on radiation exposure in air traffic controllers because it was “published inadvertently””

  1. I don’t know if it’s a joke or serious

    I don’t know if my comment refers to the abstract, the journal, its impact factor or the retraction notice. Feels like a combination of an unpublished Douglas Adams and April’s fools day.

  2. It’s pathetic how everything that goes wrong in science publishing seems to happen inadvertantly.

    Someone gets caught plagiarizing… always inadvertently. And now a journal publishes a bad paper… inadvertently.

    Do we need a medal to reward the few culprits who have the decency to take responsibility?

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