Just finished reading a great article by Melinda Wenner in Walrus Magazine about the connection between Cell Phones and Brain Tumours. What it does isn’t so much confirm the connection, but confirm the complete avoidance by cell phone companies on confirming compelling evidence. It was enough to make me want to limit use. Check out the article for yourself on Walrus, the magazine. You make the call–or not.
I’m tired of there not being more sound, comprehensive studies done, and that science is being curbed by companies. If we can get phen-phen off the market, why can’t we do some substantial studies on technology–something that affects millions and millions of people?
If I were iPhone, I would make Skype standard on the device, elimate the phone itself and just make it a video phone–we’re heading there anyway. Vidphones are about to catch up to Science Fiction. And having to see a screen in your hand would keep the radiation away from your brain.
My Prediction: Whoever makes Skype universal on their Blackberry/iphone/Palm Pilot/cellphone wins the communication wars. Period.
I’m in the radiation safety business, and I’m afraid this is one of my pet peeves: claims by the popular press that a massive conspiracy is preventing us from knowing the “truth” about radiation risks. There are lots of good studies out there and there are some bad ones as well. But, you have to look at the data and decide what kind of confidence you have in the results (which is based on things like how many test subjects, taking into account confounding factors, etc.) It’s easy to make the claim that someone’s research was shut down because industry didn’t like the results, but you need to accept the possibility that the data just wasn’t very convincing (in spite of what the researcher desperately trying to hang on to his grant money wants you to think). A good place to look for the truth is with independent organizations (like the American Cancer Society) that don’t have an axe to grind.
If you want to read a good look at it from the other side, go to http://depletedcranium.com/?p=698
Dave, I appreciate your comment. I’m hoping to generate discussion on the Walrus article. So, what did you think of the Walrus article? Personally, I think they were pretty balanced in their assessment without watering down the warning that there needs to be better study done. And, hey, it’s good to see you! What’s your blog page and I’ll put you on the Blogroll.
Also, I find the media quick to dismiss a call by the Pittsburgh Cancer Center to limit cell phone use.
Granted, the magazine is Money magazine–but still, the media keeps trying to calm a public about a subject for which we have no clear cut answers. Why? The articles I’ve read all cite the Pittsburgh warning–or someone else’s warning–and pair it immediately with a statement calling Pittsburgh into question. Who’s the authority here? A cancer research center or a media outlet?
And why is the US not participating in Interphone–the global study on cancer and cellphones? They have tons of users and tons of good scientists–why let all the other countries conduct the research together while US scientists do their own? Why NOT participate? That, to me, raises enough questions…. In the scientific world cooperation is key, sharing of data is key, and the best projects are usually the global ones. Then we know there is no country bias.
I’m afraid I still think the US avoidance of participating in global research, the media’s quick abeyance of fears in the light of a cancer center’s warning–to the point of dismissal–are grounds for believing there’s something up–why protest so much?
Thanks for the link, Dave. I always appreciate listening to the other side of the debate. I don’t think the author of that blog does. Wow. How offputting. If he’s a friend, I apologize, but you did enter his link into the debate. My thoughts below are a rebuttal to him, not to you.
I find his blog entry lacking. He doesn’t mention Interphone, he yells and screams and overreacts to Pittsburgh’s warning–or anyone’s, and he limits his rebuttal to answering Pittsburgh’s suggestions on cell-phone use–making it a comedy routine.
(Pittsburgh never asked people to work the cellphone while driving, really).
He seems to treat anyone who disagrees with him as an idiot. He says there is no evidence of a link, and yet further in his blog entry, he admits that you can find the evidence online–BUT that it is a smaller group than those saying there’s no harm out there. Well, only long term, expensive studies can produce evidence. Any Blogger can produce refutation. And many people stand to lose if the evidence is real….
Counting the number of entries of people saying the evidence is wrong, and using that as evidence is wrong-headed.
I imagine that a reputable institute like the Pittsburgh Cancer Center is aware of all the studies listed in that blog entry–and probably have their own thoughts about them. Yet they issued the warning.
They also know the kind of trouble they’d get into by issuing a warning–which is why they sent a memo to staff, not a worldwide warning. This is not a national warning; it’s a company memo. But it sure caused a huge reaction. Why?
