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The bride of the son of the revenge of cell phones and cancer rises from the grave…again

I’ve caught some flak before over things I’ve written about the almost certainly nonexistent link between cell phones and cancer. Actually, it’s not the kind of flak you probably think, unless you’ve been a long time reader and remember the relevant posts. You’d think it would be believers attacking the mean old skeptic for denying a link between cell phone radiation and cancer, thus making me (obviously) a shill for big telecom. Actually, it was flak from one physicist and at least a couple of skeptics, who didn’t like that I actually left open the small possibility that it could be possible that there is a link. The problem that irritated the crap out of me was not so much that these skeptics make the argument that it’s physically impossible for cell phone radiation to cause cancer. A viable argument to that effect can be made based on how low the energy emitted by cell phones is. No, what irritated the crap out of me is that they made these arguments based on a painfully simplistic view of how cancer originates in which they assume that it’s physically impossible for something to cause cancer if it doesn’t break chemical bonds, which is an idea that’s so 1990s. There’s so much more to carcinogenesis these days than breaking chemical bonds in DNA and causing mutations. There are metabolic changes, epigenetics, and potentially a whole host of other mechanisms that we don’t understand yet, and, unfortunately, these dismissals of a possible link were often based on a high school level understanding of cancer biology.

Still, despite my trying to keep an open mind on the matter, I also don’t want my mind to be so open that my brains fall out, so to speak. Even accounting for the newer, richer, and more complex understanding of carcinogenesis that has emerged over the last decade, I still have to concede that, from a strictly physical, physics- and biology-based perspective, given the low energy emitted by cell phones, the chances that they can do anything to cells that would result in cancer are vanishingly small, Thus, a link between cell phones and cancer is incredibly implausible from a strictly basic science point of view. Not homeopathy-level implausible, admittedly, but nonetheless mighty implausible indeed. Nor is the epidemiological evidence particularly convincing, as I’ve discussed in my usual Orac-ian prose time and time again. Basically, the only suggestive studies all come from the same group in Sweden, which is always a red flag to me (that the studies all come from one group, not that they come from Sweden, I hasten to add). As I said before, whenever one group of researchers keeps finding a result that no other group seems able to replicate or that otherwise disagrees with what everyone else is finding, that’s a huge problem. I’d also have a lot more confidence in this seeming association in “high quality” studies if the association didn’t depend upon a single researcher and if this researcher was not also known for being an expert witness in lawsuits against mobile phone companies.

All of which leaves me very puzzled by the lastest news stories I’m being bombarded with by my readers:

And that’s just a sampling of the articles about this report by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (WIARC). Actually, it’s not a report. it’s a press release. The actual report is scheduled to be published in the July 1 issue of The Lancet Oncology and “in a few days online.”

My first thought in reading about this was to wonder what these guys are smoking. After looking at the press release, my thought was that this is a perfect example of how the paradigm of evidence-based medicine, in which epidemiology and clinical data always trump basic science considerations, even when they are quite firm in their conclusions that a link between an environmental factor and a health outcome is as damned near close to impossible as the proposed link between cell phone radiation and cancer is based on pure physics. The press release describes its results:

The evidence was reviewed critically, and overall evaluated as being limited2 among users of wireless telephones for glioma and acoustic neuroma, and inadequate3 to draw conclusions for other types of cancers. The evidence from the occupational and environmental exposures mentioned above was similarly judged inadequate. The Working Group did not quantitate the risk; however, one study of past cell phone use (up to the year 2004), showed a 40% increased risk for gliomas in the highest category of heavy users (reported average: 30 minutes per day over a 10‐year period).

And its conclusions:

Dr Jonathan Samet (University of Southern California, USA), overall Chairman of the Working Group, indicated that “the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification. The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk.”

“Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings,” said IARC Director Christopher Wild, “it is important that additional research be conducted into the long‐ term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands‐free devices or texting.”

Funny that Dr. Samet should mention texting. The only verified danger of using cell phones thus far is the increased risk of getting in an auto crash due to the use of cell phones while driving. Be that as it may, what is the “2B classification“? Basically, it means “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” more specifically:

This category is used for agents for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. It may also be used when there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans but there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. In some instances, an agent for which there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals together with supporting evidence from mechanistic and other relevant data may be placed in this group. An agent may be classified in this category solely on the basis of strong evidence from mechanistic and other relevant data.

There are a lot of problems with the claim that cell phones cause cancer, not the least of which is that the science and epidemiology just don’t support it. In particular, the INTERPHONE study, whose results were reported last year, showed no evidence of a link between cell phone use and glioblastoma or meningioma. In fact, to me the decision by WHO is exceedingly puzzling because, if anything, over the last several years the evidence has been trending more and more towards being inconsistent with with a link between cell phone use and brain cancer–or health problems of any kind, other than getting into car crashes because of texting or talking while driving. I note that the INTERPHONE study relied on a dubious subgroup analysis in order to find that there was a 40% increased risk of glioma in the very heaviest users of cell phones that only barely achieved statistical significance and no increased risk of meningioma. Moreover, as I pointed out a year ago, among the heaviest users were reports of implausible levels of cell phone use, as high as 12 hours per day, every day. When a different method of quantifying cell phone use–asking how many calls per day a person typically made–was used, the increased risk of cancer disappeared.

