Respectful Insolence

Here we go again.

Every so often, it seems, the media has to recycle certain scare stories based on little or no science. Be it vaccines and whether they cause autism or not (the don’t) or various environmental exposures supposedly linked to various cancers or other diseases in which the science is far more complex or tentative than represented, convincing people that some common thing to which we are routinely exposed is going to kill them seldom fails to bring in the readers. One of the favorite targets of this is the ubiquitous cell phone, and there have been two hunks o’ burnin’ stupid that I’ve seen about cell phones and their alleged link to cancer in the media. One was published yesterday in that famous medical journal Parade. Written by Dr. Ranit Mishori, a family practitioner who seems to like writing sensationalistic articles, it’s entitled How Safe Are Cell Phones?, and it rehashes the usual arguments. While admitting that cell phone radiation is too weak to break chemical bonds in DNA and that numerous studies have failed to find a link between cell phone use and brain cancer, not to mention that the incidence of brain cancer does not appear to be rising, Dr. Mishori nonetheless writes as though there is serious science showing a profound risk. Fortunately, Decrepit Old Fool demolishes Dr. Mishori’s article quite handily, leaving the second bit of stupidity to me. I can’t resist quoting one passage:

Dr. Mishori admits that cell phones make the wrong kind of radiation to break chemical bonds, and that studies have found no link between cell phone use and brain cancer. She admits there’s been no change in incidence of brain cancer. But still she says “more studies are needed”.

While they’re at it, they should study whether exposure to any temperature above absolute zero causes cancer too, because infrared is above microwave on the electromagnetic spectrum. Light bulbs and space heaters could be our doom. A fireplace? Forget it – more studies are needed.

For that matter, avoid all visible light! Best to cover yourself entirely in aluminum foil and breathe through a bendy-straw.

Heh. That’s some pretty good insolence.

Next up is an article that was credulously and approvingly cited on Gizmodo, beginning:

When it comes to cell phone radiation, everyone thinks they’re an expert. Recently, however, GQ talked to the real experts, and though there’s no consensus, one thing’s clear: the rest of the world is worried. The U.S. is not.

Last week I posted a link to a study of the 20 cell phones that emitted the most radiation. In the comments, readers were quick to debunk the notion of cellular radiation altogether, explaining that the radiation was nonionizing and thus definitionally unharmful.

That the rest of the world is supposedly so “worried” about mobile phone radiation compared to the U.S. is news to me, particularly after the latest scare in 2008 when Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, at the time director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (the current director there is Dr. Nancy Davidson) issued a warning to its staff to limit cell phone use or risk getting teh brain tumorz! We Americans are pretty good at overwrought warnings, too, you know. In any case, the article being referred to appeared in GQ. Written by Christopher Ketcham and entitled Warning: Your Cell Phone May Be Hazardous to Your Health, it’s emblazoned with a photo of a cell phone next to a pack of cigarettes, thus visually likening cell phones to cigarettes and cell phone manufacturers to the tobacco companies who for so long used denialist tactics and bad science to deny that there was a very strong link between smoking tobacco and developing cancer. In this, Mr. Ketcham appears to have taken a page from the anti-vaccine movement, who have a similar penchant for likening vaccine manufacturers to the tobacco industry. (The most persistent promoter of this lie is Dr. Jay Gordon.) Ketcham also echoes the anti-vaccine movement by starting his long article out with an anecdote:

Earlier this winter, I met an investment banker who was diagnosed with a brain tumor five years ago. He’s a managing director at a top Wall Street firm, and I was put in touch with him through a colleague who knew I was writing a story about the potential dangers of cell-phone radiation. He agreed to talk with me only if his name wasn’t used, so I’ll call him Jim. He explained that the tumor was located just behind his right ear and was not immediately fatal–the five-year survival rate is about 70 percent. He was 35 years old at the time of his diagnosis and immediately suspected it was the result of his intense cell-phone usage. “Not for nothing,” he said, “but in investment banking we’ve been using cell phones since 1992, back when they were the Gordon-Gekko-on-the-beach kind of phone.” When Jim asked his neurosurgeon, who was on the staff of a major medical center in Manhattan, about the possibility of a cell-phone-induced tumor, the doctor responded that in fact he was seeing more and more of such cases–young, relatively healthy businessmen who had long used their phones obsessively. He said he believed the industry had discredited studies showing there is a risk from cell phones. “I got a sense that he was pissed off,” Jim told me. A handful of Jim’s colleagues had already died from brain cancer; the more reports he encountered of young finance guys developing tumors, the more certain he felt that it wasn’t a coincidence. “I knew four or five people just at my firm who got tumors,” Jim says. “Each time, people ask the question. I hear it in the hallways.”

Let’s see: Confusing correlation with causation? Check. Using an anecdote rather than real data? Check. Appeal to authority in the form of a neurosurgeon? Check. Relying on that authority’s memory, which is almost certainly a case of confirmation bias? Check. Personally, if I were interviewing that neurosurgeon, I’d ask him to produce records showing exactly how many patients with brain tumors he’s seen over the years and whether he’s even checked to see if they were on the same side as the patient’s favorite cell phone ear. My guess is that he hasn’t. It’s nothing more than anecdotes.

Ketcham then launches into a variant of the “pharma shill” gambit and conspiracy-mongering all rolled up into one:

It’s hard to talk about the dangers of cell-phone radiation without sounding like a conspiracy theorist. This is especially true in the United States, where non-industry-funded studies are rare, where legislation protecting the wireless industry from legal challenges has long been in place, and where our lives have been so thoroughly integrated with wireless technology that to suggest it might be a problem–maybe, eventually, a very big public-health problem–is like saying our shoes might be killing us.

