Cell Phones don’t cause cancer. RF radiation does not cause cancer. Those statements I am willing to stand behind. If you don’t believe me, please use the search function on this site. I can assure you I have plenty of posts with citations of both the theoretical reasons why non-ionizing radiation does not cause cancer and the studies that have shown no link.
There’s a lot of pressure to say that they do, however. Claiming cell phones cause cancer sells books and magazines. Some dishonest people have made a whole career out of telling these lies. They become media darlings because everyone loves to hate the “big companies” and to talk about how some poor little guy is being kept down by those evil powers that be. Groups make a lot of money too. Especially when the emotion-charged issue of children is dragged into the mix, dishonest charities can grab headlines and donations. Groups that contribute nothing useful to the world are treated as charities while paying their top executives hundreds of thousands of dollars a year or more.
Oh, and by the way, I’m not afraid to name names when it comes to these dishonest people and groups: Lennart Hardell, George Carlo, Devra Davis, The Environmental Health Trust, Bioinitiative, EMF-Health, Microwave News. (there, so sue me. I’d love to see you in court about this)
Thankfully the WHO has been one organization that has been steadfast about the fact that there is no evidence to indicate a relationship between RF radiation and cancer. There are lots of claims, a few very poorly controlled experiments but no evidence, and this is despite some enormous studies and decades of trying.
Unfortunately, however, the WHO has recently made some more ambiguous statements on the issue. Bowing to pressure from those with a financial stake and those stupid enough to believe them, the WHO has now stated that mobile phone radiation is “possibly carcinogenic” – in other words, there’s no absolutely certain empirical evidence that shows beyond any shadow of a doubt that there’s no remote possibility that maybe somehow by some unknown mechanism, radio waves might have once in the history of the universe caused a cell to become cancerous. (They also claim to base this in part on largely discredited studies linking glioma, a certain form of brain cancer to mobile phones.)
Still, this is a bad idea. It’s a horrible message to send out. The problem is not that it’s entirely scientifically invalid to say that something is very remotely possible, but how politicians, the media and society take such statements. It sometimes seems that research scientists don’t fully understand just how badly a statement can and will be butchered and taken out of context.
This non-story has already spawned over one thousand media reports. Here are a few to provide a taste of just how this plays out:
Los Angeles Times: Experts say cellphones are possibly carcinogenic
Financial Times: WHO signals mobile phone cancer fears
Dallas Morning News: World Health Organization says cellphones might cause brain cancer
The Australian: Risk of brain tumour from mobile phone use is similar to pesticide DDT, petrol exhaust and coffee
Bellfast Telegraph: Brain cancer warning over mobiles
Newsday: Panel sees possible cellphone-cancer link
PC Magazine: WHO Finds Tentative Link Between Cell Phones, Cancer
Seattle Post Intelligencer – Experts: Cell phone use raises risk of cancer
Those are, of course, just a few.
A couple comments about this shameful reporting:
What the hell is a “tentative link?” Does that mean that they don’t have a shred of evidence but are pretty sure they will at some point?
Also, in case you did not know: DDT has never been conclusively linked to cancer in humans, though there were some conflicting studies about chronic exposure in prepubescent girls and breast cancer later, the link appears very weak. There’s not even the slightest evidence that DDT is related to brain cancer.
Coffee has never been linked to brain cancer in any way shape or form, though some studies have found a small risk of increased bladder cancer in very heavy coffee drinkers. The evidence of this is considered inconclusive, in part because the increase was very small and not found by all studies of coffee and bladder cancer. There may be other confounding factors at play.
Automobile exhaust may be carcinogenic depending on the circumstances, such as the fuel burned, the exposure levels etc. There’s little evidence that the combustion byproducts of properly and completely burned gasoline are directly carcinogenic. Of course, these would be mostly carbon dioxide and water.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 31st, 2011 at 4:49 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Culture, inverse square, media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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