I also note that a brand new study was just published in the American Journal of Epidemiology that doesn’t support the hypothesis that cell phone radiation causes brain cancer, either. The study, out of Finland, bases its hypothesis on the simple physical observation that cell phone energy absorbed from the radio field created by cell phones depends strongly on the distance from the source. As a result of this known relationship, an obvious hypothesis is that, if cell phone radiation causes brain cancers, then one would expect that the brain tumors resulting from the exposure would cluster closer to where the phone was held. In other words, if a person holds his or her phone more on the right than on the left, then one would expect that any resultant tumors would be on the side where the phone was most commonly held more often than random chance alone would predict. The stronger the carcinogenic effect, the more likely it should be for tumors to be found on the side. So the investigators did a fairly complicated analysis in which they tried to correlate laterality of cell phone usage with locations of brain tumors in 888 INTERPHONE subjects.

Guess what they found?

Nothing. Nada. Zip. No spatial correlation between cell phone use and the locations of the brain tumors observed. Using one form of analysis, the investigators found that tumors were located closest to the source of exposure among never-regular and contralateral users, while in another analysis there was no correlation between where a user held his or her phone and where subsequent brain tumors arose. The authors concluded:

In conclusion, the results do not indicate that gliomas are located in excess in the brain tissue presumably receiving the highest-intensity electromagnetic field among regular mobile phone users. Cumulative call time, duration of use, and laterality were not consistently associated with the location of the gliomas.

When considering evidence for a link between an environmental exposure and a cancer, it is important to consider all the evidence. First, there must be biological plausibility. A cell-phone brain tumor link is highly implausible based on physics alone, but probably not impossible. Even in the case where a mechanism is not known, compelling epidemiological evidence can overcome that; such evidence does not exist for a cell phone-cancer link; even the WHO doesn’t claim that. Among the evidence that should exist is a relationship between the environmental exposure and cancer that makes sense scientifically for the specific exposure. In the case of cell phone radiation, this means that the laterality of brain cancers should correlate with the laterality of usage. This Finnish study shows no evidence of any such correlation. In fact, if you take this Finnish study together with the existing studies out there, other than the studies by Dr. Lennart Hardell’s group in Sweden, studies that have serious limitations, in particular recall bias, the evidence supporting a link between cell phone radiation and cancer is so resoundingly nonexistent in epidemiology, preclinical science, and physics that it boggles the mind the WHO would come to even the tepid conclusion that cell phones should be added to Group 2B indicating that cell phone radiation might be carcinogenic. In reality, at worst, cell phone radiation might be reasonably placed in Group 3 (the agent is not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans). More appropriately, it cell phone radiation should have been assigned to Group 4 (the agent is probably not carcinogenic to humans), almost based on physics alone.

Unfortunately, the WHO decision has the potential to do a great deal of damage. A couple of news stories demonstrate why. For example, the ever-woo-loving Tara Parker-Pope at the New York Times writes:

The W.H.O. panel ruled only that cellphones be classified as Category 2B, meaning they are possibly carcinogenic to humans, a designation the panel has given to 240 other agents, including the pesticide DDT, engine exhaust, lead and various industrial chemicals.

Look for the headlines on woo-friendly sites likening cell phones to pesticides and lead to appear soon, if they haven’t already.

Then there’s the credibility issue. As Sanjay Gupta put it:

Neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta says Tuesday’s announcement, “dealt a blow to those who have long said, ‘There is no possible mechanism for cell phones to cause cancer.’ By classifying cell phones as a possible carcinogen, they also seem to be tacitly admitting a mechanism could exist.”

Well, not exactly. What they are doing, if anything, is demonstrating why scientific prior plausibility is so important. If it is so implausible that cell phone use can lead to cancer, based on physics alone, a measured reading would have concluded that, at worst cell phones are either Group 3 or Group 4, not Group 2B. As David A. Savitz, a professor in the departments of epidemiology and obstetrics and gynecology at Brown University and a researcher on environmental exposures and health, put it, “With few exceptions, the studies directly addressing the issue [cell phones as a brain cancer risk] indicate the lack of association.” Combining unconvincing epidemiological data with extreme scientific improbability from a basic science/physics standpoint should have equaled an assignment to “probably not carcinogenic in humans.”

