I’ve written several times over the years about the overblown claims of harm attributed, largely—but not exclusively—by cranks, to cell phone radiation. It’s been claimed that radiation from cell phones can cause brain tumors (there’s no convincing evidence that this is true), breast cancer (the evidence for these claims is so incredibly flimsy—and featured by Dr. Oz, to boot!—that this is not a credible claim), and a wide variety of other health issues. Indeed, if you believe the cranks, the mobile phone companies are the equivalent of tobacco companies denying that their products cause massive harm.

Never mind that, based on pure physics alone, it is incredibly unlikely that radio frequency radiation can cause cancer. I’ve described it many times, but it’s always worth describing again. This particular form of radiation is just too low energy to break chemical bonds in DNA, a prerequisite for most mutations. On the other hand, a lot of the debunkings of the claimed cell phone-cancer link often rely on what I like to refer to as a “Cancer Biology 101” understanding of how cancer develops in which DNA strand breakage is an absolute requirement for the development of cancer, and I’ve gotten into trouble for being more open to the possibility that there might actually be a plausible biological mechanism by which cell phone radiation might cause cancer. (Usually, it’s physicists, hence the “Cancer Biology 101” understanding.) As I like to say whenever this topic comes up, it is highly implausible based on basic science that cell phone radiation could cause cancer. It’s not homeopathy level-implausible, but it’s pretty implausible. Nor is it impossible, as has been claimed, because there may be biological mechanisms behind cancer that we do not yet understand, and it’s almost always physicists with little knowledge of epigenetics and other mechanisms of cancer development who make such dogmatic claims. Absent compelling evidence of a link between cell phones and cancer, then, it is not unreasonable to rely on the basic science and consider the possibility of such a link to be remote.

Although I’ve dealt with the issue of cell phones and cancer time and time again, it occurs to me that I haven’t dealt with another claim frequently made about adverse health events due to cell phone radiation, namely that it’s deadly to our vital essence sperm. The other day, I saw a ridiculously fear mongering article in The Telegraph entitled Mobile phones are ‘cooking’ men’s sperm:

Fertility experts are warning man that using a mobile for as little as an hour a day is “cooking sperm” and lowering level significantly.
The new study shows that having a mobile phone close to the testicles – or within a foot or two of the body – can lower sperm levels so much that conceiving could be difficult.

The findings have led to a leading British fertility expert to advise men to stop being addicted to mobile phones.

The study – by highly respected specialists – found that sperm levels of men who kept their phones in their pocket during the day were seriously affected in 47 per cent of cases compare to just 11 per cent in the general population.

Professor Martha Dirnfeld, of the Technion University in Haifa, said: “We analysed the amount of active swimming sperm and the quality and found that it had been reduced.

“We think this is being caused by a heating of the sperm from the phone and by electromagnetic activity.”

What utter rot!

This is irresponsible journalism (and science communication, to boot—I mean you, Prof. Dirnfeld!) at its worst. Basically, the message is: Hey, you men! Stop being addicted to your mobile phones! They’re sapping your precious bodily fluids frying your sperm! Stop being so into your cell phone, you idiots! Of course, that might not be such bad advice, but why it might be reasonable advice has absolutely nothing to do with sperm counts, sperm motility, or infertility. If it’s good advice, the reason has more to do with being less obsessed with a handheld device and more interested in what’s going on around oneself.

Whenever I see an article like this, I always have to go straight to the study. That proved to be harder than usual, which lead me to curse journalists for not providing direct links, DOI numbers, or even formal references to studies that they report on. Eventually, I did find the paper. It’s an article in Reproductive BioMedicine Online by Zilberlicht et al, entitled Habits of cell phone usage and sperm quality – does it warrant attention? At this point, I was tempted to invoke Betteridge’s Law of Headlines and leave it at that, just answering no, but I’m a glutton for a study, even a bad one. It’s one of my blogging specialties.

So what about the study? Let’s just say that the abstract is not promising:

Male infertility constitutes 30–40% of all infertility cases. Some studies have shown a continuous decline in semen quality since the beginning of the 20th century. One postulated contributing factor is radio frequency electromagnetic radiation emitted from cell phones. This study investigates an association between characteristics of cell phone usage and semen quality. Questionnaires accessing demographic data and characteristics of cell phone usage were completed by 106 men referred for semen analysis. Results were analysed according to WHO 2010 criteria. Talking for ≥1 h/day and during device charging were associated with higher rates of abnormal semen concentration (60.9% versus 35.7%, P < 0.04 and 66.7% versus 35.6%, P < 0.02, respectively). Among men who reported holding their phones ≤50 cm from the groin, a non-significantly higher rate of abnormal sperm concentration was found (47.1% versus 11.1%). Multivariate analysis revealed that talking while charging the device and smoking were risk factors for abnormal sperm concentration (OR = 4.13 [95% CI 1.28–13.3], P < 0.018 and OR = 3.04 [95% CI 1.14–8.13], P < 0.027, respectively). Our findings suggest that certain aspects of cell phone usage may bear adverse effects on sperm concentration. Investigation using large-scale studies is thus needed.

Wow! Sounds damning, doesn’t it? Well, on the surface it does. Let’s dive deeper, as I am wont to do with studies like this.

First of all, let’s look at the central hypothesis, namely that cell phone radiation causes decreased sperm count and motility, both of which are associated with male factor infertility, for obvious reasons. There’s only one plausible biological mechanism (and, even then, it’s not so plausible) to explain how cell phone radiation might decrease sperm count and motility. After all, it’s well known that increased temperature is associated with decreased sperm count and quality. It’s the very reason that fertility doctors recommend that men being evaluated for infertility wear boxers instead of briefs.

So what about this study?

One thing I noticed is that the study in question was published in September 2015. This lead to me wonder: Why is there news coverage of this paper now, given that it was published nearly six months ago? I can only speculate that some editor somewhere was looking for a story and heard about this. (I mean, come on. Who can resist a headline like Great balls of fire! Mobile phones are ‘cooking’ men’s sperm?) I don’t know about Martha Dirnfeld, but if someone called me about a paper I published in February, I’d wonder what was going on, although I’d probably appreciate the attention and cooperate the way that Prof. Dirnfeld did.