Except our shoes don’t send microwaves directly into our brains. And cell phones do–a fact that has increasingly alarmed the rest of the world.

His evidence that the rest of the world is worried? Lots of sensationalistic headlines from different countries about the issue and various studies purporting to show a link between cell phone use and brain cancer. How pathetic! I just mentioned one such story in Parade, and Googling turned up a number of stories with similar headlines from right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.:

If the number of scary headlines is going to be a measure of concern, I’d put my country against any other when it comes to fear mongering about cell phones. I will give him that the action of France, which apparently decided to remove wifi connections from its national library. In any case, Ketcham went to Allan Frey, who in the 1960s and 1970s studied a phenomenon in which humans could “hear” audible clicks induced by pulsed/modulated microwave frequencies, a phenomenon now known as the microwave auditory effect or the “Frey effect” and that he reported in 1962. Frey also apparently reported:

In a study published in 1975 in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Frey reported that microwaves pulsed at certain modulations could induce “leakage” in the barrier between the circulatory system and the brain. Breaching the blood-brain barrier is a serious matter: It means the brain’s environment, which needs to be extremely stable for nerve cells to function properly, can be perturbed in all kinds of dangerous ways. Frey’s method was rather simple: He injected a fluorescent dye into the circulatory system of white rats, then swept the microwave frequencies across their bodies. In a matter of minutes, the dye had leached into the confines of the rats’ brains.

The paper being referred to is apparently this one. Unfortunately, my university’s library doesn’t go back to 1975; so all I could see was the first page of the article. Ketcham also cites Leif Salford, who has reported to have replicated Frey’s work. Indeed, if you search for “blood-brain barrier” and “microwave radiation,” you will pull up a bunch of papers by Salford’s group reporting various derangements of the blood-brain barrier in mice and rats exposed to cell phone radiation. However, you will be hard-pressed to find much literature from other groups showing the same thing. For example, this Japanese group reported no effect. Whether there is in fact an effect on the blood-brain barrier due to cell phone radiation, given the thickness of the human skull and size of the human brain relative to that of a mouse or a rat, it would be difficult to demonstrate.

Unfortunately, Ketcham’s article is constructed as a tale of brave maverick scientists finding out an “awful truth” that, if you believe Ketcham, the cell phone industry has apparently labored mightily to repress. Now, far be it from me to doubt the capacity of industry to corrupt scientific research, but I find it very bothersome that Ketcham’s narrative reminds me, more than anything else, of something written by the anti-vaccine movement or something that would be right at home on NaturalNews.com, particularly this passage:

If all this sounds like some abandoned X-Files script, consider the history of suppression of evidence in the major issues of consumer health over the past half century. Big Tobacco hid the dangers of smoking and the addictiveness of nicotine, supporting its position with countless deceptive studies. Asbestos manufacturers hid evidence that the mineral was dangerous even as tens of thousands of workers died from exposure; the makers of DDT and Agent Orange stood behind their products even as it became clear that the herbicides caused cancer. That the cell-phone industry, which last year posted revenues in the hundreds of billions of dollars, has an incentive to shut down research showing the dangers of cell-phone use is not a radical notion.

Add to that the cherry picking of data and the ignoring of the larger body of negative data (or dismissing it as all being “industry-funded” without actually criticizing anything about the methodology of those studies that would produce a problem of sufficient magnitude that we should doubt them), and Ketcham’s piece does read a bit like an X-Files script. A bad X-Files script.

I’ve written before about the evidence regarding cell phones and their link (or, more consistent with the evidence) lack of a link to cancer. As I’ve pointed out before, to consider an epidemiological study to be strong support for the hypothesis that cell phones cause or contribute to brain cancer, there must be a few key results. First, there must be an increased incidence of brain cancer in cell phone users. It’s even more convincing if there is some sort of dose-response phenomenon. In other words, there should be an increasing risk of cancer with increasing cell phone use. Other results that also support the hypothesis would be tumors correlated with proximity. In other words, do people who primarily use their left hand to hold their phones to their ears tend to get tumors primarily on the left and people who primarily hold their phones with their right hand tend to get tumors primarily on the right? Finally, there should be a biologically plausible lag time between exposure and tumor development consistent with known lag times for the relevant cancer, say 10-20 years in the case of central nervous systemtumors, and some specificity. In other words, does exposure to cell phone radiation correlate with certain types of tumors and not others? Thus far, there hasn’t been a convincing body of evidence to support these contentions, and most studies have been negative or equivocal, although there was one almost certainly anomalous study suggesting that cell phone use protects against Alzheimer’s disease. Even a meta-analysis reported late last year that was represented as positive for an association turned out upon a critical reading to be negative, with no evidence of correlation.

Once again I will point out that I do not discount the possibility that ther emight be an etiological link between cell phones and brain cancer. However, such a link is highly implausible from a biological standpoint. The type of radiation emitted by mobile phones is simply too weak to break chemical bonds in DNA, which is necessary for carcinogenesis. Moreover, the thermal heating effect is very weak, weaker than many other sources of thermal heating. Perhaps there is another mechanism by which cell phone radiation could cause carcinogenesis, but if there is it hasn’t been described yet. In other words, the implausibility of a link between cell phone radiation and brain tumors is not as high as, for example, the scientific implausibility of homeopathy, but it’s still pretty high. In the absence of seriously compelling evidence, an article like Ketcham’s represents starkly just how bad science reporting can be.