I close, as I began, by pointing out that, unlike some physicists and skeptics, I don’t dismiss on basic science grounds alone the possibility of a link between cell phone radiation and cancer. In other words, I do not consider such a link to be impossible. I do, however, consider such a link to be incredibly implausible and improbable based on basic science considerations alone. Add to that the essentially negative epidemiological evidence, and, for now, I consider the question of whether or not there is a link between cell phone radiation and cancer to be in essence a dead issue, the question having been answered provisionally (and strongly) in the negative. My conclusion aside, my mind can still be changed by new evidence, of course. Indeed, to mention an example, I frequently tell even anti-vaccine activists that if they can produce convincing scientific data linking vaccines to autism I would seriously consider changing my mind. They have yet to do so, and I have yet to see convincing evidence of a link between cell phones and cancer. Certainly, this WHO report doesn’t even come close to what would be necessary to convince me to reconsider my conclusions regarding the existence of a link between cell phones and cancer. After all, it’s nothing new. There’s no new research presented, and the totality of the research that is presented is arguably misinterpreted. All this report does is to leave me profoundly puzzled as to why WHO would sully its scientific reputation by trumpeting such a dubious report.

Even so, in the spirit of keeping an open mind, I’ll keep an eye out for the full report and perhaps blog further about it after it’s released, either here or at my “more respectable” blogging home.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

212 replies on “The bride of the son of the revenge of cell phones and cancer rises from the grave…again”

This reminds me of a “Mythbusters” episode on the “myth” of cell phones causing gas station explosions: They concluded that, to the extent that the story might have a basis in real events, it was probably fires caused by static from the CLOTHES of people yakking on cell phones. I think this can extend to the whole argument here: Even it there were in fact absolutely no causal relationship between cell phones and cancer, there might still be a statistical “link” simply because greater cell phone use coincided with one or more real risk factors. On that principle, it seems all too likely that there will always be one thing or another to give the cell phone/ cancer story a new lease on life.

David N. Brown
Mesa, Arizona

The W.H.O. panel ruled only that cellphones be classified as Category 2B, meaning they are possibly carcinogenic to humans, a designation the panel has given to 240 other agents, including the pesticide DDT, engine exhaust, lead and various industrial chemicals.

I note that she left off “Coffee” which was included in the same list of other 2B substances as reported on http://www.news.com.au. Reviewing the list of 2B, body talc powder is also 2B. Selective reporting to make things sound worse; why am I not surprised?

The media in New Zealand quotes the WHO decision as using the terms “may” and “possibly”.

These terms are semantically equivalent to “may not” and “possibly not”.

Substitute those equivalent terms and the decision, as reported, becomes something completely different! There’s nothing here to even make me think twice about using cellphones.

Surely, if there were any link betweent cell phones and cancer, we would have seen a massive jump in the number of sufferers in the past 20/30 years? I mean, from 0% cell phone usage in the 70s to virtually 100% now – a “brain cancer” epidemic would be expected, indeed rampant.
But this is really just another conspiracy theory about “them” and their wicked, invisible, science rays.
I think that a strong link can be adduced between thought cancer and internet usage, but that’s just my theory.

The W.H.O. panel ruled only that cellphones be classified as Category 2B, meaning they are possibly carcinogenic to humans, a designation the panel has given to 240 other agents, including the pesticide DDT, engine exhaust, lead and various industrial chemicals.

I note that she left off “Coffee” which was included in the same list of other 2B substances as reported on http://www.news.com.au. Reviewing the list of 2B, body talc powder is also 2B. Selective reporting to make things sound worse; why am I not surprised?

The gold standard in arguing infinitum over the comparative safety profile of cannabis is to compare it with the risk / benefit / toxicity profile of coffee or caffeine.

Some have taken on the challenge of saying cannabis is safer than peanuts, but I am not so gung-ho, slowly slowly catchee monkee, quicker if it’s asleep…

Comparing harms of Cannabis with Alcohol is a no-brainer. Does anyone here have no brain cells left from drinking alcohol? I hear medicine is full of alcoholics? Does anyone here think it’s fun to discuss the effects of alcohol with a non drinker who spends all his time studying the effects of dihidrogen monoxide on the body (Water or DihMon?, ‘marijuana’ or ‘cannabis’ – what’s in a name?)

Comparing the harms of ‘illegal’ and ‘legal’ drugs, is Taboo to the NIDA propagander machine (see the famous NIC edit drama for moar lulz)

Oh but let’s compare the harms of these substances to the fragile child:

http://stash.norml.org/marijuana-consumption-by-pregnant-women-may-reduce-infant-mortality-more-study-needed

More study needed. Cannabis saves babies lives? Cannabis reduces infant mortality rate from 15.7 to 0, zilch, nada, squat… (but not statistically significant).

Who cares about the numbers! 2+2=5 for large values of two and small values of five. Any mathematician knows that 😉

Orac, you’re just shilling for Big Wireless

Ya got me. I was just hoping to get a new iPhone 5 for free when it’s released. 🙂

@Jacob

Methinks you’re on the wrong thread here. Please stick to the thread you were in before and do not bring cannabis up in unrelated threads. (Actually, I’m getting tired of whole cannabis thing anyway in the thread you’re already in; seeing it metastasize to new threads does not ingratiate you to me.)

If I see anything more about cannabis from you in this thread, I will be highly tempted to delete it with extreme prejudice. The topic here is the WHO report about cell phones and cancer.

one of the issues with acoustic neuroma that makes the epidemiology very difficult to interpret is that the presenting symptom is often unilateral hearing loss (because – d’oh – the neuroma affects the acoustic nerve). Also true of meningiomas of the petrous region. This may be noticed first on the side where the user most often holds the cell phone (in most other situations both ears detect sound and a mild unilateral defect may go unnoticed).

