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Lower Your Exposure to Cell Phone Radiation
September 10, 2009 8:27 AM   Subscribe

So, cell phones emit radiation. But how much does yours emit? Compare over 1,000 different cell phones and smartphones.
posted by amro (202 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Tinfoil hat.
posted by exogenous at 8:34 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought that's what cell phones were supposed to do. If you have a cell phone that doesn't emit radiation, it's time to get a new one.
posted by demiurge at 8:34 AM on September 10, 2009 [36 favorites]


"So, cell phones emit radiation".

Well, of course they do. They don't operate via psychic powers. (Although no doubt Apple will be announcing one that does soon).
posted by Electric Dragon at 8:35 AM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Radios, including cell phones, emit nonionizing radiation, which is absorbed in the body as heat. X-rays and nuclear processes emit ionizing radiation, which produces free electrical charge in your body and interferes with its chemistry. If you're afraid of your cell phone, you'd better keep your lights off, too.

Don't spread this junk.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:40 AM on September 10, 2009 [73 favorites]


Repeat after me: Non-ionizing radiation is not mutagenic. Non-ionizing radiation is not mutagenic. Non-ionizing radiation is not mutagenic.
posted by signalnine at 8:42 AM on September 10, 2009 [11 favorites]


Then there's ionizing psychic powers. Stay away from them.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:42 AM on September 10, 2009


radiation
posted by idiopath at 8:42 AM on September 10, 2009


My iPhone doesn't emit radiation, it emits masturbation.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:42 AM on September 10, 2009 [7 favorites]


So, is this any worse than the all the high powered FM and AM signals that have been bombarding me incessantly since I was conceived?
posted by Burhanistan at 8:43 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, fantabulous timewaster nailed it. There was an extensive debunking of cellphone-related oh noes-ing recently in a Slashdot comments thread and I'll see if I can find the link.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:44 AM on September 10, 2009


I have the motorola ZN5. It's SAR is just .01 below the regulatory cut-off. Zit xorp klar. I'm fine.

But seriously, I use a headset and don't think much about it.
posted by 517 at 8:45 AM on September 10, 2009


Yeah, what everyone else said. Non-ionizing radiation is... mostly harmless... but enough of it could make one all toasty and warm.

Ionizing radiation is the nasty stuff...

My favourite kind of radiation is Cherenkov Radiation.

Man is it pretty. = )
posted by PROD_TPSL at 8:46 AM on September 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


OMG!!! WE ARE ALL EMITTING RADIATION RIGHT NOW!!!OMG!!!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:46 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


The following things also emit radiation:

Incandescent light bulbs
LEDs
Remote Controls
The Earth
All human beings everywhere including dead people
posted by dirigibleman at 8:46 AM on September 10, 2009 [17 favorites]


Just don't keep your radar gun next to your nads.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:46 AM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm fine... as long as you ignore that errant apostrophe.
posted by 517 at 8:47 AM on September 10, 2009


Non-ionizing radiation is not mutagenic.

I read the Wikipedia article and it says "non-ionizing radiation is electromagnetic radiation that does not carry enough energy per quantum to ionize atoms or molecules". So cell phones are below some definitive energy threshold? If the threshold is fuzzy, though, having the transmitter right up against your ear doesn't sound healthy.
posted by crapmatic at 8:53 AM on September 10, 2009


My favourite kind of radiation is Cherenkov Radiation.

Well, they did discontinue the Nokia ZL-5 which was activated by putting two beryllium hemispheres together. I had one but I kept losing the plutonium ball... I think it went down my floor vent.
posted by crapmatic at 8:55 AM on September 10, 2009 [8 favorites]


Not mutagenic, what about teratogenic? ;)
Microwaves make things toasty too... PANIC AND FEAR!!!!
posted by LD Feral at 8:56 AM on September 10, 2009


So cell phones are below some definitive energy threshold? If the threshold is fuzzy, though, having the transmitter right up against your ear doesn't sound healthy.

It doesn't matter how close it is. The radiation is in packets. "Ionization" means an electron is stripped off, i.e. given enough energy to break free. That energy has to come in a single packet. If the radiation you are using has packet sizes that are too small, no ionization is taking place.

Putting the phone closer to your ear just delivers more packets, it doesn't increase the packet size.
posted by DU at 8:57 AM on September 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


All human beings everywhere including dead people

Yet another good reason to give up necrophilia.
posted by D+ at 8:58 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Freaking out about cellphone "radiation" is stupid, but it's not the most stupid technophobic thing I've heard about recently. No, that dubious honor goes to the morons who think that WiFi gives them headaches (when they know they're turned on). That is high test stupid.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:58 AM on September 10, 2009


We need to get a new "dihydrogen monoxide" type scam, only for radiation. Preferably something that results in dimwits trying to outlaw the sun.

Any thoughts on how to phrase it?
posted by aramaic at 8:58 AM on September 10, 2009


IMHO, worrying about cellphone radiation is more harmful than the radiation itself.
posted by exogenous at 8:59 AM on September 10, 2009


One should be particularly wary of the phones which emit teratological molecules.
posted by acb at 9:00 AM on September 10, 2009


Aw, man, can't you at least give me some data? How am I supposed to schedule this week's freakout if I don't have any data?

Luckily, the CBC has already freaked out for me.
posted by maudlin at 9:01 AM on September 10, 2009


Brehmsstrahlung is obviously the best kind of radiation. It's called brehmsstrahlung, for goodness sake!
posted by chorltonmeateater at 9:03 AM on September 10, 2009


Wait... There are electronics? In my phone?

This won't do.
posted by Theta States at 9:05 AM on September 10, 2009


crapmatic: The energy threshold is usually a few tens of "electron volts", or eV. A visible photon carries a few eV, and can drive electrical transitions but usually not create ions. A ultraviolet photon is more energetic and usually makes ions. An infrared photon usually doesn't have enough energy to drive electronic transitions, but can drive vibrations, which deposits heat. Longer- and shorter-wavelength light has less or more energy per photon in an absolutely known way. Microwaves and radio waves are not ionizing.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:07 AM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


My cell phone emits gamma rayYAAAAAARRRRGGHGHHHH! SMASH!
posted by brain_drain at 9:07 AM on September 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


Radiation? In my cellphone?
posted by odinsdream at 9:10 AM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Before the LOL about how casual, low-wattage EM radiation cannot possibly cause health effects gets too far advanced, let us remember "Leukemia mortality in amateur radio operators," Coleman M. Lancet. 1985 Jul 13;2(8446):106-7. Or "Increased Mortality in Amateur Radio Operators Due to Lymphatic and Hematopoietic Malignancies," Milham, Samuel Jr. American Journal of Epidemiology 1988. Vol. 127, No. 1: 50-54. Pardon the sloppiness of my citations, it has been awhile.