Comments

  1. #1 Ben
    March 22, 2010

    Right on, Orac.

    My brother tried to tell me how cell phones cause cancer, so he’s been using an earbud to talk on his phone. After trying to explain to him that it’s the wrong kind of radiation, I asked him if cell phones give you cancer, then why would he rather have his cellphone in his pocket? Maybe it’ll make him think about what he’s doing before he does it.

    It sucks that people are subjected to this kind of garbage, which supports the minority opinion of the scientific community. Of course, a story titled, “Cell Phones Don’t Cause Cancer” is not news, and not sensational. Damn media.

  2. #2 Terry
    March 22, 2010

    But that’s not science reporting, is it? It’s just sensational story telling which, like cockroaches, will never be completely eradicated. I also question the degree to which insolence was really required here. Unlike the anti-vax movement, the effect of these reports has been non-existent: cell phone usage continues to increase here in the US and abroad.

  3. #3 Adam_Y
    March 22, 2010

    Unlike the anti-vax movement, the effect of these reports has been non-existent: cell phone usage continues to increase here in the US and abroad.

    Actually, the effects do exist. I wish I remembered the news reports but people have been going off the wall in terms of this idiotic fear.

  4. #4 Rene Najera
    March 22, 2010

    I was surprised to see how many fellow commentators on Gizmodo dismissed the assertion that cell phones caused cancer. Usually, the people who comment on that and other Gawker-owned sites are quite whacky, a la HuffPo.
    You should have seen the weirdo replies I got to a poll on io9.com (another Gawker-owned site) which I proposed to the editor:
    http://io9.com/5350522/will-you-be-getting-a-flu-vaccine-this-fall

  5. #5 Left Coast Bernard
    March 22, 2010

    Orac,

    This is another of your fine reviews.

    Here are a few numbers to back up your analysis.

    I’m a 62 year old, 6’ 1”, 185 pound guy. My basal metabolic rate is about 1750 Calories a day, add in some more for mowing the lawn and washing the car for 2000 Calories per day. Energy per time is power, so convert 2000 Calories per day to Watts. It is about 100 Watts. I’m like a 100 Watt light bulb, on all the time.

    I jog on a treadmill most days for 30 minutes. I do level two hills at about a 9 minute pace. The machine tells me that in those 30 minutes I burn about 500 Calories. Convert that to Watts. I generate 1100 or 1200 Watts. My blood brings oxygen and glucose to my leg muscles and carries away carbon dioxide and the heat that my leg muscles generate. My blood carries this extra energy throughout my body, including my brain. My body’s powerful temperature control system sends blood to my skin and turns on my sweat system. This keeps my body’s temperature at about the same level.

    A cell phone emits about a Watt of microwave power. (A microwave oven produces about 1000 Watts.) Some of the cell phone’s power enters my body. My hand, ear, skull, and brain absorb it. Blood flow in those places carries away any slight local increase in energy and distributes it throughout my body.

    No one believes that my exercise routine causes cancer even though it produces a thousand times more energy in my body. No one is afraid of skin cancer from cell phones even though the skin of their hands and ears is much closer to the phone than their brain is.

    Cell phone microwave radiation oscillates about 2.5 billion times per second. The molecules in our bodies bump into one another and exchange bits of energy about a hundred trillion times per second. That is, during the time that a microwave tries to shake a molecule back and forth once, the molecule suffers a hundred thousand or so collisions with its neighbors. All the energy from the cell phone radiation absorbed in the body only goes into the thermal shaking about of all of the molecules.

    It is for this reason that we know that the studies claiming effects other than the tiniest heating must be wrong. The body’s powerful temperature control mechanisms easily handling much greater energy than involved in any cell phone emissions. We, physicists, already know exactly what happens to all of the energy emitted by any cell phone that the body absorbs. Speculating researchers must start with that fact to construct a possible mechanism by which cell phone radiation might cause cancer.

    I’m a PhD physicist, but this is simple textbook physics.

  6. #6 Denice Walter
    March 22, 2010

    More conspiracy mongering(“The government *prevents* research about cell phones!”) by BigWoo so they can sell cell phone “shields”(Gary Null.com) or more vitamin D or tanning beds (Mercola.com);seriously, today Mike Adams tells us,”4 out of 5 cancers” can be prevented by taking vitamin D(NaturalNews.com).((On a more serious note,Mikey also wails about the “medical mafia”‘s/Big Pharma’s new Health Care Reform:there is no reform, he says, because it doesn’t include “vitamin D to prevent cancer”,”orthomolecular medicine for degenerative diseases”,and it doesn’t “protect health freedom” for ND’s.))

  7. #7 Dangerous Bacon
    March 22, 2010

    It should be mentioned that covering yourself in tinfoil and breathing through a bendy-straw is unsafe, since the straw might contain phthalates, ultimately resulting in your turning into a frog with ambiguous genitalia.

  8. #8 Alex Besogonov
    March 22, 2010

    “Perhaps there is another mechanism by which cell phone radiation could cause carcinogenesis”

    I’m curious – has anyone considered that cancer might be linked, say, to lead leaching from solders inside the phone? Or to some other component (plastic?).

  9. #9 MikeMa
    March 22, 2010

    Alex Besogonov
    Your question about lead in solder is bogus. Lead isn’t used in solder anymore. Even still, how would the tin or other metals escape the circuit board and reach the body?

    As for plastics, that is more interesting in that studies of plastics have shown them to act as hormones. Again though, the plastics in our environment: cars, computers, phones, furniture, utensils, etc dwarf the tiny amount of plastic in a cell phone. Worry if you like but cell phones are the least of it.

