My arrival in Seattle


First thing when I landed at SeaTac: it started raining, as I’d hoped.

Second thing at the airport: we were taking a shuttle bus, and this guy started talking at his friend. I learned many things.

  • It’s obvious that cell phones cause cancer. They radiate energy. Energy causes cancer. QED.

  • The only reason we don’t have proof is that all us old guys use them sparingly. Just wait: a few more years, and all those kids going around with phones glued to their head will be getting brain cancer! Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

  • The best part: he got sort of quantitative. At low energies, they don’t cause cancer, but as the power goes up, the cancer-causing effects go up exponentially. Therefore, don’t use your cell phone when you got 4 or 5 bars! That’s when they’re most dangerous!

I’m imagining this guy wandering through life, using his cell phone to avoid places with “high energy radiofrequencies”, and refusing to take calls unless he’s got a perfect medium strength signal.

There is woo in Seattle, I can testify.


  1. mastmaker says

    ha ha ha.

    As regards to 3rd point, a guy with even a minute sense of tech would know that opposite ‘would be’ true. when signal levels are high, cell phones automatically use low power communication since the more the number of bars, the nearer the cell tower, hence the lower the energy you need to reach it.

    Of course, it is all bunkum. The energy levels in cellphone microwave emission are not nearly enough to cause any damage.

  2. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    That bit of woo is worthy of a facepalm, but only a mild one.

  3. Menyambal - torched by an angel says

    Yay, Sea-Tac. I used to drive shuttle busses out of Sea-Tac. You can see my old apartment just off one exit ramp, too.

    Right. They are going to build cell phone using frequencies that are absorbed by the heads that are between them and half the cell towers. Have you ever had to twist your head around to get a better signal? No, the energy doesn’t stop in your head, and if it did, it would only be as heat, not ionizing destruction. (And for Dog’s sake, the signal bars are indicating the energy from the tower. You and your dog are getting that all the time, no matter which of you is using the phone.)

  4. Rich Woods says

    Therefore, don’t use your cell phone when you got 4 or 5 bars!

    I’m measuring this at 4 out of 5* bars on my ignoTech meter.

    My ignoTech meter actually goes up to 6, but that’s reserved for homeopathy and any fruitloopery mentioning the word ‘quantum’.

  5. Artor says

    That bit of woo is worthy of a facepalm, but only a mild one.

    I’d try to remember that when I reach over to deliver the needed face-palm to the idiot spreading ignorant woo.

    Have you ever had to twist your head around to get a better signal?

    I have with my Bluetooth. If I have my phone in the opposite pocket from my occupied ear, I lose the connection if I turn my head the wrong way. But a Bluetooth signal is magnitudes weaker than a broadcast cell signal.

  6. Georgia Sam says

    Hell, even I can debunk that nonsense, & the last electronics class I took involved vacuum tubes. As I understand it, the reason cellphone signals don’t cause cancer is not only because of their power level, but also because they’re in the wrong part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

  7. Georgia Sam says

    It’s frightening how little most people understand about the technology they depend on every day.

  8. blf says

    This is the type of person who should be informed there is a company in Nigeria who has solved all the “problems” but needs additional funding to complete their research and market the product. However, because of the Ebola situation, the investors they had lined up all ran away. They need to make a payment to their creditors soon, and it they don’t, will be closed down. Hence, there are two opportunities here: (1) Invest in the company, getting a seat on the board and high percentage of the shares; and/or (2) Gamble that they will go bankrupt and then buy up the patents for a pittance. I now a reliable guy over there who can facilitate all deals for only a modest fee, and the best part of it is, all he requires is your bank account details!

  9. redwood says

    Off the woo topic but on the shuttle bus topic and something PZ might be able to relate to. One time when I visited my mother’s home town of Salt Lake City (neither of us are Mormon but have the “right” skin color to be), I rode a shuttle out to my car rental. The shuttle was full of Mormon guys who knew each other and were trying to figure out if I was one of them by talking about where they did their missions and then looking expectantly at me. One guy was staring at my body, presumably to detect the magic underwear, but who knows? It was seriously creepy, like this was their town and I had to pass their test to be admitted.

  10. says

    This is what I found funny about the this whole thing:

    You flew into SeaTac, and heard a conversation about cell phones. Well, the first flip phone was called the StarTac.

  11. Larry says

    redwood @ #10

    They were mormons. They were probably just sizing you up to see if you’d make a good guest victim at the Welcome Home Gentile Sacrificial Ceremony and BBQ later that evening.

  12. Sastra says

    The best part: he got sort of quantitative.