The lower class amateur radio licenses are for about 10 watts, whereas a cell phone is only using between .25 watts and 3 watts, depending on whom you ask about what manufacturer. And of course the frequencies are different, therefore the energy per photon is different. For the record, I don't think that cell phones (properly engineered) would cause cancer, but it isn't so far-fetched as to be lulzicrous. I think a calm explanation of the physics and biology involved is a better first step than immediately pointing and laughing. If you don't know science, all you really have to go on is trust in people who do know science.

People are still collectively a little gunshy after The Miracle Age of Plastics and how various things which came with a label of "don't worry, trust us, this is totally harmless" turned out not to be so harmless after all. And we've got a government which has, on more than one occasion, run some unethical experiments upon its citizens. The aforementioned trust is in short supply these days, and perhaps for a good reason.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, what did paranoid schizophrenics do in between witches and electronics?
posted by adipocere at 9:11 AM on September 10, 2009 [21 favorites]


Now that we've gotten that out of the way, what did paranoid schizophrenics do in between witches and electronics?

Various kinds of pre-electronic influencing machines such as "air looms", which worked by splendidly steampunkish mechanisms involving aethers and phlogiston and such. Chances are, there was a cut-over, some time shortly after the Enlightenment, in which witchcraft/demonic possession went out of fashion and fiendish influencing machines came in.
posted by acb at 9:17 AM on September 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


J. Frank Parnell: Ever been to Utah? Ra-di-a-tion. Yes, indeed. You hear the most outrageous lies about it. Half-baked goggle-box do-gooders telling everybody it's bad for you. Pernicious nonsense. Everybody could stand a hundred chest X-rays a year. They ought to have them, too. When they canceled the project it almost did me in. One day my mind was full to bursting. The next day - nothing. Swept away. But I'll show them. I had a lobotomy in the end.
posted by birdherder at 9:18 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


what did paranoid schizophrenics do in between witches and electronics?

Was there a "between"? Radio started up in the late 1890s, although perhaps nobody (and by that I mean "no crazies") really heard about it for 20 or 30 years. Meanwhile, witches are still fairly popular today.

This would actually be very interesting to research. I know there was a big "religious commune" heyday in the mid 19th century. Maybe a lack of electronics-to-be-scared-of was the reason?
posted by DU at 9:22 AM on September 10, 2009


Oh, and before we get all "it's just heat," consider this: in one of my dermatology textbooks I found a rather interesting bit about the people of some segment of the world who kept these heated stones upon their bellies to keep warm. It was not uncommon for them to develop tumors, shaped right around those stones. The constant heat did it.

If you're going to get all Science!, let's be accurate. It could be that the hot stones, through the miracle of blackbody radiation, put out just enough high-energy photons at the unhappy end of the curve that continual exposure gave just enough ionizing radiation that, over the course of years of this tradition, you got tumors, or it could be some other mechanism. I may have to dig up that book if I hit my storage unit tonight. The photo wasn't all that appealing, either.
posted by adipocere at 9:23 AM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


I've been tucking mine down the front of me pants as an impromptu non-surgical home vasectomy device. Unfortunately, the resulting bulge has had the opposite effect to the intended prophylaxis.
posted by Abiezer at 9:26 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Q. You began studying the physiological effects of microwave radiation in 1975, putting squirrel monkeys in a microwave chamber, heating them up so they would either feel slightly warm or noticeably hot. Were there any adverse effects?

A. Never. As a matter of fact, the animals would really thrive on the microwave radiation. If we finished an experiment and went on to something else and had to use a different set of animals for the next microwave experiment, the animals that were taken out of the microwaves would sort of pine way. It was as though they were saying, ''Come on. It's about time to go back in the box.''
...
Q. Did people like the microwave field, as you said the monkeys did in similar experiments earlier?

A. Particularly if the environment is cool, they love it when the field comes on. Some of them say, ''Oh, the sun just came out.'' It is very easy to sense it and it feels good. If they are in a warm environment, and the field is strong they may start to sweat and they may feel quite uncomfortable. They always have an option of getting out of the chamber at any time, saying, ''I've had enough.''

And in the experiments we ran last summer we put what we called a kill switch next to the subject so if the subjects got too warm or they didn't like it any more they could turn it off.

Q. Did anybody ever come dashing out of the microwave chamber or pull the kill switch?

A. No. No one ever wanted to get out.


A CONVERSATION WITH: ELEANOR R. ADAIR; Tuning In to the Microwave Frequency - nytimes
By GINA KOLATA
Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2001
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:29 AM on September 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


I don't want to alarm anyone, but there's a massively powerful source of radiation in the sky right now. Don't leave your homes.
posted by rocket88 at 9:29 AM on September 10, 2009


Before radio, mesmerism and "animal magnetism" were in the popular consciousness. And there had been experiments with electricity since the 18th century at least (inspiring no lesser writers than Mary Shelley), so it is conceivable that people hearing voices then would have postulated some kind of electrical contraption for amplifying mesmeric rays or something.

And you're right that witchcraft didn't go away; there are people in America who, to this day, believe in demonic possession.
posted by acb at 9:29 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


adipocere: Pointing the finger at "radiation" is potentially misleading in this context because it implies the same sort of epidemiology and mechanisms as ionizing radiation, which has been well studied. While it's possible there might be something going on at the threshold level of detection, it's not the same thing as hugging a chunk plutonium, and it's not clear that a cell phone poses a higher risk than having a fluorescent light on your desk.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:35 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Re. the intersection of new technologies and schizophrenia, Victor Tausk wrote a really interesting paper in the 30s on "influencing machines," as they're known -- the devices that symptoms are attributed to. There's a book about the earliest influencing machine case (AFAIK), James Tilly Matthews's experiences in the late 1790s of the Air Loom, which used "pneumatic chemistry" to produce rays that caused him all kinds of miseries. He made some amazing drawings of the device.
posted by finnb at 9:46 AM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


rocket88: "there's a massively powerful source of radiation in the sky right now."