Anyway, I’m going to follow the advice of the memo, I think, from a reputable cancer center rather than this particular blogger. We don’t know the effects of the electromagnetic field–they issued a warning to the people who worked for them; it must have been important to them.
Personally, I really just wanted people to read the article and hope they do. It’s reasoned, calm, informative, and lists many of the same studies the blogger does. If you come up with other links, Dave, send them this way. Thanks!
Hi again Jerome,
No, he’s not a friend, and the views on that site are exceptionally one-sided and vocal (I got attacked pretty heavily there once for taking one commenter to task for telling a woman with a small crisis in faith that he had logical proof that God didn’t exist) I read that blog at times as the antidote to the nonsense that gets paraded in the media as scientific. So, let me start with my review of the Walrus article (and I apologize if she’s a friend).
Let’s start with the simple fact that this article has a biased viewpoint. You can see it immediately in the language used for the parties involved (my comments in parentheses):
“The wireless industry _adamantly_ denies the association” (Me thinks the industry doth protest too much)
“a spokesperson for the CTIA, a _heavyweight_ international organization that represents the _trillion dollar_ wireless industry” (we all know the “Man” is going to keep us down)
“a handful of _well-respected_ scientists” (If they were that well respected they would still be working in research)
“Phillips left Loma Linda and moved to Colorado Springs. Today he’s the director of the Science/ Health Science Learning Center at the University of Colorado.” (Sounds important, but if you look it up, you’ll find it’s basically a tutoring service.)
“Lai, the _soft-spoken_ University of Washington scientist” (Who’s the bully picking on the nice man?)
But wait you say!!! It’s Okay to portray them that way when the facts support it!!! Then let’s see what facts the article presents to make the case:
– regularly used a cellphone (anecdotal evidence, not scientific)
– Three of his former co-workers also have malignant brain tumors, and he suspects their cellphone use, too, is to blame. (also anecdotal evidence, not scientific)
– isn’t alone in worrying about the effects of the devices (if enough people are worried, then there must be a problem)
– speculation swirled that Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy’s brain cancer was linked to habitual cell phone use (swirling speculation is almost as good as evidence)
– CNN’s Larry King Live devoted a show to the subject (it’s on TV so it must be true)
– the neurosurgeon who treated US attorney Johnie Cochran’s brain tumour in 2005 said he would not rule out a link between cellphones and cancer (that’s because “ruling it out” is the same as proving a negative, which every scientist knows is categorically impossible)
– scientists suggest that since the mid-1990s wireless companies have been doing their best to bury worrying findings, discredit researchers who publish them, and design experiments that virtually guarantee the desired results. (Unamed sources claiming non-specific instances of a conspiracy is dramatic, but not compelling. And all the research in the US is accomplished through public or private grants that are awarded by convincing the powers that be that the research will in fact produce a specific set of results; either positive or negative.)
– “Biological effects are undoubtedly there, no question, and it’s a canard to suggest that they’re not,” says Abe Liboff, a research professor at Florida Atlantic University, and co-editor of the journal Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine. The cellphone industry, he insists, “will use any excuse to avoid the truth.”
Okay, this last one is the kicker. I can fault the author on most of the other problems, but this is where I see the failure in modern journalism. We’ve lost the ability to actually investigate. Instead, we look for “experts” and then simply transcribe whatever they say. But not everyone who looks like an expert really is one. These days, if you want to be a credible source, there are ample opportunities to publish in “peer reviewed” journals to establish your credentials, but it doesn’t mean that the paper had any merit. Professional scientific journals start with an abstract that basically tells you everything you need to know about the research, including the conclusions. It’s like that in the one I receive every month and all the other ones I’ve ever looked at. So let’s look at a representative abstract from the esteemed journal named above (They were all pretty much like this on the several I came across):
The title of the paper is: The Precautionary Principle Must Be Guided by EMF Research
First Let’s look at the abstract without my comments:
Regulatory action based on the Precautionary Principle is generally guided by the results of epidemiology studies. Even though laboratory research on electromagnetic fields (EMF) has supplied much relevant information and continues to do so, it is often overlooked. Laboratory research has shown that EMF of many frequencies stimulate many biological systems, and at low thresholds of both field strength and duration. It has also shown that EMF stimulate protein synthesis in cells and accelerate electron transfer reactions. In the last few years, important practical insights have been provided by the research on the cellular stress response, where the same specific biological response is induced in cells by both ELF (power frequency) and RF (radio frequency) fields, despite the very different energy levels. Since this protective biological response is not determined by the level of energy absorbed, safety standards based on the best available biological evidence must (1) recognize non thermal protective responses and (2) include cumulative exposures across the EM spectrum.