    The final nail in all this is, as Orac stated, the explosive growth of cell phone use has not resulted in any increase in cancers.

  10. #10 Omri
    March 22, 2010

    The human brain is evolved to regulate its temperature pretty darn tightly. That implies a major health advantage to not letting brain temperature swing too wildly, one that is foregone when we let a cell phone warm it up in a long conversation. Could this lead to long term health problems? Maybe. But that is as testable a hypothesis with saunas as it is with cell phones, and the rest is all woo.

  11. #11 Stephen Lennon
    March 22, 2010

    Where I live in N Ireland there has been an increase of fear mongering about the dangers of exposure to deadly wi-fi hotspots. When I try to point out to some friends that you would be exposed to more radiation from a mobile phone then a wireless router, they simple state “Well they cause cancer” (they being phones). This is coming from people who as far as I can tell are on their phones constantly.
    If its not mobiles, its wi-fi or computer monitors, computer games drive kids to murder. I think peoples fear of technology is due like with most things to a lack of understanding of how it works.
    Where has peoples fear of microwave ovens gone? Those things are radiation machines and evil.

  12. #12 Scott
    March 22, 2010

    What I see as the critical distinction between tobacco and cell phones/vaccines is that the tobacco industry wasn’t actually able to really suppress the studies that smoking caused lung cancer. They had to resort to trying to swamp them with their own studies.

    On the other hand, there just isn’t *any* body of credible evidence that vaccines cause autism or cell phones cause cancer. So the analogy fails, and fails badly. The conspiracy theory requires things like cell phone makers being able to get scientists fired if they start looking into the question.

  13. #13 muteKi
    March 22, 2010

    The best part is of course the fact that external exposure to ionizing radiation is less of an elevation in for cancer than one might think: most of the radiation is absorbed by already dead cells. At least, that’s been my understanding.

    Obviously you’ll want to limit your exposure, but (long-term) internal exposure is the real problem, especially if a slow decayer is inhaled or ingested.

  14. #14 Eric Lund
    March 22, 2010

    Unlike the anti-vax movement, the effect of these reports has been non-existent

    I don’t think that word (“non-existent”) means what you think it means.

    As one of Orac’s links mentions, the state legislature in Maine is considering a bill to mandate warnings on cell phones (see also item #2 from this issue of Bob Parks’s newsletter). Never mind that no such link has ever been found, or that most people have been unpersuaded. Some people have heard the cell-phones-cause-cancer message, including Ms. Boland, who was able to pass for sane long enough to get elected to the state legislature in Maine, a generally sane state (whose legislature is not so large, unlike neighboring New Hampshire, as to allow crypto-kooks an easy path).

    I have heard that Maine is not the only jurisdiction considering such warnings, although they are the only state to do so thus far.

  15. #15 cervantes
    March 22, 2010

    Yabbut there is substantial evidence that cell phone use causes you to crash your car. Also, based on personal observational studies, it causes people walking on sidewalks to blunder into traffic, and so could be associated with being hit by a bus.

    Also it causes you to be extremely annoying and rude in public places. Plus which, you really have nothing important to say during all that time you are yacking away and could be noticing what’s going on around you, to your benefit.

    Hang up and exist in the real world.

  16. #16 MikeMa
    March 22, 2010

    cervantes brings up the very real social cancer that cell phones have become. Much more dangerous and annoying than any imagined physical problems.

  17. #17 Jojo
    March 22, 2010

    If cell phones cause cancer, shouldn’t we see an increase in butt cancer in chronic butt dialers?

  18. #18 rob
    March 22, 2010

    but what about those videos of cell phones popping popcorn? and that girl who wanted a good tan for prom and went to 20 tanning sessions and cooked her insides? and that guy who dried his cat in the microwave? and i saw a documentary about a scientist named bruce banner who was exposed to gamma rays that caused a mutation!!!

    teh intertoobs don’t lie!!

  19. #19 Raging Bee
    March 22, 2010

    A handful of Jim’s colleagues had already died from brain cancer; the more reports he encountered of young finance guys developing tumors, the more certain he felt that it wasn’t a coincidence.

    Given what those “finance guys” have done to our country’s economy in the last few years, I wonder if the brain tumors might have been the CAUSE, not the effect, of both the career choices and the obsessive cell-phone use. Perhaps we’re getting the (alleged) cause-and-effect link backwards?

  20. #20 Torah
    March 22, 2010

    I agree with the article that much of the research into cell phones is BS, but this video does have a balanced argument for both sides. That being said….I’m still physically attached to my blackberry… http://www.scienceinseconds.com/video.php?vId=86&tId=

  21. #21 Jay Gordon
    March 22, 2010

    Good Morning, Dave and others–

    My sole comparison between the tobacco industry and childhood vaccines involves the denialism by the former industry for decades. They denied a connection–”There is no proof!”–between cigarettes and disease. We had to wait and and wade through countless questionable court decisions before this proof was acknowledged.

    I certainly don’t call for elimination of all childhood vaccines, merely a judicious approach to their use and a clear understanding that “proof” often takes a long time both in the scientific community and the legal arenas.

    Regarding cell phones, I have absolutely no idea what future studies will show but the hyperbole surrounding the issue interferes with reasonable discussions.

