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Apr 28 2012

Fifteen years of cell phones, still no uptick in cancer

Sure, this Guardian article doesn’t frame it quite so vehemently, but I think after fifteen years, and the myriad studies done on the matter, the lack of appreciable increase in brain cancer rates should pretty much speak for itself.

In the review, “Health Effects from Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields” the advisory group considered hundreds of peer reviewed scientific studies that looked at the effects of mobile phone radiation on cells, animals and people.

“There are still limitations to the published research that preclude a definitive judgement, but the evidence overall has not demonstrated any adverse effects on human health from exposure to radiofrequency fields below internationally accepted guideline levels,” said Professor Anthony Swerdlow, chairman of the AGNIR and an epidemiologist at the Institute of Cancer Research.

[...]
Simon Mann of the HPA said that while the agency was not changing its long-held, precautionary stance that children should refrain from “excessive use” of mobile phones, “the reassurance that can be provided that there are no effects is much stronger than it was 10 years ago”.

In making recommendations for future research, the report emphasised a need to focus on new and emerging devices that emit radiofrequency radiation, and to gather more data on cancer risk among those who have used phones for more than 15 years.

So, because we can’t definitively disprove any ability of cell phone EMFs to cause brain tumors, despite the total lack of plausible mechanism by which these brain tumors might be caused, we leave the door wedged open that tiny crack so that nutters can keep talking about how dangerous it (potentially) is. And beyond that, the report actually suggests we move on to the next bugaboo, where (regardless of any actual indication that it might be dangerous) we should start studying something that has obviously been tested a considerable deal already. “Leave cell phones alone, start focusing on other EMF generators to see if they are deadly instead”, in other words. I am reminded of this XKCD comic.

The burden of proof has shifted, thanks to cranks and antiscience interests, to the point where one has to DISprove proffered claims like low-level EMF causing cancer, or the existence of extraterrestrial visitors who are really into anal, or that vaccines causing autism, or the existence of sperm-jacking women subjugating men in our society, or the planets’ positions at our birth affecting our destiny, or the existence of specific gods who want to trick us into believing we all evolved rather than being created ex nihilo, or the invisible hand of the market being the most self-evidently beneficial to the whole of mankind. This is the kind of bullshit we have to deal with as skeptics. That inversion of the burden of proof is probably the single biggest problem we face collectively as a species. It’s a bug in our kluge-heavy, evolved brains.

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  1. 1
    Mark D.

    After discussion about this in my electronics classes, I had come up with this saying:

    “Just because it is invisible does not make it magical.”

    The specific application to cell phones and brain cancer is this:

    If you are afraid that the half-Watt low frequency electromagnetic wave source held close to your head will give you cancer, you should be scared shitless every time you walk into a room with dozens of wave sources with hundreds of times more output power with tens of thousands of times higher frequency.

    Everyone who tries to argue why cell phones cause cancer should have a damn convincing reason why the same argument shouldn’t apply with far greater urgency to light bulbs. I’ve never seen any “precautionary principle” about that.

    We live in a world that is constantly bathed with electromagnetic waves of one kind or another. A little more low frequency background noise isn’t going to make a damn bit of difference.

    To reiterate:

    “Just because it is invisible does not make it magical.”

  2. 2
    tim gueguen

    On the other hand I’m sure we’ll see an increase in hand and wrist problems in the next few years due to the number of folks who text incessantly.

  3. 3
    Ysanne

    SCNR, Mark D:
    Of course the radiation from lightbulbs isn’t dangerous — after all, it’s NOT invisible! It’s the invisible evil stuff that creeps up on you (or rather into you), slowly eats away at you and gives you cancer and then pops out of your chest all slimy and acidy… oops no sorry, that’s Alien. ;-)

  4. 4
    Desert Son, OM

    But . . . but . . . but . . . !

    Illuminati! They’ve covered up the harmful effects of the radiation with another kind of radiation that makes it seem like there’s no uptick in cancer onset!

    The Bilderberg Group! They’ve bought out all the researchers looking into this so that the cancer-causing radiation isn’t seen for what it really is: mind-control rays!

    Big Pharma! They’re reassuring the public so they’ll go right along consuming cancerous radiation so that the massive dollars from chemotherapy and surgery continue to be required keeping the Big Pharma fat cats in fat, uh . . . cats!

    The Media! They don’t want you to know the truth because if it gets out there’ll be revolution and overthrow of the governments and shadow governments that have long used cancerous cell-phone radiation to keep the public from manifesting their X-men mutant powers!

    Aliens! It’s only been through the suppression beams of the benevolent Zortlon Collective that the carcinogenic radiation first enabled by the evil, shapeshifting Minions of Murganthapaz 7 has been kept in check allowing us all to go on in blissful ignorance while the real battle for galactic supremacy rages behind the scenes!

    Wake up, people!

    Still learning,

    Robert

    (How’d I do?)

  5. 5
    dianne

    Technically, the lack of uptick in brain cancer doesn’t prove that cell phones don’t cause brain cancer: the results could be confounded by a decreased rate in something else that causes brain cancer. Maybe VZV infection or something* (therefore the cell phone related cancers are going up while the VZV related cancers are going down thanks to the vaccine.)

    That having been said, there is no evidence of cell phones causing cancer and no plausible mechanism by which they might do so. So that should be that for the hypothesis. Cell phones do kill, but the mechanism is causing inattention while driving and increased MVAs. There hasn’t been an uptick in MVA deaths either, but that’s because air bags and better engineering of cars has decreased the chances that a given MVA will kill, not because people are driving better.

    *Example pulled directly out of some place smelly. As far as I know, there is absolutely no evidence for VZV causing cancer. Then again, there’s just as much evidence for it as for cell phones.

  6. 6
    dianne

    Actually, I’m going to call bullshit on myself: The rate of auto accidents in the US has dropped in the 2000s There is an uptick in 2009 and there might well be confounders, but there’s no definitive proof that cell phone chats cause auto accidents to be found in the raw data.

  1. 7
    The 2012 Lousy Year In Review » Lousy Canuck

    [...] the end of the power grab, with CISPA following close on its heels. And science finally put an end to the idea that cell phones cause cancer, though nobody told the anti-technology [...]

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