The study itself is fairly unremarkable. It is an unrandomized study of men presenting to Carmel Medical Centre for a first time semen analysis as part of an infertility workup. So right there, we know that this is not a representative sample of men. There is no “normal” control group because all of these men were being evaluated for male factor infertility. The study is a relatively small one, only 106 men, of which 26 men were excluded because they didn’t meet the study criteria, which means only 80 men were analyzed. Here are the things they were asked about:

This included questions regarding their demographic background, i.e. age, place of living, number of children, occupation, ethnicity and educational status. There were also questions on their general medical history and fertility-related conditions (i.e. varicocele, orchitis), as well as lifestyle habits such as smoking and consumption of alcohol. Further questions accessed information about daily habits of cell phone usage such as the number of devices used and the duration of daily use (talking). The latter was classified by four categories: less than 30 min, 30–60 min, 60–120 min and over 120 min. The usual location of the device while talking, carrying and charging was assessed separately.

And:

Data regarding the use of accessories such as hands-free devices and earphones were collected as well. Other variables included the number of years that an individual owned a cell phone, talking while the device is being charged (as a categorical yes/no question) and talking in low reception areas (defined as: elevators and underground floors). Information on cell phone types, models and frequencies was not collected.

So right away, I see a number of problems. First, not collecting information on cell phone types is a big issue, as different models emit different amounts of radiofrequency radiation. A more problematic issue is a major assumption behind the study, specifically that time spent talking on one’s mobile phone correlates with exposure of a man’s genitals to the evil magic radio waves. First, even though the data for this study were collected in 2011 and 2012 (one wonders why it took so long to analyze the data, given that this was a prospective study), by then, time spent speaking arguably no longer represented a good measure of cell phone use by then. After all, the iPhone 4 was released in 2011. A better question would be how long one is on one’s mobile phone, either speaking or surfing the Internet. I don’t know about you, but I hardly ever use my iPhone for telephone conversations any more; at least 90% of its use is to access the Internet.

There’s another problematic issue with this study. I don’t know about most men, but when I’m using my phone, be it to have a conversation, to text, or surf the Internet, it’s nowhere near my family jewels, if you know what I mean. Even so, these results are far from convincing. For example, there are a lot of unimpressive p-values here. The finding that talking duration of more than one hour per day was associated with a higher rate of abnormal sperm concentration than talking less than one hour per day resulted in a p<0.04, which probably means it was between the p-value between 0.03 and 0.04, because otherwise the authors would have reported p<0.03.

Then there’s the issue of univariate versus multivariate analysis. Whenever you examine multiple variables for their potential correlations with various outcomes, you’ll run into the problem of multiple comparisons, where, the more variables you examine the greater the chance of seemingly “positive” results by random chance alone. That’s why Student’s t-test is not appropriate for multiple comparisons, for example, and it’s why univariate analysis is fine for an initial exploration of multiple variables but has to be followed by an analysis that takes multiple comparisons into account. And, as you see in the abstract above, there were only two things that came out as statistically significant: talking while charging the device and smoking, both of which were associated with abnormal sperm concentration.

Then there was another finding that is basically meaningless. Basically, among men who reported holding their phones ≤50 cm from the groin, the “rate of abnormal sperm concentration showed a non-significant trend towards a higher value among participants who reported generally keeping their cell phones at a distance ≤50 cm from the groin compared with those who kept it at a distance >50 cm from the groin (47.1% versus 11.1%). No association was found between any of the factors investigated and between semen volume and progressive motility (data not shown).”

In other words, the authors were really, really, really stretching to eke out a seeming correlation relevant to a link between cell phones radiation and decreased sperm count and male factor infertility. Heck, there wasn’t even a correlation between keeping the phone near one’s testicles and…anything examined! Basically, this study is nonsense, and the authors do a serious song and dance to try to make statistically insignificant findings sound important:

The participants in this study, who reported talking on their phones while the device was being charged, were more likely to have abnormal semen concentration. To our knowledge, this aspect of cell phone use has not been previously addressed. During charging of cell phones, two changes occur: (i) the external power source by itself emits energy; and (ii) due to the continuous supply of energy from the external source, the device transmits at a higher power, without the need for energy saving, in contrast to the usual talking mode.

None of which was measured. And:

Participants who constantly carry the device at a distance ≤50 cm from the groin were found to have a higher rate of abnormal sperm concentration. Although the association did not reach statistical significance, it appears that sperm parameters may be affected, even during a stand-by mode (when RF-EMR is emitted from the device for short durations).

Huh? No it doesn’t. Your data didn’t reach statistical significance, and we have no idea what you mean by “approaching” statistical significance! How close was your p-value to 0.05? If you’re serious about arguing that there is an effect but that your sample size was just too small to detect it, you really should give the actual p-value, rather than just “NS” for “not significant.” Such an argument tends to be a lot more convincing if p=0.06 than it is if p=0.25. I’m by no means a p-value Nazi (if I were, I wouldn’t be so much into science-based medicine rather than evidence-based medicine), but I also realize that “approaching statistical significance” usually means, “no matter how much we tortured the data we just couldn’t make the p-value fall below 0.05.”

Basically, if you look critically at the data, one thing that becomes very clear is that the studies purporting to show a link between cell phone radiation and male infertility are uniformly horribly designed and unconvincing. This one is no exception. The Telegraph published a rebuttal article that’s not bad, but still leaves something to be desired. First, it quotes experts correctly pointing out just how bad these studies are. Second, it quotes Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield:

“What is more of a problem is men – and couples – waiting until they are older before they are trying for a baby and then trying to blame their infertility on things like mobile phones when it’s their combined age which is probably a bigger problem.”

Yes. This is very likely a factor. Unfortunately The Telegraph couldn’t resist going here:

Pacey’s opinion – that mobile phone radiation is being seized upon by infertile men as a convenient scapegoat for their condition – is supported by Stephen Harbottle, a Consultant Embryologist at Cambridge IVF.

“There are a number of environmental factors that may be contributing to the general decline we have seen in male fertility over the last 15 years,” says Harbottle, who believes mobile phones are much further down the list of causes than recent research would have us believe.

“Probably most significant factor is oestrogen-mimicking compounds in the food chain. These can enter the food chain via pesticides and some plastic food wrappings.

You knew it wouldn’t be long before they brought pesticides and BPA into it. There really isn’t any good evidence to support this assertion.