The media in New Zealand quotes the WHO decision as using the terms “may” and “possibly”.

These terms are semantically equivalent to “may not” and “possibly not”.

hmmm, maybe that’s the trick. I once heard somebody arguing (in jest)that they should replace those “smoking kills” and “smokers have a higher risk of cancer” labels with such saying “Well, only a minority of smokers gets asthma”. They would discourage people more because they’d think “I’m always getting the short end of the stick anyway, I’m not taking risks here”.
How language and the human understanding work is incredible. A lot of liguists argue, that the brain actually doesn’t know a negative.
(and now that’s a paradoxon)

Yes Orac, I do apologise for the fraughtism! You’ve quite right!

Dude I’m not big on Oncology so I had to google ‘metastasize’.

CBD inhibits matastasis? What does that mean? Is it good news?

You’ve got it in one. I’m an aspie. I don’t see metaphor and I can’t make it for myself. That’s why I’ve developed an algorithm to simulate NT ‘swerving’ behaviour in day to day communication.

As you can see, it’s nearly there but a little rough around the edges. If one was aspergers then became bipolar instead, would that be seen as partial recovery?

I think the ultimate result of this press release is to 1. state that there is a “possible” link between cell phone use and brain cancer, and 2. make the general public believe that there is an actual link. The data on this possible link is not available and not solid, and more research needs to be done. In addition, heavy cell phone use is a relatively new phenomenon and we may see better data as more time goes by. Ultimately, the jury is still out about this issue.

Dr Sam Girgis
http://drsamgirgis.com

Except that the evidence WHO used doesn’t even really support their conclusion when basic physics and lack of biological plausibility for such a link are considered.

The only people happy about these reports are the trail lawyers. Another case of breast implant hysteria opens up to them; plenty of opportunity to get rich before good science answers the question definitively.

Tuesday’s announcement, “dealt a blow to those who have long said, ‘There is no possible mechanism for cell phones to cause cancer.’

That makes no sense. If physicists are saying “There is no possible mechanism for a link between cell-phone usage and cancer”, and someone comes along claiming to have evidence for such a link, the first statement still stands… there is still no possible mechanism for it.
Can’t see any blow being dealt.

The W.H.O. panel ruled only that cellphones be classified as Category 2B, meaning they are possibly carcinogenic to humans, a designation the panel has given to 240 other agents, including the pesticide DDT, engine exhaust, lead and various industrial chemicals

Oh for petes sake. Just because something is a poison doesn’t mean it causes cancer. You can die from lead poisoning and never get cancer. Similarly, I always thought the problem with DDT was that it destroyed the shells of bird eggs and therefore wiped out bird populations? That’s not cancer.

The fact that cellphones are classified the same as lead, DDT, and other pesticides tells me more about the cancer risks of lead anbd DDT than cell phones

The only people happy about these reports are the trail lawyers.

I suspect that the yellow press is also overjoyed that they get to break out yet more scary headlines.

I work at a company that, among other services, handles health information lines for general queries and such. From that perspective it’s a mixed blessing; more misinformation makes for more calls (billable on a per-call basis to our corporate clients) but also makes for longer calls (driving up our cost per call) and adds frustration to the clinical staff. I’m just hoping it ends up a wash.

— Steve

@herr doktor,

Except that evidence for a link means that there is a possible mechanism. Had physicists said “There is no possible mechanism that I know of”, then you’d be correct. This is not to say that I believe there is such a link, mind you.

If a correlation did exist between cell phone use and cancer, why would we assume it has anything to do with the radiation that seems unlikely to be able to be causative? For example, some plastics and resins release volatile compounds that could be responsible, and talking on a cell phone involves holding plastic near your face. The WHO warnign seems to specifically mention radiation, while the evidence (weak as it is) is only correlative with cell phone use.

Considering the contracts some people are willing to sign up for, maybe some of them already had a brain tumor clouding their judgment?

I’ve heard rumors about the whole “cell phones cause brain cancer” thing since I was still in highschool. I don’t imagine it is more or less likely to do so than anything else in this world. Personally, I think there are more worth while things to spend on than tests on whether or not this can occur.

Also, Jacob, really man, stop with the whole “I have aspergers therefore I don’t understand”….fill in the blank. Just because these things may be true for you does not make them true for all of us with AS. I understand metaphors just fine and I use them quite often. And remember, having Aspergers doesn’t mean that sometimes, there are issues that you might have such as understanding metaphors that really have nothing to do with having Aspergers and more to do with issues that are particular to yourself.

Not trying to be rude, just wanted to make that point.

That is all.

This whole issue shows how lame, dishonest, lazy, and totaly indifferent to the common good American “news” media are. I first heard of this on NPR, where they at least got up front with all the qualifying language that amounted to “no, there’s no evidence of a link at all.” Then I heard it on the “mainstream” “news,” where it was (and probably still is) the top story, with absolutely no regard for what this latest item actually said.