That's why I keep my garden under a lead-lined tarp all the time.

Now who wants a glass of homemade mold juice?
posted by Riki tiki at 9:49 AM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Woot, my phone's not even on the list, so good luck with your melty brains. (still gonna wear my foil fedora, just in case)
posted by hypersloth at 10:02 AM on September 10, 2009


>I've been tucking mine down the front of me pants as an impromptu non-surgical home vasectomy device. Unfortunately, the resulting bulge has had the opposite effect to the intended prophylaxis.

You have to turn off the vibrate setting.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:03 AM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh, no! Not RADIATION!
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:03 AM on September 10, 2009


After being bombarded by cellphone radiation, I have gained the signal strength of a human-sized cell phone!

Hang on, my cellular sense is vibrating...
posted by GameDesignerBen at 10:13 AM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


It could be that the hot stones, through the miracle of blackbody radiation, put out just enough high-energy photons at the unhappy end of the curve that continual exposure gave just enough ionizing radiation that, over the course of years of this tradition, you got tumors, or it could be some other mechanism.

Isn't there a postulated connection between inflammation and cancer?


Now who wants a glass of homemade mold juice?

Slime mold juice? 50 zorkmids?
posted by weston at 10:15 AM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yet another arena in which the Pre bests the iphone 3gs.
posted by oddman at 10:15 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


People are still collectively a little gunshy after The Miracle Age of Plastics and how various things which came with a label of "don't worry, trust us, this is totally harmless" turned out not to be so harmless after all.

Seconding this. I wouldn't be so hasty to not be concerned about it. But that's because I have no agenda, know a little bit about radio operation and have some sense of pre-internet history. I presonally use cell phones as infrequently as possible and don't carry it in my pocket.
posted by peppito at 10:16 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Scientists have discovered a source, within our own solar system, of extremely intense electromagnetic radiation. Studies have shown that exposure to this radiation is the likely cause of many cancer deaths. Other studies may reveal more causes for concern. The radiation appears to be the result of thermonuclear reactions, similar to nuclear bombs, but much more powerful than anything built by humans, to date.
posted by Goofyy at 10:20 AM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Radios, including cell phones, emit nonionizing radiation, which is absorbed in the body as heat.

You are assuming that ionization and genetic mutation are the only possible ill effects of radiation. A mutation is not necessary to have harmful effects.

Cell phone radiation is in the microwave region. Microwaves can cause heating. Heating can cause denaturization of proteins. Ionizing radiation causes molecules to break apart. Heating, on the other hand, causes molecules to wiggle and change shape. The way proteins work depends on how the molecule folds and curls up to create a unique shape. Heating can cause proteins to unwind and fold differently which destroys their activity. This is what happens when you fry an egg. The protein molecules are not broken apart (ionized) -- they are simply reshaped which destroys their previous function. It is not necessary for proteins to be ionized to cause harm.

So your statement that cell phone radiation is non-ionizing only addresses one possible mechanism of harm. There is no doubt that cell phone radiation causes heating of brain tissue. That is a physical fact. The question is whether this heating is of significant magnitude to cause harm. I personally think that the threat of harm is unlikely though not out of the realm of possibility. Your statement about non-ionizing radiation does not address this issue.
posted by JackFlash at 10:24 AM on September 10, 2009 [11 favorites]


Oh, absolutely, Kirk. I loathe the term "radiation." It's an incredibly sloppy way of describing so many different phenomena. Alpha, beta, the beam from a red laser pointer, gamma, microwaves, neutron flux, the positrons (anti-beta?) emitted during a PET scan, radio, more exotic things ... then throw in fallout dust and you have a term about as descriptive as "animals." Even the name itself is nearly meaningless — radiation ... that which radiates, or that which transmitted by that which radiates.

It's even worse than the common usage of "theory."
posted by adipocere at 10:28 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


The question is whether this heating is of significant magnitude to cause harm

If the heating due to cell phone use could denature my brain proteins, then my morning showers would fucking kill me. An imperceptible amount of heat is not going to damage your body, mammal.
posted by ryanrs at 10:39 AM on September 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's quite true that the radiation emitted by cellphones is too low-energy to cause mutations, so it is not a concern as far as cancer. However, your brain absorbs a significant amount of the microwave energy emitted from your phone; i.e. your cell phone does, very slightly, heat up your brain. Now, we don't KNOW that this slight heating is harmful, but we don't really know that it isn't either. I happen to believe there is no danger at cell-phone power levels, but it's hard to know for sure. I seriously doubt heating parts of your brain is GOOD for you, but who knows if it actually causes damage.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:48 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]



If the heating due to cell phone use could denature my brain proteins, then my morning showers would fucking kill me. An imperceptible amount of heat is not going to damage your body, mammal.


No, that's not how it would work. When a molecule absorbs non-thermal energy, say a protein absorbing a radio wave, it is possible that it can use that energy to fold or react in the wrong way such that a cumulative, macro-biological effect could result. I'm not a molecular biologist (my wife is, and I'll ask her), but it's not the type of heat you are thinking of that is the concern.
posted by peppito at 10:48 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was just going to pop in and mention the difference between Ionizing Radiation non-ionizing, but it looks like that's covered.

There is no doubt that cell phone radiation causes heating of brain tissue. That is a physical fact.

This is pretty ridiculous. It's true that it causes heating of brain tissue, but so does your blood, so does the sun, so do light-bulbs, so does your oven, so does your shower, so does eating hot food. And of course your brain is self-heating as well. Just thinking about something or having your eyes open will cause your brain to heat up (and of course, you're always thinking). I would imagine that your brain heats up more from the muscles in your mouth when you talk then it does from the cellphone when you're having a conversation.

Obviously, with blood flowing in and out of your head all the time, any excess heat in the brain is going to be carried away to the rest of your body pretty quickly. If needed, you will start sweating which will release a lot of heat.
posted by delmoi at 10:55 AM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


By the way, the The brain uses about 20% of your oxygen consumption, so (I would think) that almost 1/5th of your bodies heat is actually generated by the brain itself. That seems to be born out by this link which indicates the brain uses about 20 watts. So the brain is constantly going to be outputting about 20 watts of heat on it's own.
posted by delmoi at 11:03 AM on September 10, 2009


Recent scientific studies have produced evidence linking brain and salivary gland tumors to cell phone use.