The bottom line is that cell phone usage as measured by a study like the Technion study is almost certainly a confounder, a surrogate for some other factor that is known to be related to infertility that the study doesn’t control for. By reporting a small, crappy study like this as evidence that cell phones are “cooking men’s sperm” journalists exercise the very worst tendencies in science reporting, tendencies that I’ve railed at since the beginning, particularly when it comes to vaccine reporting.

For shame, anyone who credulously swallowed this story and ran with it.

Comments

  1. #1 Amethyst
    The Crystal Temple
    February 24, 2016

    Unless, of course, you are applying your smartphone (certain brands/models can get incredibly hot at times) directly to your scrotum…

  2. #2 Orac
    February 24, 2016

    Yeah, I resisted the temptation to make that particular joke. Maybe I shouldn’t have. 🙂

  3. #3 janet
    dark and gloomy (and that's just my office)
    February 24, 2016

    Eureka! The male birth control method we’ve been searching for all these years! And right there under our noses (in our pockets?) all this time.

  4. #4 darwinslapdog
    The Beagle
    February 24, 2016

    Next time Mr. Lapdog calls me I will be sure to enquire whether the phone is 50 cm from his junk. (Unless your guy is a hobbit, I can’t imagine this is an issue).

    Thanks for the crap study deconstruction tutorial, Orac.

  5. #5 Gray Squirrel
    February 24, 2016

    I’m with Janet @ 3. Damn, too bad for the study.

    But one can’t help wonder if some minor tweak to the hardware could make it so. 7 billion heading for 9 billion on a planet that can sustainably support 3 billion at European standards of living, makes it imperative to find new methods of birth control that people will find irresistible.

    OTOH, video games. “Not tonight, honey, I’m right in the middle of shooting zombies!”

  6. #6 MI Dawn
    February 24, 2016

    @Orac…I know you frown on typo comments, but I have to admit this one made me laugh….” …time spent talking on one’s mobile home

    The visual is hysterical.

  7. #7 Denice Walter
    February 24, 2016

    As I’ve said many times before ( in regards to blaming autism on vaccines), it makes people feel better to attribute negative outcomes to external causes:
    they would rather blame a phone than the fact that perhaps they are not longer the young dudes** bursting with procreative power that they once were ( at least in their imaginations) or that there is something ELSE wrong with them.

    ** we all forever indebted to David Bowie for that song and that phrase.

  8. #8 sirhcton
    February 24, 2016

    I wonder if they checked to see if subjects were using their phones for “inappropriate internet research,” especially prior to sample collection?

  9. #9 Denice Walter
    February 24, 2016

    @ Gray Squirrel:

    You know, I’ve heard it remarked ( perhaps as a joke) that low birthrates in Japan can be blamed on manga and anime as well as video games.

    I’m sure we can find other modern technologies to blame in post-industrial cultures- virtual reality will certainly be indicted when it becomes as widespread as internet pornography.

  10. #10 Gilbert
    February 24, 2016

    I remind those who hold that strands of genetic material can’t act as an antenna that a discontinuity within a dielectric does indeed act such:

    Most of what we know about electromagnetic radiation comes from theories first proposed by James Clerk Maxwell in the 19th century, which state that electromagnetic radiation is generated by accelerating electrons. …

    … However, this theory becomes problematic when dealing with radio wave emission from a dielectric solid, a material which normally acts as an insulator, meaning that electrons are not free to move around. Despite this, dielectric resonators are already used as antennas in mobile phones, for example.

    “In dielectric aerials, the medium has high permittivity, meaning that the velocity of the radio wave decreases as it enters the medium,” said Dr Dhiraj Sinha, the paper’s lead author. “What hasn’t been known is how the dielectric medium results in emission of electromagnetic waves. This mystery has puzzled scientists and engineers for more than 60 years.”

    http://phys.org/news/2015-04-electromagnetism-enable-antennas-chip.html

    and

    The microwave absorption is directed by the dielectric constant of the tissue. At 2.5 GHz, this ranges from about 5 for adipose tissue to about 56 for the cardiac muscle. As the speed of electromagnetic waves is proportional to the reciprocial value of the square root of the dielectric constant, the resulting wavelength in the tissue can drop to a fraction of the wavelength in air; e.g. at 10 GHz the wavelength can drop from 3 cm to about 3.4 mm.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microwave_burn#Frequency_vs_depth

    Now add harmonics, considering the whole sack to be in the phones near field, it seems plausible that appreciable amounts of jitter can be imparted into the sperm’s jiggly bits — Crashing the cymbals onto the cartoon characters’ head does not immediately cause cancer to spring forth either; But he does walk around kinda funny for a little while.

    Shouldn’t it be easy enough to test for some effect directly? Dap a little dab on a slide and observe it under a microscope while MMS’ing cat pics to the entire department one at a time.

  11. #11 jrkrideau
    At the bottom of the lake (the bottom end that is)
    February 24, 2016

    Some studies have shown a continuous decline in semen quality since the beginning of the 20th century.

    Not the best intro for a treatise on mobile phones or a shocking lack of historical knowledge.

    A mobile phone, or possibly telegraph, in about 1915 consisted of, IIRC, a large wagon with a big roll of copper wire, 7 horses, and 9 men according to the Canadian military’s communications museum’s display on laying field communications.

    Oh and presumably a telephone.

  12. #12 Delphine
    storm
    February 24, 2016

    As I’ve said many times before ( in regards to blaming autism on vaccines), it makes people feel better to attribute negative outcomes to external causes:
    they would rather blame a phone than the fact that perhaps they are not longer the young dudes** bursting with procreative power that they once were ( at least in their imaginations) or that there is something ELSE wrong with them.

    Yes, this. I used to moderate a message board for AMA women trying to conceive. I saw this all of the time. The age at which female fertility begins to decline tends to be poorly understood and frequently underestimated, and acknowledging that it might be too late can be extremely hard. Harder than blaming cell phones, BPA, “toxins”, etc.

  13. #14 Mike
    February 24, 2016

    Notice the samples were collected in September. Sperm production and maturation takes a few weeks to a few months. A few months after heat waves, sperm quality in male livestock can drop very far. I would assume the same mechanism could cause sperm quality to drop in human males as well.

    The difference between men may be low quality sperm in men who worked outside and thus may have spoke on a cell phone for an hour compared to men who worked indoors with AC and used a hard wired line to talk instead.