These are the same “news” outlets that make up wildly exaggerated predictions of paralyzing snow, every week of every winter, just to keep people hooked on their “updates.” Then they act all comically surprised when everyone ignores their dire forecasts and a real blizzard catches everyone unprepared.

Capitalism may have given us better computers and fighter-jets, but they absolutely suck at giving us decent information about important issues.

RB @ 25:

they absolutely suck at giving us decent information about important issues.

but…but…but…they’re following Sarah Palin around with heliocpters and everything! Isn’t that all we need to know?

Here’s three things the NPR piece mentioned: 1) the alleged link was only between cell-phone use and the specific forms of cancer Orac mentnioned above; 2) there are now about 5 billion people using cell-phones, and there’s been no reported increase in incidences of the specific cancers allegedly associated with cel-phone use; and 3) no one has proposed any specific mechanism by which cell-phone use might cause any form of cancer. The last bit is important: we don’t even have much of a correlation here, and no causation at all.

Re: DTT first, I would say that it probably was put in the news article because it sounded ‘scary’ rather than because people have a good handle on its potential carcinogenic potential and it is therefore a useful comparison. However, I just ran across this article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18840457
DTT is an endocrine disruptor, and the proinflammatory pathways it modulates really are relevant to cancer (on the other hand, they’re relevant to a *lot* of things).
Can we just all agree that category 2B should be thought of “do not gratuitously expose small children to this but don’t stay awake at night worrying about it”?

Surely, if there were any link betweent cell phones and cancer, we would have seen a massive jump in the number of sufferers in the past 20/30 years?

Not necessarily, because cell phones have only been in widespread use for quite a bit less than 20-30 years. Cell phones only became widespread in the US in the late 1990s (in Europe and Japan it was a few years earlier), and universal only around the mid 2000s (anecdatum: I did not get a cell phone until 2006). If there is any link between cell phones and cancer, then it should only just now be showing up in the data.

Not that it actually is, mind you. As others have pointed out, the data are still equivocal at best, and nobody has proposed any remotely plausible causal mechanism.

If you look at the INTERPHONE study you find there are several subgroups with a statistically significant negative correlation between cell phone use and brain tumors. Use of a cell phone at all during the past year apparently reduces the risk of both meningioma and glioma, by 21% and 19% respectively. That doesn’t fill me with confidence in the positive correlations in a very few small subgroups.

Yeah, the BBC went with the scary alarmist headline
“BBC News – Mobiles ‘may cause brain cancer'”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-13608444

The World Health Organization’s cancer research agency says mobile phones are “possibly carcinogenic”.

A review of evidence suggests an increased risk of a malignant type of brain cancer cannot be ruled out.

However, any link is not certain – they concluded that it was “not clearly established that it does cause cancer in humans”.

A cancer charity said the evidence was too weak to draw strong conclusions from.

Frist four paragraphs and headline.
1) “May cause cancer”
2) “Possibly carcinogenic”
3) “Can’t be ruled out”
4) No link is certain
5) Evidence is too weak

They also give some context by including other things such as coffee and dry cleaning that are in the same category

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”Henry Louis Mencken

But then you know that Orac because you have shown yourself a cgarlatan personally willing to lie to promote such wholy dishonest scare stories. Gaven’t you? Can’t even deny them can you you corrupt fascist liar.

Ah, I’ve been waiting for Neilie-kins to pop back in to a random post and offer another touch of his lunacy. Predicting the behavior of a crank is nearly as difficult as predicting the direction a lead weight will fall on Earth.

The only remaining question will be whether Orac decides this recent post is enough to drop the hammer, or decides to wait until Neil Craig metastacizes another post with his one of his two favorite dead horses to beat.

stuartg @3: The media in New Zealand quotes the WHO decision as using the terms “may” and “possibly”.

These terms are semantically equivalent to “may not” and “possibly not”.

Semantically speaking, the terms are nowhere close to equivalent.

Saying something may happen indicates that the default state is “no,” but that said default state might change to “yes.” Saying something may not happen indicates the default state is “yes,” but that said default might change to “no.”

Think about it this way:

I may get in a car accident on the way home from work today.

I may not get in a car accident on the way home from work today.

One indicates that I admit it’s possible I could, since it can always happen. The other indicates that I often do, but I’m thinking/hoping I won’t today. Vastly different concepts, those. The only case where they’re equivalent is if they’re used together, i.e. “I might get in a car accident, but then again I might not,” which from a semantic position indicates you think of something as close to a 50/50 proposition.

But, in a vacuum, especially when dealing with the general public from a communication of statistical probability sort of way, “may” and “may not” are wildly different terms. The former says “it’s possible, but not likely,” while the latter says, “it’s probable, but not inevitable.” Of course the words “may” and “possibly” are woefully imprecise in either case, so I’d avoid them in all cases for something like this. But I don’t get paid by the number of newspapers sold…

Woo-meisters have been on this case *forever*, some even selling cell phone radiation shields ( I swear, I am not making this up). Additionally, they inform us that computers and other electronic devices will be the death of us yet. *La vie moderne* is killing us!!!!