Guys, did you not read this part? The studies are both recent and scientific.

rocket88:

I don't want to alarm anyone, but there's a massively powerful source of radiation in the sky right now.

Any uncontrolled nuclear reaction that is active enough to burn me from 150 million km away is already fearsome enough.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:07 AM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Now, we don't KNOW that this slight heating is harmful, but we don't really know that it isn't either.

Not only is it not harmful, a bit of heat is required. Your brain is pretty well adapted to operating above ambient temperature.


When a molecule absorbs non-thermal energy, say a protein absorbing a radio wave

Non-ionizing radiation causes effects beyond thermal heating? I encourage you to cite a source.
posted by ryanrs at 11:08 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ithink these people are really out to loer my exposure to modernity.
posted by GuyZero at 11:14 AM on September 10, 2009


When a molecule absorbs non-thermal energy, say a protein absorbing a radio wave

Non-ionizing radiation causes effects beyond thermal heating? I encourage you to cite a source.


Ever fry an egg?
posted by peppito at 11:14 AM on September 10, 2009


+w
posted by GuyZero at 11:14 AM on September 10, 2009


Ever fry an egg?

Ever fry an egg using just the electricity stored in a cell-phone battery?
posted by GuyZero at 11:14 AM on September 10, 2009


Ever fry an egg?

At 160 degrees F, yes.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:16 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would be more worried about the radiation going to my hips from carrying it around so much powered on... if I was worried
posted by Frugalforlife at 11:18 AM on September 10, 2009


Every try to fry an egg in a microwave? Cell phone radiation will cause your head to explode!
posted by ryanrs at 11:19 AM on September 10, 2009


Every try to fry an egg in a microwave? Cell phone radiation will cause your head to explode!

Oy. Well, there's no refuting that logic.
posted by peppito at 11:24 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]



peppito: "Ever fry an egg?"

That was a hoax.
posted by idiopath at 11:25 AM on September 10, 2009


the animals that were taken out of the microwaves would sort of pine way. It was as though they were saying, ''Come on. It's about time to go back in the box.''

I see what she did there.
posted by zarq at 11:26 AM on September 10, 2009


peppito: "Ever fry an egg?"

That was a hoax.


I wasn't referring to that. I had no idea someone even attempted that until you just posted that. I was answering his useless question with a correct but cheeky answer. No there isn't enough power transmitted out of an average cell phone to fry an entire egg literally. It's like people are having two or three entirely different conversation here.
posted by peppito at 11:29 AM on September 10, 2009


a label of "don't worry, trust us, this is totally harmless"

Considering man's lack of knowledge of epigenetic effects, the rabbit hole to go down may be the epigenetic effects. Your diet seems to have epigenetic effects - and humans are just beginning to grok this. I would not be shocked if it turns out that cell phones have an epigenetic effects.

Since the epigenetic effects of RF radiation are poorly understood

However, cell mortality increased markedly after exposure to microwaves. The results suggest that microwaves do not interact directly or indirectly with chromosomes, although they may target other cell structures, such as cell membranes.

Such studies show the 'no chromosome damage' ppl right AND the 'still bad effects' ppl right. Everyone wins!
posted by rough ashlar at 11:30 AM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I KNOW MORE ABOUT THIS THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE.
posted by maxwelton at 11:31 AM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sure, it's possible, even probable that exposure to alternating EM fields does have a metabolic effect. But studies involving people with high levels of occupational exposure have struggled to identify statistically significant risks. It is quite probable that the additional risks associated with cell phone use are outweighed by the health benefits of having one available in the event of accidents and emergencies.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:40 AM on September 10, 2009


Ok, but frying an egg is a thermal heating phenomenon. That is to say, heat causes the egg to solidify—heat from any source. As soon as the internal temperature of the egg reaches ~150F, it will begin to denature.

A cell phone causes less heating than many everyday activities. Mild exercise or even just being awake will raise your body temperature more than a cell phone will.

Thus we can assume that cell phones are safe, as long as the effects of non-ionizing radiation are purely thermal effects. We can just measure the temperature and say, "yep, 98.61 is a safe temperature."

That's why I said to you: "Non-ionizing radiation causes effects beyond thermal heating? I encourage you to cite a source."
posted by ryanrs at 11:44 AM on September 10, 2009


cool thread now i know which of you are dumb
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:56 AM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thus we can assume that cell phones are safe, as long as the effects of non-ionizing radiation are purely thermal effects.

I wouldn't assume that. The common notion of "Thermal Effects" or temperature is just a measurement of (mostly) kinetic motion of molecules or atoms on a macro-scale. You're using this as an argument that at the molecular level nothing is changing below a threshold macro-scale temperature, which isn't even addressing the issue.

But I'm not going to argue with you, it'll just be more useless "OH NOES, BLAH BLAH BLAH, AM I RITE?!?! AM I RITE?!?! I KNOW MORE ABOUT THIS THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE!" crap.
posted by peppito at 12:03 PM on September 10, 2009


Oddly enough, the giant radiation source in the sky is well-known to cause cancer. Especially where the protective o-zone layer is worn away.

I'm also in the camp of those who are suspicious of the long-term health effects of cell phones. The simple fact is that we don't really know - people haven't been using cell phones for all that long. The extremely widespread usage and the amount of money attached to their continued use makes it difficult to have a rational discussion about whether adverse health effects could occur - people who use cell phones all the time and really like them are less likely to accept the possibility of harm. Compare the cigarette controversy of the 60's and 70's - many, many people enjoyed smoking and a massive industry had a strong interest in keeping them smoking. So they published piles of skewed and falsified studies and did their best to calm people's fears. And today we all know just how crazy it is to think that cigarettes could cause cancer.

Here's an article from 'Microwave News' covering a 2008 Congressional hearing whose results seemed rather mixed. Of course, cancer is only one potential problem. Here's a Wired article on adolescent rats that developed holes in their brains after having cell phone transmitters strapped to their backs for a couple of weeks.