  14. #15 Eric Lund
    February 24, 2016

    certain brands/models can get incredibly hot at times

    This is actually a physically plausible mechanism: as I understand it, excessive heat around the scrotum tends to reduce sperm counts. Of course, baking the family jewels doesn’t sound nearly as scary as zapping them with the evil RF. And the study result is null, so it hasn’t been established that there is a problem that requires an explanation.

    I don’t know about most men, but when I’m using my phone, be it to have a conversation, to text, or surf the Internet, it’s nowhere near my family jewels, if you know what I mean.

    I don’t either, but you and I are old-fashioned in this regard. Plenty of people use earbuds, or Bluetooth headsets, with their phones. I sometimes joke that I am old enough to remember a time when you could assume somebody who was walking down the street and apparently talking to himself was crazy–these days, the person might simply be using the phone.

  15. #16 Politicalguineapig
    February 24, 2016

    Rats. Back to punching myself.

    Delphine: What do you mean by the ‘The age at which female fertility begins to decline tends to be poorly understood and frequently underestimated?” At twenty-five, women peak, right? At least, that’s what I understand from every mothering board and dating site i’ve ever lurked on.

  16. #17 Johanna
    PDX
    February 24, 2016

    @Eric #14

    I’ve learned that the absolute foolproof, copper-bottomed way to avoid being approached on the street is to participate in the “Say Something In Welsh” audio course. It’s all listen and repeat exercises. Combining “Nac ydw, dw i’n ddim yn hoffi cwrw”* and a military surplus winter coat usually guarantees a quiet train ride home…

    *”No, I don’t like beer.”

  17. #18 Delphine
    February 24, 2016

    I mean that from what I’ve witnessed, a great many women fail to understand and/or dismiss the effect of age on fertility, and underestimate the age at which fertility begins to decline.

    I’m 44. I had my daughter at 40, after a long struggle with infertility and infant loss, and after blowing a not-insignificant wad of cash on ART. Because I was old. There was no other reason. I heard and continue to hear stuff like this all of the time. http://www.npr.org/2011/12/01/142725547/many-women-underestimate-fertility-clocks-clang

    Delayed childbearing, the whys and wherefores, they are sticky, difficult issues.

  18. #19 Delphine
    EDIT FUNCTION
    February 24, 2016

    “is” a sticky, difficult issue.

  19. #20 Politicalguineapig
    February 24, 2016

    Delphine: I mean that from what I’ve witnessed, a great many women fail to understand and/or dismiss the effect of age on fertility, and underestimate the age at which fertility begins to decline.

    I’m 44. I had my daughter at 40, after a long struggle with infertility and infant loss, and after blowing a not-insignificant wad of cash on ART. Because I was old. There was no other reason. I heard and continue to hear stuff like this all of the time.

    Ah, okay. I think part of the difficulty is the media. Women are always hearing ‘after twenty-five/thirty/ thirty-five’ you can’t have babies anymore,’ and many women know mothers who have had kids after those milestones, and then proceed to just tune out.
    For instance, my mom had me at thirty, and my brother at thirty-five, so I know it’s possible. Though, no disrespect, but motherhood isn’t feasible for me or my sister. We’re too poor to raise kids.
    Which is another problem- women spend their twenties and thirties getting financially established, and only amass enough wealth by their forties.

  20. #21 Delphine
    February 24, 2016

    Ah, okay. I think part of the difficulty is the media. Women are always hearing ‘after twenty-five/thirty/ thirty-five’ you can’t have babies anymore,’ and many women know mothers who have had kids after those milestones, and then proceed to just tune out. It’s that, but it’s also the opposite – stories about celebrities, for example, who have children in their 40s, without any corresponding dialogue of what it might have taken to get there, or how many others tried, failed, or are still trying. There’s this whole “40 is the new 30” and the thing is, your ovaries don’t give a rat’s that you do Pilates and love Arcade Fire.

    For instance, my mom had me at thirty, and my brother at thirty-five, so I know it’s possible. To extend that thought, women throughout history have routinely given birth well into their 40s. That factoid gets pointed out a lot with respect to delayed childbearing. What gets ignored there is that these women having children in their 40s typically weren’t having their first child.

    Which is another problem- women spend their twenties and thirties getting financially established, and only amass enough wealth by their forties. Yeah, I dunno. I have mixed feels about that rationale, but I said “sticky” and that one is, so…part of the problem is that it’s now almost taboo for women to have children when they are actually in or around their reproductive peak years.

  21. #22 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    February 24, 2016

    @Johanna – I’ve met several people from Wales. Based on what I’ve seen, the phrase “Nac ydw, dw i’n ddim yn hoffi cwrw” has never been said by a native speaker, and is a phrase without meaning.

  22. #23 rs
    February 24, 2016

    “During charging of cell phones, two changes occur: (i) the external power source by itself emits energy; and (ii) due to the continuous supply of energy from the external source, the device transmits at a higher power, without the need for energy saving, in contrast to the usual talking mode.”

    This is absurd.

    The “external power source” is at worst an exceptionally low power emitter of RF at HF and lower frequencies (much lower energies than cell phone transmissions), usually due to their use of switching power supplies.

    Recent generation cell phones do not adjust power based on battery level or DC supply. Power is in general negotiated with the base station to the minimum required for reliable communication.

  23. #24 Denice Walter
    February 24, 2016

    Cell phones are safe?
    What do doctors know anyway! OT but it’s late

    Today, Mikey ( Natural News podcast- now we can hear him as well as read his tripe)
    asserts that doctors are “idiots” because they don’t know that vitamin D and lack of sunscreen work against cancer.
    Nutrition is the answer and sceptics are “dinosaurs”: they know nothing.
    So don’t listen to them, listen to Mike ( and NDs and CAM )

    This 21 minute rant is amongst Mike’s finest. First rate.

    -btw- I know how to say sh!t in Welsh but I can’t spell it.

  24. #25 sadmar
    February 24, 2016

    [parody] So says the phonema-shill!
    If there was nothing to this, why is Donald Trump investing into Gallinger Enterprizes, a firm cornering the sales of cheap burners in poor African-American and Latino communities, via aggressive street-level marketing of its U-Gen brand phones? “‘Forget Next-Gen. Go U-Gen!”
    [/parody]

  25. #26 Politicalguineapig
    February 24, 2016

    Delphine: …part of the problem is that it’s now almost taboo for women to have children when they are actually in or around their reproductive peak years.

