Neuron Culture

More questions on cell phone/DNA data

You want mail, write about cell phones and DNA.

Earlier today, when I posted a heads-up to a Science story about questions raised about data-tampering in what Science called “The only two peer-reviewed scientific papers” showing strong links between cell phone use and DNA mutations, I noted I was surprised at the lack of press coverage about this, given how heavily most papers on the subject are reported. Two hours later I got a note from Louis Slesin, who blogs on such issues at Microwave News, asserting that the Science story oversimplified the situation. Slesin pointed me to his Sept 3 blog post:

Making sweeping statements about scientific knowledge is always challenging, especially when writing about an unfamiliar field of research. Take, for example, this opening sentence from an article, “Fraud Charges Cast Doubt on Claims of DNA Damage from Cell Phone Fields” by Gretchen Vogel in this week’s Science magazine:
“The only two peer-reviewed scientific papers showing that electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from cell phones can cause DNA breakage are at the center of a misconduct controversy at the Medical University of Vienna.”

Sweeping … and wrong. Not counting the two papers from Hugo Rüdiger’s lab in Vienna, here are 11 papers that point to changes in DNA breaks following exposures to cell phone radiation:

Slesin then lists those papers as well as some others before concluding:

None of this should be interpreted as indicating that the cell phone?DNA issue is closed. Others have failed to see such genetic effects and the jury is still out. But clearly to state that only two papers have shown DNA breaks is grossly misleading —no, simply wrong.

We have been closely following the University of Vienna story for some months and we will be reporting on it in detail sometime soon. The Science story gives but a glimpse of some of the maneuvering going on behind the scenes; in this case, manipulating the media to influence public opinion. At the moment, we are still trying to sort out who is doing what.

Did Science cut to the chase or oversimplify? As I’m trying to finish another story right now, I lack the time to run all this down. But this latest wrinkle in the Do cell phones harm you? debate strengthens my impression that a tangle of passionate interests (profits, reputations, righteousness, and a world of ambivalent feelings about connectedness, technology, and the risks posed by the human-made environment) are at work here, greatly complicating the supposedly-but-rarely-straightforwardly-objective path of science and its understanding.

I’ll try to keep up with this and report further. Feel free to keep me posted or chime in via the comments section.

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