To be clear, I'm not convinced one way or the other on the matter. I just think it's a difficult environment to produce reliable science in.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:05 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


OH NOES, BLAH BLAH BLAH, AM I RITE?!?! AM I RITE?!?! I KNOW MORE ABOUT THIS THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE!" crap.

Yeah, but it's cute when I say it with an electric blanket wrapped around my head.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:11 PM on September 10, 2009


I KNOW LESS ABOUT THIS THAN YOU CAN'T POSSIBLY IMAGINE.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:15 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


The less you know. *bing bing bing bing*
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:17 PM on September 10, 2009


Oddly enough, the giant radiation source in the sky emits both ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 12:23 PM on September 10, 2009


I wouldn't assume that [the effects of non-ionizing radiation are purely thermal effects].

Yes, ok. So then I asked you to cite some source describing what these other effects might be. I assume your beliefs are founded on something more substantial than blind speculation.


But I'm not going to argue with you, it'll just be more useless "OH NOES, BLAH BLAH BLAH, AM I RITE?!?! AM I RITE?!?! I KNOW MORE ABOUT THIS THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE!"

Well, isn't it? Your argument is, at this point, entirely based on something your wife said, but you don't remember the details. That's why that last guy caught so much flack when he first spoke up. (I think it was his mom, though, not his wife.)
posted by ryanrs at 12:24 PM on September 10, 2009


the giant radiation source in the sky

We're talking about God, right?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:24 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's kind of funny considering the "religious experiences" of persons exposed to plasma.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:30 PM on September 10, 2009


So God causes cancer, huh? Dick move, God.
posted by Skot at 12:31 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


OK, it's possible that thermal effects from mobilee phones damages the brain, either immediately or after a while. It's pretty clear that it isn't immediate, or a significant percentage of cellphone early adopters would be in trouble. I've used a mobile phone phone on probably 50% of the days since 2000, and I'm not in trouble.

If you want to get epidemiological, compare regular cell phone users with regular alcohol users, and those who live in urban areas. Also, compare the benefit from having a phone and from being a regular boozer.

If mobiles are genuinely harmful, what design changes ought we to make to render them safe? I would guess that an "in-car kill switch" would save more people than an outright ban or a change in frequency, but the thing about believing in evidence is... you can always be proved wrong.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:33 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you want to get epidemiological, compare regular cell phone users with regular alcohol users, and those who live in urban areas. Also, compare the benefit from having a phone and from being a regular boozer.


wait, you lost me. what would this prove exactly?
posted by Think_Long at 12:36 PM on September 10, 2009


The common notion of "Thermal Effects" or temperature is just a measurement of (mostly) kinetic motion of molecules or atoms on a macro-scale.

So... Are we assuming it targets specific proteins here? I'm too skeptical to jump in with the "It doesn't elevate your risk of anything" crowd, but it seems that any risk is pretty much minimal and not above that which would be expected from other day-to-day activities. I don't spend eight hours out of every day on my cell phone, so is this vague evidence really a worry?
posted by Avelwood at 12:38 PM on September 10, 2009


This issue is difficult because even most definitive sources have to tack on the proviso, "but we can't say for sure yet, because cell phones haven't been in use long enough."

And even if cell phones can cause cancer, we have no idea how much exposure would actually be dangerous. I mean, lots of things CAN cause cancer -- like the aforementioned giant ball of gas in the middle of our solar system -- but if you don't expose yourself to it for unreasonable amounts of time, then no, something else will probably kill you first.

So there we have it, something we don't know if we should be afraid of, or how afraid of it we should be.

Personally, I'm going to worry about it as much as I worry about anything that I cannot possibly know about; that is, not really much at all. Then again, I rarely go outside of my allotted 8 hours per month, so I wouldn't really call myself a heavy user.

And while it's always annoying to see people call each other "stupid" over stuff like this, I will call you stupid if you're worried about cell phone radiation, but you regularly smoke, overeat, or drive carelessly. As much as we tend to worry about spectacular and complicated things, it's always the most mundane shit that kills you.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:39 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wrinkled - Think of the comparison with cigarettes. Many people can say they've been smoking for ten whole years and haven't developed cancer. Thus there's clearly no cancer risk for long-time smokers.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:42 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I will call you stupid if you're worried about cell phone radiation, but you regularly smoke, overeat, or drive carelessly.

What will you call me if I'm not worried about cell phone radiation, smoke once or twice a year, overeat, and drive carefully but dangerously?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:43 PM on September 10, 2009


so is this vague evidence really a worry?

Whoa. Nobody presented any evidence here. There was just a statement that included the phrase non-thermal effects, without any suggestion of what they would be or how they would be a problem, and least of all not a drip of evidence as to their existence.
posted by kiltedtaco at 12:43 PM on September 10, 2009


Think_Long: In most societies, alcohol is not prohibited, despite the inherent risk. By comparing mobile phone use to alcohol use, we can at least put a scale on it. While I personally doubt that there is any risk from using mobile phones, we can measure if mobile phone users are more likely to get sick, and we can also compare it against things like smoking, living in cities, and drinking, and anything else we allow citizens in free societies to choose for themselves.

Speaking for myself, if you showed me that using a mobile was worse than smoking, I'd quit and buy a landline. If it was worse than eating red meat, I'd accept that gamble. The thing is, I'm not an expert statistician, so, if your study wasn't very deeply flawed, I'd go along with it.

Basically, the whole thing is a cost-benefit analysis, and the benefit is a lot more evident than the cost at the moment.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:47 PM on September 10, 2009


Whoa. Nobody presented any evidence here.

I was going off the "thermal heating" arguments. Yes, temperature effects proteins. Yes, microwaves effect temperature. I was really just wondering if these arguments were leading somewhere conclusive, or whether I should just mentally shove them into the "RADIATION IS EV1L" camp.
posted by Avelwood at 12:49 PM on September 10, 2009


kaibutsu: I inserted the word "immediate" for a reason. If there are long-term problems... I reckon that's the cost of living in an advancing society. I mean there are two choices: stick with what is provably safe long-term, or stick with what is proven safe already. Maybe synthetic fabrics will lay my children open to hideous mutations, but I have no reason to think so, and I certainly don't act on that possibility. If my life acts as a warning towards others, so be it.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 1:02 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


And even if cell phones can cause cancer, we have no idea how much exposure would actually be dangerous.

