Friday, June 3, 2011
My science-reporter friend, Naif, called this week about cell phones.
Here's how it went. Naif: "Who said theres no evidence that radiation
from cell phones causes brain cancer?" BP: "WHO did, but that was about a
year ago." Naif: "That's what I asked, who did? The International Agency
for Research on Cancer (IARC) says cell phone radiation may be
carcinogenic." BP: "IARC is WHO." Naif: "Why ask me? I don't know who.
Besides, shouldn't that be whom?" BP: Last year they said that no adverse
health effects have been established for mobile phone use." Naif: "That's
still true, but who said it?" BP: "I told you; WHO said it after a $14
million epidemiological study of cell phone use in 13 countries."
Naif: "Then who is IARC? BP: "Strictly speaking IARC is part of WHO."
Naif: "I don't know who its part of. Thats why I asked."
Let's be open with the public. A Working Group of 31 scientists from 14
countries met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in
Lyon, France from May 2431 to assess the potential carcinogenic hazards
from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. The Working Group
conducted no further study, and gathered no additional evidence.
Nevertheless, based on an increased risk for glioma, a usually fatal brain
cancer, they voted to classify radiofrequency electromagnetic fields
as, "possibly carcinogenic to humans." Let's do a little epidemiology of
our own. There are 5 billion cell phones distributed among the 7 billion
people on Earth. But, as the New York Times reported this morning, brain
cancer rates in the US have been declining for two decades. Does this tell
us that cell phones prevent brain cancer? Alas, no. The increase in cell
phone use only started one decade ago. It tells us is that epidemiology
alone is a lousy guide for making policy. There is far too much "noise" in
the data. So far, only photons more energetic than visible light have been
shown to create mutant strands of DNA. "Maybe it's a multi-photon
process," I'm told. A two-photon process is possible, even a three-photon
process, but it would take 1 million microwave photons working in tandem to
overcome the work function. So find a mechanism. But please don't inflict
more case-control epidemiology on a paranoid public.
Why would it be such a big deal to use earphones? No big deal. I already
use an amplifier in each year so I can hear the birds outside my office.
Let me ask why would it be such a big deal to let people know how
electromagnetic radiation causes cancer? Bullshit is dangerous. In 1998
in London, Andrew Wakefield a British gastroenterologist, warned that the
MMR vaccine causes autism. In the following months the papers daily
carried stories of the tragedy of autism and the heroic doctor who had
found the cause. In the months following, MMR vaccinations of children
dropped from 90% to 70%. In 2006, the first child in more than a decade
died of measles in London. In the first four months of 2011, the HPA
reported 334 cases of measles, a 10 fold increase over the same period a
year earlier. In France, 7000 cases have been reported this year. Autism
was unaffected. http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN11/wn010711.html