Salon sometimes, and with increasing frequency lately, publishes some genuinely pernicious crap. I notice they’ve been experimenting with click-baity titles and more lists (I am growing to hate lists on the internet), there is more and more gullible religious pandering, and some days I think they’re experience huffpo envy — ‘if only we were a little more schlocky and gossipy and threw in some more T&A, we’d get more traffic!’ And now they’ve published some hysterical nonsense about cell phones causing cancer. Apparently there are no editors on the staff with even the slightest bit of scientific training who’d recognize that this claim is oft-debunked nonsense.
They even gave it the title “Your cell phone is killing you”, although they did exercise some restraint in leaving off the expected six exclamation points afterwards. The content consists of selective mention (not citation — the author doesn’t bother to give us enough information to track down the work) of only papers that show any purported effect of electromagnetic radiation at all, and hysterically concludes that we’re all in the middle of a great experiment that will end with the bees all dead and all of us having gigantic tumors on one side of our heads, Alzheimer’s disease, and with our sperm all limp and zombiefied, which is a good thing, because otherwise those sperm would spawn hideous mutant offspring.
Ho hum. In the 19th century, people were concerned about electricity leaking out of outlets if they weren’t turned off (in houses that had open gas flames!). We’ve had the terrors of high tension wires zapping everyone passing under them with madness and death inducing magnetic fluxes. Now it’s cell phones. They’re next to your head! They’re transmitting!
And you know what they’re transmitting? Radiation.
Most notably, the entire power grid is an EMF-generation network that reaches almost every individual in America and 75% of the global population. Today, early in the 21st century, we find ourselves fully immersed in a soup of electromagnetic radiation on a nearly continuous basis.
Yes, we are. It’s true. Of course, it’s not just the 21st century: when early humans stepped out of their caves to throw sticks at antelope 100,000 years ago, they were fully immersed in a soup of electromagnetic radiation on a nearly continuous basis. The earth has a magnetic field of several hundred milliGauss, and visible light has a frequency of about 500 trillion Hz; yet you don’t sense any effect of that magnetic field, and sunlight at that frequency merely warms your skin (higher frequency light, around 1000 trillion Hz, does damage cells severely — it’s the UV that gives you sunburn).
Yet even if you live directly under a high tension line, that source is only providing about 1-2 milliGauss, and cell phones are radiating at at about one billion Hz, an insignificant fraction of the energy from the soup bath in electromagnetic reaction you get from just walking around outside, even when slathered in high SPF sunscreen.
However, while science has not yet answered all of our questions, it has determined one fact very clearly—all electromagnetic radiation impacts living beings.
This is certainly true! Here’s James May cooking a hot dog and melting a steel plate by using a mirror to focus sunlight.
The inescapable conclusion of this experiment: we must ban flashlights. Otherwise, they might fall into the hands of small children who would then use them to disintegrate their playmates.
This is representative of what the author of this silly piece, Martin Blank, does throughout his article. He looks selectively at the literature, reports only on the cases that support his conclusions, and then makes sweeping assertions of disaster awaiting us all.
As I will discuss, science demonstrates a wide range of bioeffects linked to EMF exposure. For instance, numerous studies have found that EMF damages and causes mutations in DNA—the genetic material that defines us as individuals and collectively as a species. Mutations in DNA are believed to be the initiating steps in the development of cancers, and it is the association of cancers with exposure to EMF that has led to calls for revising safety standards. This type of DNA damage is seen at levels of EMF exposure equivalent to those resulting from typical cell phone use.
This is not true. The National Cancer Institute summarizes the effects of cell phones:
Studies thus far have not shown a consistent link between cell phone use and cancers of the brain, nerves, or other tissues of the head or neck. More research is needed because cell phone technology and how people use cell phones have been changing rapidly.
That last sentence, the one that begins “More research is needed”? That’s what we call a CYA statement: a bureaucratic cover-your-ass bit of boilerplate to make sure that some remote happenstance doesn’t cause them regret — it’s also a standard appeal for “give us more money” from a funding agency. But read the rest: they describe many of the experiments and the evidence, and also summarizes the common flaws that lead some studies to contradict the sense and science of electromagnetic fields. The conclusion from all of the major organizations is that any effect of cell phones is so marginal that no significant consequence of cell phone use on your physiology is detectable. Compare that to Blank’s claim.
Or you can get Steve Novella’s opinion, or Orac’s. It’s not impossible that the teeny-tiny emissions of your cell phone might lightly tickle some cells in some subtle, unpredictable way, but the totality of the current evidence says no, it doesn’t seem to have any significant effect.
If you’re still worried, here are instructions on how to build a Faraday cage (short summary: lots of aluminum foil). Climb in, and turn the lights off. And no flashlights! You could incinerate someone with one of those!