    Yeah, that is a sticky one. Women have to choose between education and family, and no one really wants to choose to be poor. In theory, there ought to be some way to solve the problem, but it’d take a drastic reengineering of society and human men.

  26. #27 Orac
    February 24, 2016

    Recent generation cell phones do not adjust power based on battery level or DC supply. Power is in general negotiated with the base station to the minimum required for reliable communication.

    I figured as much, but was that true in 2011-2012, when the data were collected for this study? (The iPhone 4 was released in October 2011.)

  27. #28 Dan Welch
    February 24, 2016

    Cell phones and cancer are my go-to counterargument when arguing with anti-GMO types, when they say things like, “Even if there is no evidence now, we don’t know what will happen in 10 more years, so it’s best to be safe and just not consume them at all.”

    The point being, it is funny how people suddenly start trusting science when it tells them something that benefits them personally. It’s easy to be anti-GMO when you have a secure food supply and nothing at stake, but when it comes to my cellphone, well, that’s different.

    Of course, this blog entry shows us that the truly delusional are bound to distrust science no matter what the cost. But there are a lot more anti-GMO people than anti-cellphone people.

  28. #29 Johanna
    PDX
    February 24, 2016

    @MoB

    True that. I should have said Bovril or something. 🙂

    (I, personally, don’t like beer, but for complicated reasons)

  29. #30 Delphine
    February 24, 2016

    Yeah, that is a sticky one. Women have to choose between education and family, and no one really wants to choose to be poor. In theory, there ought to be some way to solve the problem, but it’d take a drastic reengineering of society and human men.

    I hear you, but I think that’s an oversimplification. The sucky reality is that we have a limited window, there is only so much reproductive medicine can do, and we need to prioritize accordingly. And I know that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. But I do think women and men equally need better/more education on fertility/reproduction as a whole.

  30. #31 Dangerous Bacon
    February 24, 2016

    Only deniers would deny that there is a correlation between cellphone use and infertility.

    For instance, it was reported in a Major Newspaper earlier this week that the average smartphone user spends 3 1/2 hours per day using cellphone apps.

    Add in all the time people spend yakking on their cellphones or just staring in fascination at the screen while walking into walls, and that’s time unavailable for procreation.

    Do the math (or maths, as the Brits would say).

  31. #32 rs
    February 24, 2016

    “I figured as much, but was that true in 2011-2012, when the data were collected for this study? (The iPhone 4 was released in October 2011.)”

    Even longer. It’s not strictly a phone issue but the underlying radio technology, and compliance to relevant standards. The iPhone is no different in that it uses radio chip sets that are compliant (must comply by regulation). Non-compliant chip sets/devices would either not work or incur a serious regulator response. Excess power from a phone degrades service to other subscribers, whether used for administration comms, voice or data.

  32. #33 Yerushalmi
    Jerusalem, Israel
    February 24, 2016

    I was so glad to see Orac make a point I noted myself when reading the original news article. How does it make any sense that more time spent talking on a cellphone correlates with more sperm damage, if presumably you don’t talk from your scrotum? If anything, you’d see the opposite correlation – the less people actually use their phones, the more damage you’d see. It’s nonsensical.

    A few years back there was an article in an Israeli paper about a fire/explosion at a gas station. The headline shouted about how a woman’s cellphone caused the fire, and spent paragraphs and paragraphs giving warnings and quoting experts on how you shouldn’t use cellphones in a gas station…

    …and then, in the very last paragraph, mentions that witnesses said the woman was not using her cellphone at the time of the fire.

  33. #34 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    February 24, 2016

    For instance, it was reported in a Major Newspaper earlier this week that the average smartphone user spends 3 1/2 hours per day using cellphone apps.

    Add in all the time people spend yakking on their cellphones or just staring in fascination at the screen while walking into walls, and that’s time unavailable for procreation.

    This inspired my new New Year’s resolution – to spend that 3 1/2 hours a day on procreative activities. Wish I’d thought of that back in college.*

    * Well, actually I thought of it quite a lot in those days before cell phones, but had problems with finding other willing participants. That and chafing.

  34. #35 ScienceMonkey
    February 24, 2016

    Did the study account for the phone being on ring or vibrate as a variable?

  35. #36 Gilbert
    I don't know but there are a lot of procreative stumps in this underground lair
    February 24, 2016

    Ah, okay. I think part of the difficulty is the media. Women are always hearing ‘after twenty-five/thirty/ thirty-five’ you can’t have babies anymore’

    It is my understanding, PgP #20, that a girl/woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have and that those eggs are degraded over time due to environmental toxins, disease, and radiation to include cosmic rays. For this reason alone is it more desired for a woman to bear children at a younger age — For instance, Mary was 12 when God knocked her up.

  36. #37 herr doktor bimler
    February 24, 2016

    If cellphone signals damage the DNA strands in rapidly-dividing cells, hair follicles are also at risk.
    Cellphones made me bald!

  37. #38 Chris Hickie
    February 24, 2016

    If this were true, then this person would be Sterile Erol with the Cool Tool : http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/man-caught-38-cell-phones-stuffed-pants-concert-article-1.2513495

  38. #39 Bob
    February 24, 2016

    I’m always amused when people very emphatically insist that cell phones can’t cause cancer because RF waves can’t break DNA. I agree that cell phones probably don’t cause cancer – the sheer number of cell phone users today, without a corresponding spike in any any kind of cancer, implies the risk must be small if it even exists.

    That said, as Orac states, breaking DNA is not the only way for something to be carcinogenic. Mutations are a part of every cancer, but the carcinogenic agent need not cause those mutations directly. The carcinogen could be an irritant that increases cell turnover, or inhibit the function of cellular mechanisms that monitor or repair naturally occurring mutations.

    Proteins contain charged particles, so must have some kind of response to any passing EM wave. One could imagine such a wave changing things like reaction constants or the energy of different folded states. And something like this could, in theory, irritate a cell or inhibit the mechanisms to repair mutations. Possible? Sure. Plausible? Ehhh, probably not, since the epidemiology kind of sets a low upper bound on how bad this could possibly be. But Orac is exactly right – this is not “homeopathy levels” of implausible.