    Not just the best part, but ultimately this is the necessary part. The invocation of quantum woo will allow anyone and everyone to avoid addressing or even listening to all the wise and informed arguments from the engineers and physicists. The idea seems to be that the very, very small approaches the Spiritual plane. When you get right down to it “energy” is consciousness and consciousness is mysterious and mystical.

    Once they’re in mystical territory nothing you say can get through. It’s Calvinball and they’ve got the ball.

  13. F.O. says

    This kind of attitude is so common, and so human.
    Thing is, it doesn’t really damage significantly the specific individual, but it ends up damaging society.

    The next step for the cultural growth of humanity is to start accepting that we are often wrong, that it is part of the human condition and there’s nothing shameful about it.

    Personally, I found acknowledging the limits of my own understanding very liberating and empowering, and I like to think that such a change in attitude would immensely benefit humanity.

  14. grumpyoldfart says

    I tell people like him that my doctors used cellphone energy to cure my cancer.

  15. according2robyn says

    It’s so much worse than he thinks. Since the bars read the signal strength from the tower, not only should you not make a call when your phone reads four bars, you should immediately leave the area. Of course, as cell use increases, there will be fewer safe spaces, and eventually everyone will have brain cancer.

    Damn you Verizon, you’ve doomed us all with your flawless 4G LTE coverage!

  16. prae says

    Fun fact: While if you have fewer bars it does mean that the tower is further away and that less of it’s radiaton is reaching you, but also that your device has to actually increase the power of it’s sender in order to actually reach that tower

  17. edmond says

    Hey now, if this guy was at the airport, there’s no reason to assume he’s FROM Seattle. We’re a bastion of reason and sanity!

  18. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 20:
    ahhh, so no resident ever leaves Seattle, to become a returnee? That everyone in the SeaTac is a tourist, or hopeful immigrant?
    < /snark> sorry to start playin along…

    you’re right, there was little or no reason to just *assume* the wooster was a Seattle native. He was using that “cancer producer device” he was reviling so he could have been diatribing to someone anywhere in the world.

  19. JohnnieCanuck says

    Nobody tell him that one of the most powerful transmitters in the world is operating just north of Seattle with 1.2 Million Watts. It’s in Jim Creek Valley near Arlington.

    robyn, there’s a place in the US where there is no cell signal, no wi-fi and nearly no TV, FM or AM transmitters. And yes, some people do go there to live just because of that. It’s called the US National Radio Quiet Zone. Restrictions are most severe near the radio telescopes.

  20. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    It’s obvious that cell phones cause cancer. They radiate energy. Energy causes cancer. QED.

    Someone better inform the crystal healing people O.O

  21. komarov says

    Re: #8 Georgia Sam:

    It’s frightening how little most people understand about the technology they depend on every day.

    Sorry, but no. You’re not actually looking at the problem. For most people knowledge of the intricacies of [cell phone transmission]* is useless. Having the basics on how to get one of those things to work is sufficient. It may be interesting to them but that’s on an individual basis. Hardly anyone geniunely needs to know how a certain piece of technology works, and there’s too much for people to keep up with anyway.

    The actual problem is that people like those in the OP don’t realise or can’t admit their limitations. (Agreed with #15) And so they end up falling for nonsense and woo and spread it further. The original source of the misinformation is either equally ignorant (‘Journalists misrepresent scientific facts’ is a non-story much like ‘dog bites man’) or a quack.
    Fixing the problem is not a matter of cramming more technical knowledge into people’s skulls beyond the basics. It’s a matter of teaching them general skills – critical thinking for one – and slapping the quacks down hard. As for journalists who keep getting it wrong … maybe an evening class in scientific literacy?

    *Insert technology / specialist knowledge here.
    Some fun examples:
    Advanced rocketry, Bee-keeping, Cheese-making (I don’t know the professional term for it, if any, but I don’t eat cheese so I’m fine), Fluid dynamics, Economic theories and models, GPS, Refrigeration, Masonry, Modern agriculture, Railway logistics and scheduling, Water treatment.

    Society sure does a lot of stuff to keep itself going. Even a lifetime spent reading shall leave me woefully ignorant of most of it.

  22. sugarfrosted says

    The best part: he got sort of quantitative. At low energies, they don’t cause cancer, but as the power goes up, the cancer-causing effects go up exponentially. Therefore, don’t use your cell phone when you got 4 or 5 bars! That’s when they’re most dangerous!

    Not to challenge airport guy’s understanding of the world, but assuming his premise, wouldn’t that be the time when it was the least dangerous? You know it doesn’t need as much power to reach the tower.