    Best,

    Jay

  22. #22 James Sweet
    March 22, 2010

    And there are so many legitimate reasons to criticize the cell phone companies…

    (sorry, I just “upgraded” from a $5/mo unlimited web access to $10/mo for a measly 25MB… which I was forced to do so that my wife could get a new phone. Fucking retarded…)

  23. #23 Scott
    March 22, 2010

    I certainly don’t call for elimination of all childhood vaccines, merely a judicious approach to their use and a clear understanding that “proof” often takes a long time both in the scientific community and the legal arenas.

    And yet you ignore the fact that the CDC recommendations are judicious by any reasonable definition, and that the scientific proof of safety and efficacy has been there for many years…

    Regarding cell phones, I have absolutely no idea what future studies will show but the hyperbole surrounding the issue interferes with reasonable discussions.

    You just melted MY irony meter, and mine seems to be a much more durable model than Orac’s. You don’t do anything BUT hyperbole (well, and malpractice).

  24. #24 techskeptic
    March 22, 2010

    I wrote a post on this sort of thing, even though it was directed at recent fears of DECT devices. The science and results are the same however.

    It never fails to amaze me how people get to freaked out about some things and no others.

    http://techskeptic.blogspot.com/2008/12/dect-scares.html

  25. #25 James Sweet
    March 22, 2010

    Moreover, the thermal heating effect is very weak, weaker than many other sources of thermal heating.

    Any thoughts on the concern that hot laptops being used actually on people’s laps could cause health issues? It seems quite plausible that it could affect male fertility… dunno about anything else.

    Personally, I find it really uncomfortable anyway, so independent of health or fertility concerns, I avoid having a hot laptop on my lap for too long. It’s much better on a table or something.

  26. #26 kittywhumpus
    March 22, 2010

    Cell phones are bad for your health, when you run into a tree while walking and talking. Or when someone uses one to, say, detonate a bomb.

    But I think the biggest health hazard is a possible lowering of I.Q. from having to hear other people’s moronic conversations while sitting on the bus.

  27. #27 Michael
    March 22, 2010

    OMG, Bernard causes teh cancerz!!! Run from his running!!!

    But seriously, I think that there must be something to this cell phone thing, because I have this spot on my right earlobe, it first showed up a few years ago after a bad sunburn on that ear but never mind that because also a year before that I got a new cellphone, well, I had a cellphone before that too but this one was new and I was living in a new country, anyway now this spot hurts and it must be because of the cellphone, although I do prefer to use my right side when talking on the phone but I do sometimes use the left side not always though, and so teh cellphone radiations must have made this spot appear and make it hurting now, but I don’t use my cellphone very much anyway because I’m usually out of cellphone tower coverage areas but that’s not important, what’s important to remember is that I got this cellphone new when I moved to a different country, and so this spot on my ear must be from the cellphone radiation from living in a different country, in fact it’s probably from that another country instead of the cellphone at all, but that doesn’t make any sense because this is about cellphones and not about moving at all, I hate moving because you have to pack up all your stuff and then you never know where it is afterward for a long time and that must be because of the cellphone radiations in another country too causing my brain cancers to eat my memories, there was this time I was trying to tell a story to someone but I couldn’t remember it right and right before that I had used my cellphone, the one from the first country, and there was another time I was telling a joke, this was in the another country, and I kept messing up the joke, and I read somewhere that some scientist guy said that jokes are stored in the right side of the brain, which its on the right side of my ear, that is my right ear, where the spot is so that must be where the brain cancers is, the ones that are caused by the another countrys cellphone radiations even though I like to use my left ear when I talk on my cellphones, sometimes like three of them at once, because I’m right handed and I can’t do stuff right if my right hand is holding all that cellphone radiation, and I think maybe I have a bomb in my head and I worry about accidentally setting it off with the cellphone radiations, anyway do you think I should have this hurting spot looked at because it was caused by cellphone radiations or what, oh and please post my comment because teh spot on my left ear, no thats not right its on my right ear, sometimes it talks to me, does that ever happen to you, and it wants to see the comment posted kthxbai

  28. #28 James Sweet
    March 22, 2010

    No one is afraid of skin cancer from cell phones even though the skin of their hands and ears is much closer to the phone than their brain is.

    This is a great point… forget all of the data and all the physics and everything, that’s hard for your average person. Just use simple logic: If the energy output from a cellphone were cooking your brain, why isn’t it cooking your skin? Why aren’t their tumors all over the skin of people using cell phones?

  29. #29 Dangerous Bacon
    March 22, 2010

    Poor Dr. Jay. I think he’s jealous that another doc with off-the-wall opinions is getting more attention than him.

    “My sole comparison between the tobacco industry and childhood vaccines involves the denialism by the former industry for decades. They denied a connection–”There is no proof!”–between cigarettes and disease. We had to wait and and wade through countless questionable court decisions before this proof was acknowledged.”

    Your comparison falls down and gets trampled mainly because of this: the tobacco industry tried to deny good studies and solid epidemiological evidence that smoking was linked to cancer (and other diseases). No such studies and evidence connect vaccines to autism or other ballyhooed problems, therefore the refutation of these claims is not denialism, but good science.

    Also, good science is not defined as “I, Dr. Jay have a Judicious Approach to vaccination* that depends solely on anecdotes, intuition, and a desire to appear as a Heroic Maverick Doctor to misled parents”.

    *defined in Dr. Jay’s case (based on the nuggets he’s shared with us) as “generally discouraging vaccination unless pressed for it” (i.e. by specialists who know a lot more than Dr. Jay about the value of immunization).

  30. #30 Screechy Monkey
    March 22, 2010

    “My sole comparison between the tobacco industry and childhood vaccines involves the denialism by the former industry for decades. They denied a connection–”There is no proof!”–between cigarettes and disease. ”

    Quite the predicament for the manufacturer of any product:

    Point out that there is no proof of a link between your product and cancer, and you get called a denialist and compared to tobacco companies.