Now read it with my comments in parentheses:
-Regulatory action based on the Precautionary Principle is generally guided by the results of epidemiology studies. (This is fairly true for ionizing radiation in the sense that we know the biological effects down to the cellular level, and we know the health effects at higher doses and set limits below known health effects as a precaution at low levels. But the first step is to establish the mechanism that causes harm)
-Even though laboratory research on electromagnetic fields (EMF) has supplied much relevant information and continues to do so, it is often overlooked. (If the “relevant information” were actually information that demonstrated a health effect, it would certainly be used)
-Laboratory research has shown that EMF of many frequencies stimulate many biological systems, and at low thresholds of both field strength and duration. (The implication here is that stimulation of biological systems is somehow equal to health effects, but it’s not.)
-It has also shown that EMF stimulate protein synthesis in cells and accelerate electron transfer reactions. (Again, if that meant a health effect ensued, they would state it)
-In the last few years, important practical insights have been provided by the research on the cellular stress response, where the same specific biological response is induced in cells by both ELF (power frequency) and RF (radio frequency) fields, despite the very different energy levels. (Ah yes, the ever deadly “cellular stress response”. The researchers can’t find any health effect, so they’ve made up a “response” with the hope we won’t notice the emperor has no clothes)
-Since this protective biological response is not determined by the level of energy absorbed, safety standards based on the best available biological evidence must (1) recognize non thermal protective responses and (2) include cumulative exposures across the EM spectrum. (Since there’s no correlation between the input of energy and my observed non-health related response, rather than concluding there’s no connection between the energy and the response, I’ll assume there’s “something else going on” and set safety standards based on whatever I suppose might correlate, and then apply it across the EM spectrum with no physical data to support it)
So, in conclusion, I find (with my limited science background) that the abstract is a complete load of crap, which makes the peer reviewed journal a complete load of crap, which makes the esteemed editor Mr. Abe Liboff a very untrustworthy source for factual scientific information.
I’m sorry this comes across as a bit pissy, but like I said, it’s kind of a pet peeve.
So, then how do we know what to believe? As the studies show, there can be a bias in conclusions based on the funding source. There’s also bias from individual researchers who have their reputations (and perhaps more importantly their funding) on the line depending on the conclusions. So here’s what to do:
1) Give more weight to robust studies. A study that includes 100,000 people is more reliable than one that only includes only 100. The more data points you have, the more certain you are of the conclusions (statistical error analysis)
2) Give more weight to conclusions on the overall state of knowledge to sources that are as unbiased as possible (like the American Cancer Society) rather than those who have a conflict of interest (including researchers looking for follow-on grants).
3) Recognize the difference between positive pronouncements of harmful effects (there’s a known physical effect from ionizing radiation that causes cancer at certain doses) and negative pronouncements of possible harm (I can’t rule out harmful effects from use of cell phones). The first is a provable fact, the second is a public relations response to people who believe that cell phones are harmful and demand that you prove they are not. (Remember it’s impossible to prove a negative).
Sorry for the length!!!
Hi again Jerome,
I looked up the Interphone study, and to date all the research seems to be saying (once again) that there’s no correlation between cancer and use of cell phones for 10 years or less. And when they say more research is needed for cell phone use of over 10 years, it isn’t about some slight evidence pointing toward the need for more research, it’s about the statistics being so poor (very small sample size) that they aren’t willing to make ANY kind of conclusion.
So, I’m kind of glad that the US isn’t participating in interphone because there are plenty of diseases with known and verifiable physical causes that research dollars could benefit from.
Personally, I think both of you should just skip the cell phone use, and talk to your friends in person. Specifically me. Over coffee. You’re welcome to stop by anytime.
Deal! Make some coffee and we’re coming to Tempe.
But isn’t this the point where the flame wars start!!!!! How am I going to get my quota of daily drama if we just sit down and talk over coffee!
But seriously, I miss you guys. You’re welcome to stop by my place anytime as well.