We've been playing around with radio transmitters for a lot longer than cell phones have been in use. There is plenty of unambiguous evidence that high power radio transmissions are bad for you. TV transmitters, radar systems, and microwave ovens can cook your eyes and burn your skin. But all these effects are thermal effects and vary in proportion to transmitter power level. Since cell phones are several thousand times less powerful than the aforementioned high-power systems, we expect cell phones to be safe. And a couple decades of evidence shows they are (except while driving).

The harmful effects of radio waves have been studied for a long, long time. We have bathed soldiers with radar, cooked dogs alive with microwaves, and burned the filling in the teeth of antenna repairmen. We've pretty well figured out what constitutes a safe level of exposure. And not just for short-term safety, but long term, like 8 hours a day over a 50 year career. If 100 mW of microwaves for a few hours a day could cause cancer, radio transmitter technicians would be dropping like flies.
posted by ryanrs at 1:07 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Am I going to die Daddy?"

*checks list*

"Yep."
posted by quin at 1:08 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


The harmful effects of radio waves have been studied for a long, long time. We have bathed soldiers with radar, cooked dogs alive with microwaves, and burned the filling in the teeth of antenna repairmen. We've pretty well figured out what constitutes a safe level of exposure.

Only you assume a linear relationship, and there isn't actually any reason too.

As other people pointed out, there are studies that show correlation between cellphone use and certain kinds of cancer. It may be that people who are more likely get cancer are also more likely to get brain cancer, but that seems unlikely. People who disagree should explain why they think the research is wrong, rather then ignoring ant simply stating that it's theoretically impossible.

I'm not particularly concerned about getting brain cancer from my cellphone, since brain cancer is very rare to begin with, a slightly elevated risk isn't enough for me to give up the convenience, but if you do think the research is wrong, I would actually like to know why.

For example here's an article from December 2008 in gizmodo
Interphone researchers are conducting the largest-ever study investigating if cellphones cause cancer, examining studies from 6,400 tumors in patients from 13 countries. Final results are expected in early 2009, but the preliminary ones are badbadbad.

Israeli researchers in the study found that regular cellphones users are a whopping 50 percent more likely than non-users to get brain tumors. Another Interphone study looking at the UK and Scandinavia found a 40 percent greater tumor risk in people who've used cellphones for over 10 years, though on the bright side, nothing scary for people who've used them for less than a decade.
This article from march 2009 makes the claim:
People who begin using mobile phones before age 20 are more than five times as likely to develop a malignant brain tumor, according to an international group of scientists who studied the effects of electromagnetic fields and radio frequency radiation on living cells and human health.

The team examined the results of 15 studies from health researchers in six different countries, and reported their findings in the journal Pathophysiology. The scientists also called on nations worldwide to adopt tougher safety standards for mobile phone use and to issue warnings about the potential danger of cell phone radiation, particularly for children.
On the other hand, I don't recall ever coming across an article that summarized recent research and came to the conclusion that there was no link between cellphones and cancer risk. And, by the way, the reason I looked around in the past because my mom was nagging me about cellphones and radiation and I actually wanted to find something that would disprove her, but a cursory look indicated that there was more support for a link existing then not.

People who claim that a link is impossible and anyone who said otherwise is being anti-scientific are being a little ridiculous, they appear (again based on a quick skimming of the web) to be the ones who are actually arguing against mainstream science.

Now, I don't really have the time or the interest to dig into all of this to see how credible these claims are. Like I said I don't care that much either way. But, simply arguing that it's impossible based on your own imagined understanding of electromagnetism and biology is is kind of annoying.

If you don't think it's the case, find the studies that indicate you're correct.
posted by delmoi at 1:37 PM on September 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


Well, of course they do. They don't operate via psychic powers. (Although no doubt Apple will be announcing one that does soon).

There is no upcoming iPhone (tm) product that operates via psychic powers. The so-called "iPhone Ecto" does not exist. To the extent you have heard rumors about such a product, they are false. We adamantly deny that we have any such product in the pipeline. What you have seen are obvious Photoshop fakes and you certainly cannot trust the Chinese case manufacturers. We have sent cease and desist letters to all of the relevant websites and encourage you to continue purchasing and enjoying your current generation iPhone (tm) products.

Thank you,

Apple.
posted by The Bellman at 1:37 PM on September 10, 2009


Oh, and of course the sun does cause skin cancer, due to UV light (which is ionizing)
posted by delmoi at 1:38 PM on September 10, 2009


There is no doubt that cell phone radiation causes heating of brain tissue.

Isn't that a little precious. I mean, can you even measure the theoretical rise in temperature amid the noise of natural fluctuation and the limits of accuracy with which we could measure it? Does the temperature of brain tissue even increase as much as if you were to spend 10 minutes in direct sunlight? And isn't most of the RF-related heating on the surface of the skin, not in the brain itself?

Given that, in spite of decades of trying in dozens of studies and populations, any negative health impacts of cell phone use cannot be consistently demonstrated, and given further that the output levels of modern mobile technology is so much lower now than it has been historically, why is there still so much worry over this? If you want to be safer, limit your use of cars and bicycles for transportation, wash your hands more frequently, get you and your kids vaccinated, and avoid using ladders. Those have measurable, substantive impact on health. All this hyperventilating about theoretical threats alongside complete indifference to demonstrable dangers makes my ass tired.

Of course, it's always possible to make some money on the hysteria, so the invisible hand has spoken. Cell phone health threats are real!
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:58 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks, Delmoi. I should point out here that I'm not arguing with peppito. I think I might be arguing with a half-remembered conversation he once had with his wife, but it's hard to tell.
posted by ryanrs at 1:58 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


"bathed soldiers with radar, cooked dogs alive with microwaves, and burned the filling in the teeth of antenna repairmen." "dropping like flies."

You seem fixated on thermal effects and don't say why you disagree with research that suggests there is a link to cell phone usage and cancer from non-thermal effects.

As a scientist, I'm unconvinced by your arguments.
posted by peppito at 1:58 PM on September 10, 2009


As other people pointed out, there are studies that show correlation between cellphone use and certain kinds of cancer. It may be that people who are more likely get cancer are also more likely to get brain cancer, but that seems unlikely. People who disagree should explain why they think the research is wrong, rather then ignoring ant simply stating that it's theoretically impossible.