    Make a cautious, nuanced statement to the effect that “we are of course open to the possibility that our product causes cancer and welcome further study of the issue,” and the headlines will read: “INDUSTRY SPOKESMAN ADMITS PRODUCT X MAY CAUSE CANCER!!!!!!!”

  31. #31 Todd W.
    March 22, 2010

    @Jay Gordon

    I certainly don’t call for elimination of all childhood vaccines, merely a judicious approach to their use

    By judicious approach to their use, do you mean a schedule other than that recommended by the CDC and AAP? If so, I’m still waiting for your scientific evidence that an altered schedule as proposed by you is safe and effective, since that was the criticism you levied against the recommended schedule. So, Dr. Gordon, got that evidence yet?

  32. #32 James
    March 22, 2010

    “But I think the biggest health hazard is a possible lowering of I.Q. from having to hear other people’s moronic conversations while sitting on the bus”

    I hate to say it, but by this standard, about 95% of all human conversation is hazardous, regardless of the medium.

  33. #33 amphiox
    March 22, 2010

    Best to cover yourself entirely in aluminum foil and breathe through a bendy-straw.

    Won’t work. The foil’s just going to reflect the IR produced by your body heat right back at you. And that straw? It’s going to act like a (admitted inefficient) fibre optic cable and direct sunlight right down your throat.

  34. #34 desiree
    March 22, 2010

    Any thoughts on the concern that hot laptops being used actually on people’s laps could cause health issues? It seems quite plausible that it could affect male fertility… dunno about anything else.

    i worried about this early in pregnancy since fever/high temperatures are linked to some birth defects (part of why you shouldn’t use a hot tub or sauna pregnant). our old laptop gets really hot (the old dell felt close to burning me after too long, but never did). and i’m really thin, and tend to slouch on the computer with the laptop on my upper thighs/lower abdomen. so, i could see how it could be a risk, and i kept the laptop off my body during pregnancy (mostly). but i’m also a bit neurotic… :-)

  35. #35 DonZilla
    March 22, 2010

    One was published yesterday in that famous medical journal Parade.

    Oh man, now my keyboard is a hot mess from laughing out my lunch all over it. Thanks a lot you . . . you . . . blinking box you.

    And exactly, what cervantes said.

  36. #36 Mandrake
    March 22, 2010

    @17

    and i saw a documentary about a scientist named bruce banner who was exposed to gamma rays that caused a mutation!!!

    That documentary can be easily discredited. The scientist was David Banner, not Bruce. I wonder what other mistakes were contained in that so-called documentary.

  37. #37 Mandrake
    March 22, 2010

    @17

    and i saw a documentary about a scientist named bruce banner who was exposed to gamma rays that caused a mutation!!!

    That documentary can be easily discredited. The scientist was David Banner, not Bruce. I wonder what other mistakes were contained in that so-called documentary.

  38. #38 David N. Brown
    March 22, 2010

    As far as cancer scares, I’ve heard the US military studied the possible effects of radiation from depleted uranium ammo. My understanding is that they concluded that if you’re in a tank hit by a DU projectile, cancer is the least of your problems.

  39. #39 Chance Gearheart, NREMT-P/EMD
    March 22, 2010

    @37 – I think the issue was that troops on our side were being exposed to low levels of radioactive decay over a chronic period of time.

    Generally direct exposure to a depleated uranium dart traveling about 8,000 FPS tends to result in the subject evaporating into a fine pink mist.

  40. #40 Seamus Ruah
    March 22, 2010

    The important question that I want answered is:

    Why hasn’t SmarterThanYou informed/educated us about this life-threatening issue?

    …hello?

    ..helloo?

  41. #41 GregFromCanada
    March 22, 2010

    “The scientist was David Banner, not Bruce.”

    Actually it was Dr. Bruce Banner in the comic, and Dr. David Bruce Banner in the TV series.
    :P

  42. #42 John Marley
    March 22, 2010

    Let’s see: Confusing correlation with causation? Check. Using an anecdote rather than real data? Check. Appeal to authority in the form of a neurosurgeon? Check. Relying on that authority’s memory, which is almost certainly a case of confirmation bias? Check. Personally, if I were interviewing that neurosurgeon, I’d ask him to produce records showing exactly how many patients with brain tumors he’s seen over the years and whether he’s even checked to see if they were on the same side as the patient’s favorite cell phone ear. My guess is that he hasn’t. It’s nothing more than anecdotes.

    You forgot: No way, even in principle, to determine if this anecdote is not completely made-up. Check.

  43. #43 Scott
    March 22, 2010

    I think the issue was that troops on our side were being exposed to low levels of radioactive decay over a chronic period of time.

    Which is truly ironic given that the bulk of the radioactive isotopes have been removed already – that’s what makes it ‘depleted.’ The fact that it’s a heavy metal is a more notable concern, particularly given the fact that slamming it into other metallic objects at high velocities has a tendency to produce dust which could then be inhaled.

    There are certainly credible reasons to worry about the health effects of depleted uranium ammunition, but radiation is not all that close to the top of the list.

  44. #44 DLC
    March 22, 2010

    David N Brown @37 : getting sprayed with hunks of molten depleted uranium probably does cause cancer . . . in the bits of human left over afterward.
    I’m sure a guy with multiple gunshot wounds to the chest really has time to worry about lead poisoning, too.

