Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Cellphone Panic

I don't often agree with the opinions expressed in Wall Street Journal editorials, but this is a  rare exception. "The Cellphone Panic", in this weekend's edition, gets it exactly right.

You may have heard or read about the recent study from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, that concluded "there could be some risk" of cancer to cell phone users. Note - "could be". Now, I was going to credit the WSJ for not exploiting the sensationalistic term - RADIATION - that other media outlets have tossed around so irresponsibly, but it turns out they were actually just quoting the WHO (World Health Organization) study directly:
I'm sure that the average consumer hears the term radiation and concludes there is some sort of nuclear radioactivity going on in their cellphone. I remember the same type of fear mongering when microwave ovens were first introduced. How many still refer to "nuking" something in the microwave?
Below the headlines, the panel concluded that the existing evidence is concerning but inconclusive—so cellphones enter a WHO danger zone that already includes coconut oil, oral contraceptives, dry cleaners and coffee. 

I'd love to see all the cell phone cancer nuts in San Francisco picketing the Blue Bottle to get cancer warning messages with their cappucinos! Even the San Jose Mercury News, right here in otherwise tech-savvy Silicon Valley, played the fear card with their choice of editorial cartoon: the grim reaper on a cell phone, saying "Can you hear me now"?

How many will dig into the details to see how this study was conducted?
But this was a "case-control study," a not very rigorous method. Researchers compared patients with cancer (case) with healthy subjects (control) and asked about their past cellphone use. Understandably, their memories yield imprecise results. The case and control groups largely reported the same amount of cellphone use, and for most brain cancers the study failed to establish a "dose-response" link between increased cellphone use and increased risk.

When it comes to the health risks of cell phones, this is something really worth worrying about:

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