If I do 20 studies of, oh, I don't know, chess playing and skin cancer, I can expect at least one of those studies to show an association, because even if there is no association I allow a 1/20 chance of the the study being positive in order to have some power to find a real association should it exist.

Now, if I am unscrupulous (or want to get my name in print), I can run around pointing to that one paper and urging people to burn their chess boards. But I would have to be careful to ignore the other 19 studies that showed no relation (or a beneficial effect). It becomes worse when studies are designed in such a way that brain cancer patients are more likely to report that they used their phone on the same side of their head as their cancers were found, a phenomenon known as recall bias. Now, instead of a false positive rate of 5%, it might be 20% or even 50%. Now, half my studies seem to support an association. This is pretty much true of the cell phone health literature if you examine it carefully. It's not like the smoking and lung cancer literature, where every single study shows a strong association. So even though there are studies linking cell phones with cancer, there are plenty of well designed studies that show no association, and several that show a negative association (presumably due to bias in the other direction).
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:08 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Delmoi's "march 2009" link refers to a meta-analysis in this special issue of Pathopsysiology devoted to electromagnetic fields.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 2:12 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


With human post hoc studies it is too difficult to disentangle the web of causation. Are cellphones correlated with brain tumors because they directly cause them or because there is a complicated graph of dependencies eventually linking the two (and no, it is not possible to control for every possible confounding factor)?

If cell phone radiation directly causes cancer, then it should be relatively simple to demonstrate this in animal studies. From my brief research, it seems that animal studies have tended to find no effect. This presentation [pdf] seems to do a good job of summarizing the relevant literature; see pages 9-11 (short version: out of 22 studies, only 2 produced an effect).

Without the confirmation of animal studies, and absent a plausible mechanism, I'm inclined to believe that cell phone radiation does not appreciably raise the risk of cancer.
posted by Pyry at 2:30 PM on September 10, 2009


So even though there are studies linking cell phones with cancer, there are plenty of well designed studies that show no association, and several that show a negative association (presumably due to bias in the other direction)..

Eh, I don't know, if there were studies that honestly showed a beneficial effect of cell phone usage, why wouldn't corporate marketing be all over them, advertising the hell out of these, the same as is done with sugary cereals advertising their "heart healthy"-ness?

My skepticism comes from what I know to be true of hand-held radio work in the past 30 years, true these were operating at 5 to 10 watts and studies were done that they were probably the cause of cancer, but a cell phone operating at half a watt in that same spectrum, over a period of years (and especially possibly on babies and children where there does seem to be agreement that they should NOT use cell phones at all) concerns me. And from the unbiased physical chemical research I have read, I feel I do have reason to at least take prudent steps to reduce RF exposure from cell phones.
posted by peppito at 2:39 PM on September 10, 2009


The one I'm planning on buying this weekend isn't on the list: the Sonim XP3 enduro. However, I'm buying it because it is totally ro-bitchin.

Also, I might see if I can top this without breaking it. I'm not afraid of my cell phone giving me a brain tumor or cancer; I'm afraid of my cell phone having the lifespan of a May fly.

Death is simply a doorknob made of flesh.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:40 PM on September 10, 2009


You seem fixated on thermal effects and don't say why you disagree with research that suggests there is a link to cell phone usage and cancer from non-thermal effects.

But to be fair, you didn't post any. You said something about your wife, and about eggs. Naturally I didn't want to be accused of attacking strawmen, so I continued talking about eggs. Now let me tell you something about your wife...
posted by ryanrs at 2:41 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


at least take prudent steps to reduce RF exposure from cell phones.

I wish Global Major Mobile Phone Manufacturer Inc. et al. would feel the same. But it seems they fear even acknowledging even the risk due to legal/financial concerns.
posted by peppito at 2:44 PM on September 10, 2009


OMG.... I have just become, like, a TOTAL BELIEVER in the dangers of cellphones.... This should clear up any remaining doubts in you Thomases, and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are - oh, wait, my phone is ringing...

THE PROOF
posted by drhydro at 2:52 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


It could be that the hot stones, through the miracle of blackbody radiation, put out just enough high-energy photons at the unhappy end of the curve...

You know, if you pour molten iron in your shoe, it's not the blackbody radiation that is going to be harming you.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:19 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Radiation Schmadiation
posted by electricsandwich138 at 3:46 PM on September 10, 2009


You know whats really dangerous? Neutrinos. They zip through your brain every second of every day and just pass right through it like it's not even there. You can't tell me that isn't some harmful shit.

Also, I am a Scientist.
posted by Avenger at 4:11 PM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


I've posted this massively large scale, long term human exposure to microwave radiation counter-example in AskMe a few times. It's routinely ignored by sensationalists. I trust it always will be.

But, for what it is worth, the domestic microwave relay network constructed by AT&T before its break up, at one time handled 70% of interstate telephone traffic, and by 1970, about 95% of wideband inter-city TV transmission. Hundreds of millions of human beings, including pregnant women and developing fetus got fairly high doses of microwave energy from these sources, over decades, with the most notable effects on public health being, that their telephone calls became clearer and faster to put through, and that Presidential speeches and Monday Night Football could be carried live across the nation.
posted by paulsc at 4:11 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Eh, I don't know, if there were studies that honestly showed a beneficial effect of cell phone usage, why wouldn't corporate marketing be all over them, advertising the hell out of these, the same as is done with sugary cereals advertising their "heart healthy"-ness?

Well, here's one that didn't take too long to find. (I did notice your hedging using the word "honestly" in your assertion. I presume you mean from a well designed study published in a reputable journal. I believe this fits the bill.) The reason the cell phone industry doesn't promote their phones as salutary is that no reputable scientist believes these results any more than they should believe the studies that show harm. The problem is that they show no consistent results. The result of a particular study is dependent upon the study design, the questionnaire design, the period of time studies, and even controlling for those factors, there is little consistency in outcome. We just don't know. I use cell phones and brain cancer as a teaching example for doctoral-level epidemiology students.