    Someone mentioned cell phone usage being a confounder for the type of job someone has. I hadn’t thought of this before, and it makes sense. I’d be surprised if cell phone usage *didn’t* correlate with something like type of job, indoor vs. outdoor job, frequency of traveling, time spent sitting down, etc. Any of those things is a more plausible cause of sperm abnormalities.

    And anyway, just like the case with cell phones causing cancer, the fact that going from no one having a cell phone to almost everyone having a cell phone in just 30 years, without fertility rates falling through the floor, sets a pretty strict bound on how bad they can be for our swimmers.

  39. #40 Denice Walter
    February 24, 2016

    herr doktor bimler is correct:
    I hardly use a cell phone and I have hair.

    Perhaps we should it write up and submit it to Medical Hypotheses. At least we have N=2.

  40. #41 Denice Walter
    February 24, 2016

    write it up

  41. #42 Rich Bly
    Ocean Shores
    February 24, 2016

    One of my brothers has a cell to his head all the time and is bald. I am 6 years older and don’t use a cell phone much and have a full head of hair.

    We only need 100 more respondents and we can equal the above study and not be able to prove anything.

  42. #43 JustaTech
    February 24, 2016

    I have to say I’m terribly amused at this silly study because I used the opposite argument on why cell phones are safe.

    To wit: A friend was describing an app for a smartphone that monitors your sleep to help you wake up during the ‘light’ part of your sleep cycle. In order to work, you put the phone under your pillow. The friend’s sister was aghast at keeping your phone by your head for so long, that it was dangerous. My argument was that clearly phones that weren’t being used as phones were safe because we *hadn’t* seen a major fertility drop off.

  43. #44 Narad
    February 24, 2016

    Proteins contain charged particles, so must have some kind of response to any passing EM wave.

    I’m on hold with somebody, but you might want to look here.

  44. #45 Helianthus
    February 24, 2016

    @ Dangerous Bacon

    Add in all the time people spend yakking on their cellphones or just staring in fascination at the screen while walking into walls, and that’s time unavailable for procreation.

    You are assuming those people will not have found something else to do aside sex. Or to put in another way, that romance was an option in the first place.
    You could remove every electronic devices to a freak like me, I will still be fully unable to go talk to the nice girl next door.
    OTOH, I have this feeling that don juan wannabe have no trouble fitting their phone use in their sex life.

  45. #46 JustaTech
    February 24, 2016

    Helianthus @45: And has anyone done a study on the sperm motility in the guy who are swiping on Tinder to find a woman to have sex with while actively engaged in sex with another women? (As has been reported in Vanity Fair in a lovely article on how broken all Millennials are.)

  46. #47 alison
    New Zealand
    February 24, 2016

    “herr doktor bimler is correct:
    I hardly use a cell phone and I have hair.”

    herr doktor bimler is fibbing; he is well-endowed in the hair department 😛

  47. #48 Denice Walter
    February 24, 2016

    @ Alison:

    I know I saw his photo but I couldn’t forego the chance to insult MH.

  48. #49 herr doktor bimler
    February 24, 2016

    sperm motility in the guy who are swiping on Tinder to find a woman to have sex with while actively engaged in sex with another women

    Being kicked in the goolies is a kind of sperm mobility.

  49. #50 herr doktor bimler
    February 24, 2016

    Obviously Professor Dirnfeld is a shill for the Faraday-Caged Underpants industry:
    http://www.lessemf.com/personal.html#261

  50. #51 Delphine
    tim horton's is what's for dinner
    February 24, 2016

    Helianthus @45: And has anyone done a study on the sperm motility in the guy who are swiping on Tinder to find a woman to have sex with while actively engaged in sex with another women? (As has been reported in Vanity Fair in a lovely article on how broken all Millennials are.)

    Oh please, Thackeray never wrote anything of the sort!

    Okay, sorry, I’ll get my coat.

  51. #52 herr doktor bimler
    February 24, 2016

    Oh please, Thackeray never wrote anything of the sort!
    Perhaps Helianthus was thinking of works by Trollop.

  52. #53 Delphine
    February 24, 2016

    insert Dickens joke here 🙂

  53. #54 Amethyst
    The Crystal Temple
    February 25, 2016

    re low Japanese birth rates: Look up the Japanese “herbivore men”-phenomenon. Due to social pressures and cultural norms that are very prevalent in Japan, young Japanese men are “checking out” of society and refusing to get married and have children – which has been disastrous to their birth rates.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbivore_men

    It is what has spawned and influenced the “Men Going Their Own Way” (or MGTOW) movement in Western Culture.

  54. #55 Helianthus
    February 25, 2016

    Perhaps Helianthus was thinking of works by Trollop.

    More on the line that with my level of social life, I don’t have much use for my gonads, so this whole cell phone scare is just wizzing way over my head.

    Look up the Japanese “herbivore men”-phenomenon

    The parallels with western societies are interesting. A decade back, an article I read was talking how a good chunk of the the recent generations were putting themselves in stasis – staying longer at their parents’ place, waiting more to set down and have children, and so on -, and in short bemoaning a lack of role models.

  55. #56 Amethyst
    The Crystal Temple
    February 25, 2016

    In my circle of friends, staying at home at 25-30 years of age is the norm not the exception. Difficulties finding a decent job as well as lack of housing opportunities has wrecked havoc on my generation; we’re basically living as teens with our parents for almost twice as long as we should…

  56. #57 Helianthus
    February 25, 2016

    @ Amethyst

    Yeah, speaking for myself, it’s more than “I’m afraid of women”. Scarred of long-term relationship is more like it, to start with (i.e. the problem starts with me – I have to go past the feeling that I’m not good enough). Job stability is a huge factor, too.
    I didn’t care much for the MGTOW analysis on wikipedia linking the phenomenon with “feminist laws”. Social pressures on men to be masculine, successful and married (or whatever else they are supposed to be) doesn’t just come from “feminazi”.
    Actually, this traditional role model for men is deeply linked with a, well, traditional view of a patriarchal society – like the Japanese society -, so quite the opposite of feminist views, but what do I know?

  57. #58 Amethyst
    The Crystal Temple
    February 25, 2016

    Third wave feminists and MGTOWs are pretty much the same in the sense that they do occasionally raise some good points, but on the whole they’re letting their ideological bias taint their views to such a degree that they’re no longer based in reality.