    But seriously folks:
    A Cell Phone is less than 2 watts.
    You aren’t going to cook yourself.
    But I recall a reply posted somewhere that included an anecdote about a man not wanting to microwave his lunch due to “not wanting my food irradiated” ?
    I wish I could remember the site.
    It distresses me to see that we Americans are slouching toward Idiocracy.

  45. #45 Mandrake
    March 22, 2010

    @40

    “The scientist was David Banner, not Bruce.”

    Actually it was Dr. Bruce Banner in the comic, and Dr. David Bruce Banner in the TV series.
    :P

    Dadgummit! Not only was my post only partially accurate, I posted it twice. I should go back to lurking and admiring the amount of real knowledge around here.

    But before I do…I’m wondering about the comment that if cellphones are frying brains, they’d logically fry the skin first (if I’m interpreting that correctly). It’s my understanding that X-rays and other scans, such as CT, potentially cause cancer in internal organs, yet they don’t cause skin burns when properly conducted. Is this due to a different type of radiation, non-ionizing vs. ionizing?

  46. #46 Militant Agnostic
    March 22, 2010

    DLC @43 – it was right here at RI in this thread.

  47. #47 jj
    March 22, 2010

    Most of the time I love Gizmodo, great for breaking news on gadgetry, but alas, every time there is anything scientific they ALWAYS butcher it.

  48. #48 clay
    March 22, 2010

    @DLC
    Slouching into idiocracy? It’s a mad rush. Just give these people some homeopathic cell phone (cell salts?).

  49. #49 Smarter Than You
    March 22, 2010

    @39 I am here now to spew more BS about things I know nothing about! I am no longer just against vaccines but also against cellphones now! They are both promoted by corporate tyrants trying to lead us into one world government! With the help of AoA, I will defeat Big Pharma and with the help of Mishori, I will defeat Big Phone!

  50. #50 Bryan Elliott
    March 22, 2010

    I do love it when people don’t understand what “radiation” means. It’s like the layman version of the term seems to mean “black magic what kills people”.

    Radiation is the name we give to emanations of particles at any frequency. Electromagnetic radiation is emanations of photons of any frequency (including light, radio waves, infrared, ultraviolet, x-rays, cosmic rays, gamma rays, etc).

    It’s like, I was telling someone that “Cherenkov radiation is really pretty”, and they were all like, “Yeah, until you die of testicular cancer”.

    But no. Cherenkov radiation won’t kill a human; it’s just pretty blue light that emanates from the early path of neutrons in a fission event.

  51. #51 Ray C.
    March 22, 2010

    For that matter, avoid all visible light! Best to cover yourself entirely in aluminum foil and breathe through a bendy-straw.

    Hey, waitafarginminute. Doesn’t aluminuminuminuminum cause Alzheimer’s?

  52. #52 Badger3k
    March 22, 2010

    They worry about cell phone radiation but sell tanning beds? Seriously? That sound you heard was my brain exploding.

  53. #53 Screechy Monkey
    March 22, 2010

    “But no. Cherenkov radiation won’t kill a human; it’s just pretty blue light that emanates from the early path of neutrons in a fission event.”

    Oh yeah? Then how do you explain all of Dr. Manhattan’s friends getting cancer? It must be true; I saw it on TV!

  54. #54 KeithB
    March 22, 2010

    I wonder if the neurosurgeon’s name was Egnor…

    In any case, even if Cell phones do cause illness, it will be *way* below the threshold where people will stop using them. Cars kill way more people, but they only kill *other* people.

  55. #55 Militant Agnostic
    March 22, 2010

    Cars kill way more people, but they only kill *other* people.

    Heck, using cell phones in cars kills way more people.

  56. #56 gwen
    March 22, 2010

    100% of living beings contracting fatal cancers BREATHE, ergo breathing MUST cause fatal cancers. Rocks do not get cancer. More studies are certainly warranted. Meanwhile, I would advise everyone to try to breathe as little as possible!

  57. #57 ckitching
    March 22, 2010

    Any thoughts on the concern that hot laptops being used actually on people’s laps could cause health issues? It seems quite plausible that it could affect male fertility…

    People have actually suffered serious burns from operating a ‘laptop’ computer on their lap. This alone is a very good reason why it is recommended that you only operate them on hard surfaces. I won’t even get into the self-igniting batteries that certain laptop models featured. To make matters worse, as they age less heat is removed by the internal heat sinks and fan, because they get clogged with dust (unfortunately, caked-on dust is quite an efficient insulator).

  58. #58 tariqata
    March 22, 2010

    I’m bookmarking this article, just in case I ever end up in the same room as the woman who handed out anti-cellphone pamphlets in my Environment & Health class again.

    (The pamphlets also included the claim, amongst others, that the use of microwaves was going to cause the oceans to disappear by splitting the water molecules, but apparently no one considered that reason to suggest that there were some rather significant factual issues in them.)

  59. #59 Sid Offit
    March 22, 2010

    David Brown
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, March 23, 2010; A09

    Officials at the Food and Drug Administration advised physicians Monday to temporarily stop using Rotarix, a vaccine commonly given to children to protect them against the stomach bug rotavirus, because it is contaminated with traces of a second virus.

    Oooops

  60. #60 DLC
    March 22, 2010

    Militant Agnostic — thanks, I was 90% sure I’d seen it in the comments here, but I also read other sciborg blogs, and it might have been one of those.

  61. #61 Travis
    March 22, 2010

    Sid, #59

    So? It is contaminated, that is not intrinsic to it being a vaccine. If you found out that some medication, or food, or anything for that matter got contaminated would you throw it out and never use it again because of that? The only reason you find it worth mentioning is because you do not like vaccines and are apparently willing to try to use anything, no matter how irrelevant, to push that.