  23. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Hopefully PZ get deep enough into the forest that he got zero bars. Without a sore knee in the process.

  24. futurechemist says

    Everyone seems to be commenting on your 2nd point, so I figured I’d talk about your first. I’m glad it’s raining. Despite Seattle’s reputation, it hasn’t rained much lately. We had a pretty dry Winter so there was almost no mountain snowpack to help keep the region wet. And while Summer is usually dry for Seattle, in fact this year Seattle set a record for the driest May 1 – July 31 ever for the region. Technically we’re in a severe drought right now, along with the entirety of Washington state, though not as bad as California.

  25. futurechemist says

    @29 Nerd
    Actually, no it probably won’t help. While El Nino does bring more rain to the Southwest, it takes that rain from the Northwest. So the Pacific Northwest would expect another dry Winter, making things worse.

  26. chris says

    Oh, goody, you are just in time. On Tuesday Dr. Theresa Deisher is going to explain to the Seattle Skeptics why vaccines using fetal cell lines cause autism and leukemia.

  27. Menyambal - torched by an angel says

    I don’t know if this counts as woo or not, but I recall one Seattle resident that was a bit confused by technology before. The Seattle paper printed a story (on paper, kids, ask your grandpa) about local aircraft manufacturer Boeing making some aircraft parts out of spent uranium.

    Spent uranium is roughly as toxic as lead, and maybe should be called “cleaned uranium”, or just uranium. Almost all the rare radioactive isotope has been taken out, and what is left is just a metal of no interest at all, except for its density and strength. The density is higher than lead, so where weight is needed, uranium is useful.

    Boeing was using the uranium for counterweights in moving parts of the aircraft, to prevent vibration and flutter and wings breaking off. It was denser than lead, and stronger, and only toxic in case of a bad fire.

    So the paper wrote the story, and only messed it up a little. (Seriously, I was trying to get them to hire me as a science and technology editor.) A few days later, the paper printed a letter to the editor (it’s like a comment, kids, but by snail-mail) from some guy who had read it as saying that Boeing was storing radioactive waste on the airplanes. Radioactive waste was an issue in the area at the time (hello, Hanford) so jumping to waste wasn’t so difficult (and spent uranium is a byproduct). But imagining that somebody would use an airplane as a storage capsule was just bizarre. It was like the man had taken only the words “airplane” and “uranium” and went wild.

    Anyhow, the point of my story was that he was berating the paper for printing the story, even though he thought his interpretation was the facts. He was mad because now his son was crying and afraid to go outdoors. He had mis-read the story, passed it on to his kid, and he was most upset by the hard-hitting investigative journalism.

    Seattle was also where I dated a naturopathic physician, and where I got to sit in on a Mensa meeting being addressed by a fellow who was sure that we could all see his aura changing colors.

  28. Matrim says

    @32, Menyambal – torched by an angel

    Depleted uranium is still dangerous, mostly for its toxicity, but the radiation can be dangerous…though the risk is relatively low. When we did range clearances out at Edwards and Nellis we had to be very careful because a lot of the aircraft used DU rounds fired at target vehicles with DU armor. Uranium dust was everywhere.

    Still, yeah, being used in aircraft parts is pretty standard and no more dangerous that any number of other nasty things we use in manufacturing all the time.

  29. woozy says


    But everybody knows the radioactive uranium is discarded into the chemtrails as a cover-up.

  30. Menyambal - torched by an angel says

    Woozy, that would explain why the chemtrails seem to affect people on the ground so fast. The heavy uranium falls so quickly that just seeing the plane fly over causes the susceptible folks to start reacting.

  31. Hatchetfish says

    It also explains why spraying vinegar in the air disrupts and neutralizes the chemtrails.

    Or not.

  32. unclefrogy says

    it is a good thing I guess that the people who are the most afraid of cellphone radiation do not have any idea the amount of radiation they are surrounded with some of it is quite strong. This was heard at the airport? I think I read some where that you get an increased exposure to radiation from air travel because of the high altitude I think.

    maybe a tinfoil suit would be a good idea so long as it was well grounded
    uncle frogy

  33. Menyambal - torched by an angel says

    Heh. There could be depleted uranium in a cell phone. See, the vibrate widget on many phones is a little motor turning an eccentric weight. Uranium would be ideal for the off-center bit. Aside, of course, from the slight radiation and the perception problem.

    A product-design engineer told me he was making some tamping machines that had to jump up and down. The best way was an offset weight. The best weight was depleted uranium. The worst problem was the paper work – apparently there is quite an oversight system.