    On the feminist side you have blatant falsehoods such as rape culture and the gender pay gap – neither of which exists outside of feminst twisting of statistics.

    On the MGTOW side you have all kinds of absurdities, such as the vagina injecting a mind-controll substance into the penis (no doubt via vagina dentata!) during intercourse.

    But you shouldn’t look to MGTOWs for a perspective on male issues on society – a lot of them are bitter and hateful towards women because they’ve been hurt (there is a reason they “Went their own way” after all). The MRM (Men’s Rights Movement) is a much more apt “adversary” to feminists, and I find myself sympathizing with their views a lot (such as men facing much longer prison terms for the same crime as a women, and custody unfairness).

  58. #59 Orac
    February 25, 2016

    I’m going to step in right here and point something out. This post is not about feminism. Consequently, I would very much prefer that it not devolve into a flame fest about feminism. The last few comments make me worry that we’re on the verge of seeing that happen.

  59. #60 Amethyst
    The Crystal Temple
    February 25, 2016

    Well, since that was obviously aimed towards me, I can assure you I don’t intend for it to go down that route at all.

    I also can’t help but feel slighted, since I am pretty sure I’ve been as respectful on the subject as one can be. I don’t agree with you on that the “last few comments” have been bad. Hmpf.

  60. #61 Helianthus
    February 25, 2016

    Sorry, being caught in my own wool gathering.
    Apologies for any offensive comment. It was not intended as much.

  61. #62 Helianthus
    February 25, 2016

    “as such.”

    OK, coffee time, brain is misbehaving more than usual..

  62. #63 Orac
    February 25, 2016

    Preemptive strike. I’ve seen this happen too many times before on other discussion forums, regardless of how seemingly respectful it starts out. I was starting to get a bad vibe about the way this was going. So I intervened. It also didn’t help that the thread was going way off topic.

  63. #64 Amethyst
    The Crystal Temple
    February 25, 2016

    Considering the subject at hand (aided by the very first comment by yours truly) do we really want it to stay on topic?

    Hahaha!

  64. #65 John Phillips
    Across the channel from my old home in my new home.
    February 25, 2016

    Denice Walter #24 it’s spelt “cachu”.

    Joanna #17, you’re more likely to hear “Na, nid wyf yn hoffi cwrw” without contraction or “Na, nid wy’n hoffi cwrw” with contraction. The latter being commoner, especially when spoken. Though unless replying to an offer of a beer, the “Na” would also be left off if simply stating that one doesn’t like beer.

  65. #66 Johanna
    PDX
    February 25, 2016

    Orac’s house, Orac’s rules. 🙂

  66. #67 Amethyst
    The Crystal Temple
    February 25, 2016

    Computers can’t own real estate, silly.

  67. #68 Denice Walter
    February 25, 2016

    ” Orac’s house, Orac’s rules”

    I’m glad of that because I won’t be tempted to discuss my analysis of why adult men become obsessed with anime and manga characters & similar ( not limited to Japanese men)

  68. #69 Orac
    February 25, 2016

    Computers can’t own real estate, silly.

    Some would argue that computers now own all real estate.

  69. #70 Amethyst
    The Crystal Temple
    February 25, 2016

    Would that apply to grown men liking polymorphic sentient space rocks, too? :3

  70. #71 Blues
    February 25, 2016

    hmmm, I keep my phone in my pocket and am verified sterile.

    The vasectomy may have had something to with that…

    But can I blame the phone anyway?

  71. #72 MI Dawn
    February 25, 2016

    Gee…I’m sure that my male friend who (with his wife) had horrible issues with infertility, would have been thrilled if it had been something as simple as a cell phone. Unfortunately, 30+ years ago, when they started trying to conceive, cell phones weren’t that common. They finally did have a wonderful child, but the infertility cause was never determined. (In fact, they decided after child was born to throw away all contraceptives and never use them again, because they were a)willing to have more and b)logical enough to realize that if it was so hard in their 20s, it would probably be hard enough in their 30s that they could save a lot of money not paying for them. Child is still an only…

  72. #73 Kiiri
    February 25, 2016

    I think that I will concur with those up thread that this gives men something to blame their infertility on. We struggled horribly with infertility (though we began that struggle at about age 27 for me) and it had nothing to do with quality or quantity of husband’s ‘swimmers’. Nope we were female factor infertility all the way. As a matter of fact he was complimented often that even thought 8 years my senior and second and final child conceived at the age of 45 for him that his sperm quality was that of a man in his 20’s. The rise of infertility in US society is multi-factorial. But the subset of women in fertility treatment are those who can afford it and so tend to be well educated and usually professionals. Since the vast amount of fertility treatment is out of pocket under most insurance plans in the US that is a very self-selected pool. Most who delayed child bearing intentionally and are now paying a price for that. Not that I am advocating women drop everything to have babies in their teens or twenties. As women have progressed toward an equal role in society, education (particularly college and graduate degrees) eat up a lot of the 20’s, and the late 20’s and 30’s are spent embarking one’s career. I also know a lot more women who are single until later in life, without as much push to marry in order to have a single male breadwinner, most are also delaying marriage. Meaning women in their 30’s are just beginning to think about a child when their fertility is already on the decline. This is not all bad, these women are generally able to offer a degree of financial stability to a child, plus a degree of emotional stability as well. But the problem is if they are not very fertile they have a very short window to conceive a pregnancy. I think fertility care should be covered by more insurance and that people should have more access. So rambling now, but I do always recommend to any females that are thinking they might have issues to skip their routine OB/GYN and jump straight to a specialist. I probably would have had a lot less problems if I hadn’t messed around with a series of regular practice OB/GYN and my flirtation with altmed before going to a fertility specialist.

  73. #74 Amethyst
    The Crystal Temple
    February 26, 2016

    It is such a common trend to blame an external cause rather than an internal one, I can’t help but wonder if there is an actual name of the phenomenon.

    Take the “vaccines cause autism”-crowd: in no way could it be genetics or age or anything else that could be “their fault”. No, no, no – it is those damned vaccines that “destroyed” their originally perfect child.