    Finally, why are you posting it here? It is totally off topic.

  62. #62 Militant Agnostic
    March 23, 2010

    This false analogy (bordering on a non sequiter) from Jay Gordon

    My sole comparison between the tobacco industry and childhood vaccines involves the denialism by the former industry for decades. They denied a connection–”There is no proof!”–between cigarettes and disease. We had to wait and and wade through countless questionable court decisions before this proof was acknowledged.

    made me want to trepan myself with an air chisel.

  63. #63 Antaeus Feldspar
    March 23, 2010

    One interesting bit from that article is a reference to a new method of screening vaccines, on which a scientific paper is in progress from the researchers who discovered this contamination. It sounds intriguing and promising…

  64. Current study results from the report, ‘Nrarp coordinates endothelial Notch and Wnt signaling to control vessel density in angiogenesis,’ have been published According to recent research published in the journal Developmental Cell

  65. #65 davek
    March 23, 2010

    there are no non-radioactive uranium isotopes. “depleted” uranium just has the U-235 removed (the isotope used in most fission reactions). the U-238 left behind still decays by alpha particle emission.

  66. #66 Kemist
    March 23, 2010

    @59

    Do you remember those organic spinach that were contaminated with E coli and made a bunch of people sick ?

    That’s it. I’m never having spinach anymore, man.

    Spinach kills you.

    Nutritionists are in league with Big Farmer !1!1!11

    It’s a conspiramatation, I tell you !1!!11!1

  67. #67 Raging Bee
    March 23, 2010

    My sole comparison between the tobacco industry and childhood vaccines involves the denialism by the former industry for decades. They denied a connection–”There is no proof!”–between cigarettes and disease. We had to wait and and wade through countless questionable court decisions before this proof was acknowledged.

    None of which stopped non-compromised scientists from PROVING that smoking does indeed cause cancer and other health problems. So where’s the proof that vaccines cause…whatever you folks are alleging they cause?

    Gosh, “Dr.” Gordon seems to have run away from all our responses to his comment. Again…

  68. #68 Dangerous Bacon
    March 23, 2010

    From the Washington Post article on the contamination of one rotavirus vaccine:

    “Rotavirus causes severe diarrhea and is a leading child killer in developing countries.”

    Well, obviously that’s irrelevant in SidOffitWorld, since the lives of children only matter in the United States.

    “In the U.S., with better health care, about 55,000 children a year were hospitalized for rotavirus infections and several dozen died each year before vaccination began – with Merck’s vaccine in 2006 and Glaxo’s in 2008.”

    Oooops! But that isn’t so many dead children when you look at it the proper way, in SidOffitWorld. Better they should die than have their lives saved by a vaccine that might have contained a non-pathogenic virus.

  69. #69 Chris
    March 23, 2010

    The news articles also said that it was Rotaix, not RotaTeq, and that RotaTeq should be used.

  70. #70 The Gregarious Misanthrope
    March 24, 2010

    @Ray C. #59

    Aluminum foil is only a problem when you place it inside the skull. Keep it simple, keep it on the outside.

    @Kemist #66

    Eat right, exercise, die anyway. Enjoy life.

  71. #71 bluemaxx
    March 24, 2010

    well…we all know that the BigPharma storm troopers use and carry cell phones, as do the BigTobacco lawyers. And Terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan use cell phone technology to detonate IEDs. AND, when I watch 24 on TV, I have noted that the bad guys use cell phones more than the good guys, who also can use tactical radios … so I offer my irrrefutable conclusion, Cell phones cause BADness. And Cancer is Bad. so Cell phones cause Cancer. And we all use “burnable” prepaid cell phones when we meet at the periodic strategy and planning sessions (and Beer Tastings) for the New World Government… you know..the group that is trying to kill millions by either bioengineering a new flu virus OR giving a toxic flu vaccine (two conspiracy theories, your choice!). But we always wear the mylar/aluminized helmets when we talk on the phones.. and we tend to go with speaker phone function and shout alot. Please remember that is all secret operational stuff, dont share.

    ALEX @ 8: lead free solder, together with plastic components in the phone and the nickelCadmiumLithium batteries, may only cause cancer if you LICK or EAT the phone.

    #3 Memo to LeftCoastBernard: so..given your energy generation model, the faster a fat person runs on a treadmill, the more likely they will develop …. non cancerous knee pain? :-)

  72. #72 Port Tentous
    March 28, 2010

    I like to share information about planning sessions.
    Back against the wall, blindfolded,eating the batteries.
    Fat people….Did you say fat? So unflattering of you.
    I will keep on, keepin on. One day it will dawn on you, you will not win. As for marble head? Best of luck.

  73. #73 Sigivald
    April 1, 2010

    Yes, Davek, U238 is radioactive.

    It also has a half-life of just under 4.5 billion years.

    (As opposed to U239′s 23 and a half minutes. But what’s fifteen orders of magnitude among friends?)

    That makes its radioactive output so low as to be irrelevant in any context depleted uranium is found in.

    And of course, what little radiation it does emit is alpha radiation, easily stopped by a few centimeters of air or the thinnest of gloves or clothing.

  74. #74 Richard
    June 5, 2011

    Hi, OK so how come the WHO has just publicly stated that CELL PHONES CAUSE CANCER?

  75. #76 mark
    October 2, 2011

    The correlation is reversed, see XKCD:

    http://xkcd.com/925/

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