In the early 1960s, two Canadian scientists by the names of James Till and Ernest McCulloch at the University of Toronto made the discovery of stem cells.
Stem cells, put simply, can be thought of as “blank slates”; cells which can divide differentiate in a variety of cell types. They can now be used to grow human tissues and may even one day be able to grow entire organs which can be transplanted into human subjects.
So if you live in the Toronto area, be sure to check it out!
(Thanks to @DiscoveryCanada for bringing this to my attention)
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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!
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…
There is a proposal on the table to build two cell phone towers in the area of Cloverdale, as people often complain of losing their cell phone signal in this area.
Some residents oppose the construction mainly due to fear of health effects from the radiation emitted by the towers.
The CBC interviewed a Coquitlam resident, Andrea Gretchev, and asked what she thought the tower construction would do and why she opposed its construction,
“I can’t say that this causes anything in particular, because I don’t know,” Gretchev said. “But because I don’t know, I don’t want to live next to a cell tower.”
Fear of the unknown is a natural human response and I can’t begrudge the residents this natural instinct.
But for comparison, lets look at the situation of me being afraid of the dark when I was a child.
I was afraid of the dark because I didn’t know what was out there. I was afraid of the unknown. As soon as my Dad turned the light off, there could be monsters, or aliens, or giant-ass bugs waiting to attack me.
Periodically, I would race to the light-switch and turn on the light, exposing everything in the room to electromagnetic radiation (in the visible range, of course).
At once, I realized nothing was there. I was safe. I didn’t have to be afraid anymore.
Eventually, I learned that there really was nothing to fear when the lights went out. Just because I couldn’t see the rest of my room, didn’t mean I had to be afraid of it.
So is there a similar “light-switch” in this situation that we can flip on so the residents of southern British Columbia don’t have to be afraid of cell phone radiation anymore? Why yes there is. And its scientific data.
Seeing as I’ve written on this issue many, many times before, I won’t rehash all my past arguments. But the scientific data is quite clear that there is absolutely no credible evidence that cell phone radiation causes adverse health effects.
You would think that this information would be enough, but I’ve had enough experience debating this issue that I know this is not nearly enough.
“Science has been wrong before,” is the counter-argument I most often hear.
“Well,” I reply, ” should we then also be afraid of broccoli?”
“What do you mean?” my opponent asks.
“Science has shown that broccoli is quite healthy for us. But if science has been wrong before, should we therefore avoid broccoli completely? Just in case?”
So when debating the issues, lets stick to the facts and not logical fallacies.
I know its tough. There are a lot of quacks out there trying to convince us that cell phones and power lines and Wi-Fi are dangerous, in complete opposition to all of the credible scientific evidence.
Hell, if you do a Google search for any of these topics, no doubt you will find more fear-mongering websites talking about the “possible” dangers with electromagnetic fields than references to scientifically valid papers.
Scientists may not have the Search Engine Optimization teams that these fringe websites do, but they have the truth on their side. And the truth continues to indicate that we have no reason to fear our phones.
In this sea of towers already in existence, and all those near your house that you have been living peacefully beside for the past several years, will two more really make a difference?
More than that, with the explosion of cell phone use and cell tower construction in the last decade, isn’t is odd that no increase in cancer rates have been seen?
We should have at least seen a small effect by now if there were any health risks associated with these towers or cell phone use.
But again, I’ve had this argument enough to know that data and common sense won’t convince anybody. Anything new and widespread will inevitably cause people to be afraid. Much like microwave ovens did in the 1950s and 60s.
By the way, no adverse health effects have ever been reported with the proper use of a microwave oven. I guess we will have to wait about 60 years before people will start chilling out about their cell phones.