“Initially the industry fought us,” says Rea, recalling LRC’s battle to establish the testing center. “Then it turned out, after we began publishing results, that some of the companies that hated us most instead loved us most, because we were telling the truth about their products. Now they point to our testing program to say, ‘See? Ours is real.’ ”
LRC often finds itself de-mystifying claims about light. For example, there are claims that “full-spectrum lighting” enhances mood and health by reproducing the effects of daylight indoors. The LRC took a dispassionate view of these claims describing both the benefits and the costs associated with “full-spectrum lighting.” The first thing they did, however, was to define “full spectrum” so that everyone was on the same page.
Some full-spectrum lights yield better results than others and at widely varying costs. But, as LRC has reported, the claimed superior physiological benefits of full-spectrum lighting remain unproven. Thus, perceived benefits may stem from the way these products are promoted, since “cleverly marketed full-spectrum light sources may provide beneficial effects to some people susceptible to that marketing.” In this case, as in many others, LRC researchers do not just grade products, they evaluate the underlying concept.
LRC takes light testing a step further with the development of new tools of measurement. To quantify how humans respond to light, for instance, researchers created the Daysimeter, a small measuring rod that faces forward while clipped to the ear of research subjects. “Being able to measure light is essential, or otherwise we can’t talk seriously about it,” says Mariana Figueiro, LRC assistant professor who studies the health effects of light. “We want to put more precision into statements about the impact of light on people.”
Another LRC research scientist, Jennifer Brons, has developed a standardized system of quantifying public light pollution, by measuring the glare in a cubic volume of space produced by, say, lights at shopping centers or high school football fields. This can allow local governments to use firm statistics when resolving light-use disputes. “We want to help people get away from just using rhetoric,” says Brons.