I have tried to envision the world that would meet with the approval of our natural health *aficionados*:

It is Edenic, pastoral, “green”, sustainable, and toxic-free ( except for purely natural toxins). Powered by the sun and wind not fossil fuel or internal combustion or nuclear.. Big Pharma, Orthodox medicine, and vaccines never rear their ugly heads in this paradise. The MainStreamMedia is strictly *Verboten*, as are most forms of popular entertainment, junk food, computers, and cell phones.

Most folks who have elected to join these enclaves of purity work the land *organically*; they live close to Nature and the animals, who they most decisively do not *eat*. Work is divided by ability and most is physical – which is after all, *really good for you*. Of course, the spiritual and intellectual (pardon me, I need to collect myself… OK) leadership is guided by the founder, who in his wisdom, planned the entire operation, as well as its government and school system. Commerce is by barter- no Wall Street here! There is no mental illness here ( or else it’s scarcely noticed) or chronic disease of any sort. And *no* hospitals! Each person is his or her own doctor; the medicine is food, and the food, medicine……

As I’ve said previously, I’m not one to do fiction, the awful truth is that what I’ve written above is based on nonsense I’ve either heard or heard from the woo-meisters.

Any research or suggestion such as that about cell phones- even the most cautious and mildest- will be taken up and used as “proof” that yes indeedy, modern life is killing us. They’ve been telling you so and you *just* don’t listen, do you!

when I read the words nada zip nothing,I knew your blog was dishonest.You are saying the cel phones register no activity of any kind?Thats not an argument>Thats rhetoric(note to all you free thinking defenders of everything science producesnomatter what the empiricalevidencesays-i didnt say ANYTHING about cell phones pro or con.Ihave noticed,when criticizing fellow “free thinkers”,there is a distinct stalinist tendency to stomp on me,or CENSOR me

Richard @ 39:

there is a distinct stalinist tendency to stomp on me,or CENSOR me

Or consider you undermedicated…

Until they prove electronic hearing aides cause cancer, I will not worry about cel phones.

when I read the words nada zip nothing,I knew your blog was dishonest.You are saying the cel phones register no activity of any kind?

So…you skipped everything else in the post in order to pick out three words and assume they said something that they didn’t. And you have the audacity to claim that Orac didn’t make an argument. Right…

See, the “Nothing. Nada. Zip.” referred to a specific study that attempted to correlate tumor location to cell phone location. What the study found was that there is no correlation between those things, hence the “Nothing. Nada. Zip.” That did not refer in any way to any signals being given off by cell phones or anything else.

“There may be a link” is useless information.

“May” means it is a 50/50 chance and “link” is completely undefined. Is it like a link to your second cousin’s brother-in-law’s third wife? Aren’t we all linked to Kevin Bacon?

If you try to improvise using the english language to get emphasis, style and personality across, you only get two responses here:

1) Word salad
2) Personality Disorder

The opposite of Love, is Apathy. Remember you shrink loves his own kids, you feed his kids. That’s cupboard love.

Old Elron Mother Hubbard, souped up her covern, there’s even an ology for cults. Word Chef? Or frustrated crossword puzzle author. Now that Soduku is king, I’m all washed up :s

As I said,I’m not taking a position.You willfully ignore that,as usual.When,I saw the words nothing et al,I have read enough freethinkers,and their oppressive attitudes to know its rhetoric not a reasoned argument.that doesn’t satisfy me.why cant you just accept that,and leave it alone?That nasty remark about meds-asshole are criticizing the millions of people taking meds provided by the science you’re defending?i write in a stream of consciousness- styleSOWHAT.this aint notermpaper,its a brawl.free thinkers criticizing hurried grammaticals.NOTSOFRE-especially if someone disagrees-you can expect a lynching.

when I read the words nada zip nothing,I knew your blog was dishonest.You are saying the cel phones register no activity of any kind?

You seem to have misread what was said. The rest of that paragraph went:

Using one form of analysis, the investigators found that tumors were located closest to the source of exposure among never-regular and contralateral users, while in another analysis there was no correlation between where a user held his or her phone and where subsequent brain tumors arose.

It’s not that cell phones register no activity at all; they obviously emit modulated EM. It’s that the studies did not show that proximity to the transmitter correlated with tumour location. (Which argues against tying the strength of the signal to the origin of the tumours.)

Ihave noticed,when criticizing fellow “free thinkers”,there is a distinct stalinist tendency to stomp on me,or CENSOR me

Not intending to stomp or censor, but I am willing to be jackbooted enough to ask for one space after each word or punctuation mark to make your points easier to read. (I’m a bit cranky today from lack of sleep, and the headache isn’t helping me parse out what’s written.)

— Steve

Dr Gupta is on record from about 2000 or so as having said “There’s no evidence for that, but trust me, it’s true. ”
in reference to cell phone – cancer links. He’s on the edge of going all Wakefield on us.

So you don’t believe that viruses carried on cell phones could cause cancer?