    (I keep getting a request timed out message when I try to post. It has been happening for several days. It takes many tries to break through that. It is aggravating.)

  34. Lofty says

    Clearly there is a market for a Depleted Uranium Hat, or DUH, to protect your noggin from cellphonic radiation. It does so by emitting much more powerful rays to beat off the weaker stuff. Also, the density of the DUH will make the average non wearer seem quite smart in comparison.

  35. Rowan vet-tech says

    Boring. Score of 0.5 out of 10. Positive score given due to lack of prominent typos. Congratulations on being a boring but literate troll.

  36. leerudolph says


    It also explains why spraying vinegar in the air disrupts and neutralizes the chemtrails.

    Of course, entrepreneurial sorts can then monetize the precipitated uranyl acetate!!!

  37. latveriandiplomat says

    @33, Dust is a dangerous form for any radioactive substance, because it gets into your lungs and stays there, potentially adding its little contribution to your exposure for the rest of your life. And inside your lungs is where alpha emitters can do a lot of harm.

    Metallic U238 in some part of the plane outside the cabin wouldn’t be a hazard at all, AFAIK.

    On the other hand, if we ever get a decent breeder reactor design, all that U238 might be useful as fuel stock. The passion for using as much of it as possible in “dense metal” applications seems shortsighted to me. But, that’s capitalism.

  38. Georgia Sam says

    Re: #25 Komarov: You’re right of course, that people generally don’t need to understand a lot about technology to use it, & don’t have time to study all of it in depth. I was thinking more of cases in which people don’t even understand enough about it to use or maintain it properly. Often the consequences of the ignorance aren’t so much frightening as they are perplexing, counterproductive, & sometimes expensive. A young man I know bought a used car & drove it for 5 years without checking the oil. It cost him more than $2000 in engine repairs, & he was lucky to get off that easy. Some time later, he put 9 quarts of oil in a 5-quart crankcase. Then there’s my beloved wife (the light of my life & very smart about other things), who doesn’t understand the difference between using the software on her home computer versus remotely accessing software on a server at her workplace, & thought something must have malfunctioned when she couldn’t find a document that she created & saved earlier. And a relative who replies to e-mail messages by using the “forward” function. And sometimes the consequences really are frightening, as in the case of the driver of a runaway car who disregarded instructions to shift the transmission into neutral because he thought it would cause the car to flip end-over-end.

  39. blf says

    On Tuesday Dr Theresa Deisher is going to explain to the Seattle Skeptics why vaccines using fetal cell lines cause autism and leukemia.

    Just a reminder of Orac’s classic piece, which begin “This may be the burningest stupid I’ve ever seen about vaccines.”

  40. alkisvonidas says

    Whenever I ponder the issue of cell phone “radiation”, I feel uneasy.

    On the one hand, as a physicist, I know that it’s not the intensity, it’s the frequency of radiation that determines whether it can ionize or not, and that microwave & radiowave frequencies are nowhere near enough to cause ionizing.

    Therefore, a cell phone cannot cause cancer by ionizing the molecules in human cells. That much is physics 101.

    On the other hand, I have heard this kind of warning not only from kooks, but also from many doctors. I know that doesn’t automatically make it right, but it gives me pause. Doctors are used to dealing with patterns in the clinical cases they study, without necessarily being able to explain these patterns. If there is a genuinely observed pattern between cell phone use and the likelihood of developing a cancer, we should consider the possibility of cell phones causing cancer in some other way than ionizing.

  41. alkisvonidas says

    @Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y

    Someone better inform the crystal healing people

    Screw crystal healing, just imagine how the Radithor people must have felt after they found out… those lucky enough to have ever found out, that is.

  42. latveriandiplomat says

    @47: It seems likely that any pattern a doctor sees is very likely to be confirmation bias. They just notice brain cancers (or whatever) more than they did before cell phones became common, because in the back of their mind, they wonder if there’s a link and they tune in on confirming cases.

    The only defense against confirmation bias is statistics. And AFAIK, no statistical study has found any connection to cell phone usage to any public health problem–other than inattentive driving, of course :-)

  43. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I see Gizmodo has picked up this faux-hysteria:
    providing reiteration of this PSA:

    A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.

  44. says

    You obviously get a brighter bunch of riders on those shuttles than we get on the city buses in Eugene. Last time I rode the bus here I had to listen to a guy wondering why they don’t run those large vehicles on steam anymore. Since all you need for that is water, it would be really cheap. Of course the oil companies would be unhappy, yada yada yada.