Home > News, Technology > Think I’ll Bang My Head Against the Wall Now…

Think I’ll Bang My Head Against the Wall Now…

File:Cell phone.jpgSo the news media is going nutso over the World Health Organization‘s decision to list cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

Let me be absolutely clear on this: No new studies have been released to spur this decision. The decision was reached by a team of 31 scientists who reviewed the existing scientific literature.

After reviewing the evidence they decided that even though there was no conclusive evidence that cell phones cause cancer, they are going to list it as a possible danger to humans.

They are playing it safe; erring on the side of caution; not counting their chickens before they’re hatched, whatever you want to call it.

[Update (11:57 AM): Here is an excellent explanation on the evidence the WHO used to make its decision, and what their decision actually means.]

This is a touchy subject. While I generally agree with playing it safe, in this case I disagree with the WHO’s decision.

Basically they are saying they need more long-term studies. However, since it is impossible to prove a negative, we will never be able to prove that cell phones don’t cause cancer. You would need an infinite number of studies to do that!

It’s just like on Glee when Kurt made the point that 

You can’t prove there isn’t a magic teapot floating around the dark side of the moon with a dwarf inside of it that reads romance novels and shoots lightning out of its boobs.

Same deal with cell phones. There is no plausible mechanism by which cell phones can cause cancer since the radiation is non-ionizing. There is also no dramatic increase in cancer rates coinciding with the dramatic increase in cell phone use in recent years.

Critics get around this point by saying that it takes decades for effects to really take hold. On average, yes that is true, but after 10-20 years of regular cell phone use by a large percentage of the population we should still expect to see some signs of adverse health effects.

So I disagree with the WHO. This little announcement is going to cause undo panic and fear.

But the “be afraid of microwaves” crowd has gotten much louder in the last few years, and I suspect this announcement by the WHO is largely due to public pressure rather than scientific evidence.

But who am I, right? I’m just a humble science blogger with a degree is physics who has looked at the scientific evidence and seen that there is no cause for alarm.

So I’m gonna go ahead and say “Don’t panic!”. But I have a sneaking suspicion people are going to anyway…

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  1. May 31, 2011 at 11:45 am

    If cell phones cause cancer, what about microwave ovens?

    If microwave ovens, what about conventional ovens?

    If conventional ovens, why don’t chefs and bakers have dramatically higher cancer rates, especially at their burn sites?

    I was unaware any group was considering listing cell phones as a potential cancer hazard. I don’t think it makes science look good.

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