Not that I’m seriously suggesting it–there’s no evidence, as noted–but I’d look at release of toxic chemicals and/or infectious agents into the faces and ears of users if I wanted to find a cancer cause.

I had already lost a lot of respect for the WHO’s scientific positions when my hospital’s acupuncturist referred me to this publication when I asked her what evidence she could provide me to justify her recommendation for acupuncture for just about anything:

NIH, Acupuncture, Nov. 3-5, 1997, Vol. 15, No. 5 2. World Health Organization. Viewpoint on Acupuncture. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 1979.

This position on cell phones just drags them down even further.

This is the type of news that convinces people that “science gets it wrong now and then” and allows that canard to be used to reinforce anti-science biases in the future.

There is no way to get out in front of this train, now. The press has it in their teeth and they will be running with it until they have sucked all energy out of the issue, leaving skeptics trying to stammer out the evidence. Too late, we’re always too late.

What dismays me is that WHO (and others) are ignoring the risk and benefits for the population they often are working with: those in developing countries where cell phones use has increased due to lack of wired telephone infrastructure, like Africa.

In fact cell phones can have a much greater positive impact on health, Cellphones Boost Health Across Globe:

Cellphones particularly are useful in contacting people living in regions with poor infrastructure, where roads, traditional telephone lines, Internet and television are all but nonexistent.

Stalinist free thinkers

Boy, sing it, sister! That Uncle Joe was such a dirty fvckin’ hippie! All that I’m OK, You’re OK hippie crap is what brought down the Soviet Union. True story!

That makes no sense. If physicists are saying “There is no possible mechanism for a link between cell-phone usage and cancer”, and someone comes along claiming to have evidence for such a link, the first statement still stands… there is still no possible mechanism for it.

I’m with Orac here. Unlikely, yes, but not impossible. Remember, we can see non-ionizing frequencies of radiation. That means that it is possible for non-ionizing radiation at subthermal intensity to produce a lasting change in a biological organism. And note that even though the absorbed photons do not have enough energy to break bonds, the biological changes induced by vision undoubtedly include breaking bonds, because there are changes in neuronal activity that ultimately have to be powered by hydrolysis of ATP.

Of course, vision is a process honed by millennia of evolution to accomplish a difficult, but selectively highly advantageous, task: to isolate the energy of a photon–so tiny that it is only enough to twist a bond rather than breaking it–from thermal noise for long enough that a proton conformational change can result to amplify that tiny signal. It seems very unlikely that organisms would have evolved something so sophisticated and capable of reacting to the even lower energies of RF photons, and even more unlikely that after going to all of this trouble, they would then use this mechanism to damage the organism. So while not homeopathy-level impossible, it remains a remarkable claim, demanding remarkable evidence (or in Bayesian terms, its prior probability must be considered to be very low). And the touted evidence for biological harm from microwaves does not come anywhere close to meeting that requirement.

@ The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge:

What I learned from my socialist masters:
the distribution of wealth is unequal and unfair and maintained through capitalism-
therefore, I aspired to learn the ins-and-outs of this evil system and play them to my own advantage, thus _even-ing out_ the said inequalities through investment. It worked! I am now *more* equal!

richard @ 48:

That nasty remark about meds-asshole are criticizing the millions of people taking meds provided by the science you’re defending?

Meesa snark makin’ richard angry! Meesa so sad…

Seriously, now, richie. Anyone with reading comprehension skills would have noted that I wasn’t criticizing ‘millions of people’.

Just you.

The term freethinker is pretty vague after all. Someone who hears voices that aren’t objectively present could be termed a free thinker, as could someone who sees visions that no one else does, etc. What makes a freethinker valuable is the ability to convince others that the new idea is worthwhile. And this is done without run-on sentences or words. Without random capitalization or insertion of symbols. Without proclaiming others as repressive.

So far, though, all you have done is convince millions of people that you are a few cards short of a full deck. Feel free to correct that impression.

Usually reliable Orac is wrong on this one.

It is impossible for cell phones or any microwave radiation to cause any cancer.

Physicists know exactly what happens when any materials absorb microwaves. Any materials includes the complex mix of stuff in our heads.

The energy goes into that part of the material’s internal energy that involves the random molecular jiggling, rotating, and vibrating.

The body’s thermal control system, in this case mainly the circulating blood, keeps the temperature rise associated with this influx of energy to a small amount.

We know of many things that are perfectly natural and entirely safe that do exactly the same thing to the internal energy. These include inflammation, fever, wearing a ski cap and scarf on a cold day, swallowing a cup of hot soup or coffee, and exercise. None of these cause any cancer in the brain or anywhere else, and all of them do just what cell phone radiation does, but more so. And not by just a little, but by a lot.

If there were some, even unknown, mechanism by which cell phone microwaves might cause cancer, we’d already know about it because we’d see that exercise and ski caps cause cancer.

Also, why aren’t the cell phone alarmists worried about cell phones causing skin cancer? The skin cells divide much more often than any brain cells, which makes them more vulnerable to the kind of problems that lead to cancer, and the skin cells are exposed to stronger microwaves from the phones.