  74. #75 Vadim
    February 26, 2016

    If you smeeeeell…..what your phone……is cooking!) (sing as The Rock theme)

  75. #76 LouV
    France
    February 26, 2016

    Take the “vaccines cause autism”-crowd: in no way could it be genetics or age or anything else that could be “their fault”. No, no, no – it is those damned vaccines that “destroyed” their originally perfect child.

    Except that quite a few of these people I chatted with feel horribly guilty for having vaccinated their child. So it’s more complex than than I think.

  76. #77 Amethyst
    The Crystal Temple
    February 26, 2016

    True enough on an individual level I suppose, but the general message/consensus of the anti-vaxx movement seems to be that parents and child alike are the victims of the ebul vaccines.

    To me it seems that it appeals to a lot of parents because it takes the “responsibility” (if you could ever put the blame of genetic issues on the parent, which I wouldn’t consider right in most circumstances) of the autism away from the parents and onto big pharma and vaccines.

  77. #78 DLC
    February 26, 2016

    “Mandrake, do you know why the commies put fluoride in the water ?” “So they can dilute it out 100-million times and cure everyone ?”

  78. #79 PhillipS
    February 26, 2016

    Dude…I trust the Telegraph and doctors far more than your flimsy advice. In case you haven’t noticed, infertility in young men is on the rise. Maybe you should do some research and produce solid evidence for your claims, before penning another sad excuse for a “scientific article”. Perhaps you should also consider studying actual science and biology, as well.
    Are you some sort of expert on the human body? Have you spent years of your life hovering over textbooks and microscopes? What claim do you have to all this “knowledge” that you believe yourself to have?

  79. #80 Orac
    February 26, 2016

    Um, let’s see. I’m a surgical oncologist, meaning I have an MD and have completed a general surgery residency and a surgical oncology fellowship, and I also have a PhD in a biomedical science (cellular physiology) and am quite well versed in cell biology and molecular biology. In addition, I’ve published in the peer-reviewed biomedical literature and successfully competed for peer-reviewed scientific funding.

    so, yes, I’ve spent years of my life hovering over textbooks, microscopes, various scientific assays, peer-reviewed journals, etc.

    Next question?

  80. #81 Orac
    February 26, 2016

    P.S. Speaking of surgical oncology, I will be a the Society for Surgical Oncology annual meeting in Boston from March 2-6, in case anyone wants to try for a meet up.

  81. #82 Lawrence
    February 26, 2016
  82. #84 MI Dawn
    February 26, 2016

    @Orac: I will be a the Society for Surgical Oncology annual meeting in Boston from March 2-6, in case anyone wants to try for a meet up. Really wish I could. It’s going to depend on how I’m doing for my statistics class, as to whether I can get up there or not.

  83. #85 Old Rockin' Dave
    ...not in Suffragette City ust now...
    February 26, 2016

    Denice Walter, #7:
    I know your comment is way down in the pile, but I have to point out that Bowie’s young dudes were on the whole not particularly interested in, or likely to, impregnate anyone, both by choice of partner and of ofrifices of preference.

  84. #86 Denice Walter
    February 26, 2016

    @ Old Rockin’ Dave:

    Oh I know. My gay university friends thought of it as an anthem: apparently so did Lou Reed.
    Supposedly it had nothing to do with gay pride at all but the dudes were harbingers of the apocalypse or suchlike to come in five years.

  85. #87 Delphine
    mashed potatoes
    February 26, 2016

    Yabbut Orac Dude, are you any good at healing burns?

  86. #88 Murmur
    UK-ia
    February 27, 2016

    #79

    Seriously? The Torygraph has a long history of being less than good with science and health reporting. Which is true of all the UK meejah, BTW.

    And you must have tried really, really hard NOT to now who Orac is and what his background is, as that is just sooooo super-secret…

  87. #89 Old Rockin' Dave
    ...being watched from the stairs by [almost] everyone that ever cared
    February 27, 2016

    @ Denice Walker
    Ever listen to Mott The Hoople’s version?
    I was at least on the fringes of that world. I wasn’t, but I could have been, “you there with the glasses”.

  88. #90 Garry Goulde
    February 28, 2016

    I presume you think that scientist at Technion Haifa and Carmel Medical Centre are cranks and you are sane. Read on:
    February 3, 2016, 8:55 am
    Men using a cellular phone for more than one hour a day double the risk of their sperm count dropping to levels too low for procreation, according researchers from the Haifa Technion and the Carmel Medical Center
    A new study conducted at the two institutions, and published Tuesday in the medical journal Reproductive BioMedicine Online, brings evidence to support a long-feared link between dropping fertility rates in men and the prevalent use of cellular phones.

    The quality of sperm among men in Western countries is constantly decreasing and is considered crucial in 40 percent of the cases in which couples have difficulty conceiving a child.

    According to the findings, sperm counts dropped to levels that can cause infertility among men who kept their phones half a meter (c. 2 feet) or less from their groins. Forty-seven percent of those who kept their phone in their pants pockets throughout the day recorded abnormally low levels of semen concentration, compared to only 11% of the general male population.

    Talking on a cellphone for over an hour a day or speaking on the device when it is being charged doubles the risk for low semen concentration, the study found.
    “In light of the results of the study it is certainly recommended [that men] shorten the duration of calls and avoid carrying the device near their groins, sleeping next to it, speaking on it when it’s charging (it is in fact recommended to turn it off when it’s charging) and use headphones or a headset as much as possible,” Zilberlicht was quoted by Channel 2 as saying.

  89. #91 Orac
    February 28, 2016

    You clearly didn’t bother to read my post, because it is exactly that study that I deconstructed in my post. Seriously, dude. Read the post. Then if you have specific criticisms based on its actual…oh, you know…contents, feel free to jump in!

  90. #92 herr doktor bimler
    February 28, 2016

    I presume you think that scientist at Technion Haifa and Carmel Medical Centre are cranks and you are sane.

    “Cranks” is such a harsh word. I would settle for “headline-whoring numpties”.

  91. #93 Michael J. Dochniak
    Iowa
    February 28, 2016

    The internet is a crazy place for nonsense.

    (Cell Phones and Popcorn)

  92. #94 Johnny
    127.0.0.1
    February 28, 2016

    What’s the over/under on if Donchniak knows that the above video is fake, or not?

    On one hand, the video has been widely debunked, and on the other hand, Donchniak is a loon. I can see it going either way.

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.