Jacov @14: Oh do shut up. I’ve got Aspergers, but I know how to be polite. Stop making excuses.

It is impossible for cell phones or any microwave radiation to cause any cancer.

And, right on cue, the physicist to whom I was referring to (not by name) shows up. I can’t resist pointing out to him that chronic, low-grade inflammation is a well-known cause of several cancers (esophageal or pancreatic cancer, for instance). I could also suggest to him that he look up Marjolin’s ulcers if he doesn’t think that heating effects can cause cancer (an extreme example, I know, but it makes the point at least in principle). I also can’t help but point out that his understanding of carcinogenesis is, at best, freshman level.

It’s rather disappointing that, even though we agree probably 99%, Dr. Leikind seems to insist on that last 1%. It’s not enough that I consider the likelihood of a link between cell phone radiation and brain cancer to be highly, albeit not quite homeopathy-grade, implausible from a strictly physics- and biochemistry-based standpoint and that I view the epidemiological evidence as unconvincing. I have to concede that it’s “impossible,” too.

Re the scary headlines, I know that ‘scare ’em with maybe’ thing probably is what they were going for, there, but seriously…

… seriously, this whole stupid thing has been around the track so many times now, I saw said headlines yesterday at the Google News level, detected the ‘may’s and ‘maybe’s therein, correctly deduced it was the same warmed over statistically empty BS, and didn’t even bother to click.

So methinik they’re gonna have to up their game, next time, I’m afraid, if they really want the clicks from me. Try ‘really truly possibly maybe. For reals.’ That‘d catch my eye…

Maybe.

(/And, all this said, let me just say Orac’s headline, for its part, totally rocks.)

@ Bernard Leikind : skin cancer isn’t as scary as brain cancer- woo-meisters enjoy richer fuel for scare-mongering.

Bernard: Why focus on heating effects? Could not electric fields interfere with a cell’s operation in some way that could cause cancer?

@Bernard Leikind

It is impossible for cell phones or any microwave radiation to cause any cancer.

So, Dr. Leikind (I assume “Dr.” based on the certainty with which you speak on matters medical), where can I read your peer-reviewed papers that discuss every known and yet-to-be-discovered form of cancer and how they behave in every bodily location? I await your response with baited breath.

If you try to improvise using the english language to get emphasis, style and personality across

“Try” being the operative word. Experimentation with English requires talents you don’t seem to have. Without those talents, it’s kind of masturbatory, and tends to get the same reaction when attempted in public.

Funny that no one is worried about skin cancer of the ear near the phone, where the purported “radiation” dose would be much higher, being outside the skull and much closer to the transmitter.

I have no doubts whatsoever were a reliable link between cell phones and cancer to be found, that someone would come up with a mechanism to account for it.

See, when it comes down to reality vs physics, I go with reality and assume that the physics is incomplete (that’s the real lesson of the bumblebee)

KeithB @ 65:

Bernard: Why focus on heating effects? Could not electric fields interfere with a cell’s operation in some way that could cause cancer?

I can’t answer for the learned Dr. (?) Leikind, but I can readily see how being exposed to a strong polarizing electric field might have untoward effects on a cell’s operations, which are electrochemical in nature. But when the field is pretty weak, and is going to be going in the opposite direction a quarter of a nanosecond later, for a net field of zero? I’d need some convincing.

Orac correctly describes the WHO-Interphone researchers’ sub-group analysis. He neglects to mention a fact of that study that was evidently embarrassing to the WHO researchers, missing a chance to display his admirable and trademarked insolence.

Their data, taken as a whole, showed that cell phone users had a noticeably reduced risk (not a mistake, reduced) of developing brain cancer as compared to the matched group who did not use cell phones. The result was not statistically significant, but it was visible in the data.

If the result had gone the other way, we know that there would have been lots of chin pulling about the precautionary principle, and calls for more research. The WHO researchers worked hard to find reasons to ignore this reduction in risk.

Then they undertook their sub-group analysis, which is a well known source of error in such studies. Their full group had an average value. Some of their sub-groups had a lower than average value. One of their sub-groups had a higher than average value. Surprised to find this mathematical necessity in their data, they ignored those sub-groups with lower than average risk and pointed with a raised eyebrow to the sub-group with a higher than average risk. More research is needed.

But they intend to do the wrong kind of research. Their epidemiological studies will never lead to a definitive conclusion one way or another. Physicists have already done the correct kind of research during a century or more of investigating electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics.

@Richard:

So the phrase “nothing at all”, regardless of context, is indicative of Stalinist/oppressive thinking? At least when used by a “freethinker”?

On most days, if you used the phrase ‘the three stooges’ in my presence, I’d think you meant Larry, Moe, and Curly (sorry Shemp). After about five minutes on this blog I think I have to change that to Neil, Richard, and Jacob.

Seriously, be dumb somewhere else. Your signal to noise ration really doesn’t warrant subjecting the rest of us to your stream of consciousness. But maybe I’m just a stalinist free thinker.

But maybe I’m just a stalinist free thinker.

No, you’re a witch! Quick, compare his weight to a duck!

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