My assessment is that brain cancer is a tiny risk and if there is any increase in risk due to cell phones it is miniscule and so far outweighed by known risks we ignore everyday that focusing on this particular risk has a whiff of fetish to it.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:22 PM on September 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


If I do 20 studies of, oh, I don't know, chess playing and skin cancer, I can expect at least one of those studies to show an association, because even if there is no association I allow a 1/20 chance of the the study being positive in order to have some power to find a real association should it exist.

Okay, so where are the 20 studies that show no link between brain cancer and cellphones? Simply stating that it's theoretically possible the studies are wrong isn't really an argument. Wikipedia's has a section on cancer risk They point out three negative, one positive, and two inconclusive, plus two positive about a particular type of nonmalignant tumors and one against (by my count). It would better to have some more thorough meta studies, though.

Anyway, I don't particularly care either way. I'm sure there are a million things out there that slightly elevate cancer risk, but there certainly isn't enough evidence to rule out cellphones as one of them at this point.

Obviously a lot of people are studying this on an ongoing basis.
posted by delmoi at 4:35 PM on September 10, 2009


and of course there could be some lifestyle differences between people who use cellphones and those who don't.
posted by delmoi at 4:45 PM on September 10, 2009


with the most notable effects on public health being, that their telephone calls became clearer and faster to put through

Pardon the skepticism, and I don't mean to be rude because I do appreciate the anecdote, but this wording sounds disturbingly like an AT&T sales pitch.

You're claiming that a tower mounted point source was equivalent or worse than a level of exposure received from today's hand held devices. Are you sure that's a correct assumption? And would you happen to know if there was ever an actual medical study that came to the conclusion that no harm was done or are we concluding that since nobody complained to AT&T, there was never a problem?

That doesn't seem very thorough an argument for something as ubiquitous as the cell phone has become. It just seems like all I get are more and more watered down straw men when it comes to this topic, though I mean no offense.
posted by peppito at 4:53 PM on September 10, 2009


My assessment is that brain cancer is a tiny risk and if there is any increase in risk due to cell phones it is miniscule and so far outweighed by known risks we ignore everyday that focusing on this particular risk has a whiff of fetish to it.

Probably. I just find it annoying when people trot out their high school science level "common sense" to "prove" that whatever thing is totally impossible without even bothering to look at the actual evidence, which is far from conclusive either way, and more recent studies seem to show there is a link.
posted by delmoi at 6:14 PM on September 10, 2009


Radios, including cell phones, emit nonionizing radiation, which is absorbed in the body as heat.
... heat radiation which is many orders of magnitude lower than that absorbed from holding a kitty in your lap.

Heating can cause proteins to unwind and fold differently which destroys their activity.

Said "heating" can be measured, by a scientific instrument known as a thermometer. For instance, ...

This is what happens when you fry an egg. The protein molecules are not broken apart (ionized) -- they are simply reshaped which destroys their previous function. It is not necessary for proteins to be ionized to cause harm.


... when an egg is fried, or more relevantly, cooked in a microwave, its temperature (a measure of heat) is found to rise significantly, from the ambient of a refrigerator (~40 deg F) or room (~70 deg F), to that of a freshly cooked egg (~150 deg F).

You have successfully mastered the use of scientificky words to construct accurate vagueries, but you seriously need to practice the "crunching the numbers" part.

Next up: moving electrons cause current, and pennies contain over ten thousand billion billion electrons - enough to power a small city! DON'T CARRY PENNIES IN YOUR POCKETS, PEOPLE!
posted by JackFlash at 1:24 PM on September 10 [7 favorites +] [!]
posted by IAmBroom at 6:44 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Probably. I just find it annoying when people trot out their high school science level "common sense" to "prove" that whatever thing is totally impossible without even bothering to look at the actual evidence, which is far from conclusive either way, and more recent studies seem to show there is a link.

I agree, but I think it has more to do with the affects of massive PR campaigns to squelch doubt than the genuine ignorance of the population. The public gets "armed" with these half-assed memes and spouts them at the drop of the hat.

Casual discussions usually go like this:
P1: "A few studies have shown there's a link between cell phones and non-thermal effects of cell phone usage."

P2: "AIN'T NO IONIZING RADIATION CUMIN OUTTA THAT THERE CELLY TYPE PHONE!"

P1: "That's not what I said..."

P2: "Why DO YOU HATES AMERICUH?!?"

Not really, but not too far off. you get the picture.
posted by peppito at 7:00 PM on September 10, 2009


whoops, and by "cell phones" in line 9, I mean "cancer."
posted by peppito at 7:02 PM on September 10, 2009


Come on radiation is good for the species.
posted by Allan Gordon at 7:35 PM on September 10, 2009


In defense of high school science level "common sense", which has served me rather well in life, this is the original claim I took issue with:

peppito: When a molecule absorbs non-thermal energy, say a protein absorbing a radio wave, it is possible that it can use that energy to fold or react in the wrong way such that a cumulative, macro-biological effect could result.

ryanrs: Non-ionizing radiation causes effects beyond thermal heating? I encourage you to cite a source.

peppito: Ever fry an egg?

peppito: I was answering [ryanrs's] useless question with a correct but cheeky answer.


Don't accuse me of spouting half-assed memes at the drop of a hat. You're the one who claimed that low-level microwaves caused misfolded proteins. I had never heard of such a thing, so I asked you for further information. Instead of linking to an article or otherwise elaborating on this novel phenomenon, you made a silly joke and said my question was useless.

Anyway, maybe you misunderstood me. So I restated my understanding of thermal heating and protein denaturing, and repeated my request for more info. You replied with another assertion that microwaves cause some non-thermal effect at the molecular level.

So here we are. Do you have any information whatsoever that microwave radiation can cause proteins to denature, other than by thermal effects? Because we know that cell phones don't cause the kind of temperature rise that will fry an egg or denature your brain.

My guess is that you have no such information. Which is fine. You misremembered some fact, or perhaps misspoke. Happens all the time. But don't turn around and accuse me of spouting off half-assed memes just because I don't blindly accept your completely unsubstantiated assertions.
posted by ryanrs at 9:33 PM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh, and it would also be nice if you could discuss the link between denatured proteins and cancer. Do burn victims tend to get cancer afterwards? I haven't heard such a thing, but that doesn't mean it's not true. (However, it does mean I'll need to read up on it before I accept it as fact.)
posted by ryanrs at 9:36 PM on September 10, 2009


No there isn't enough power transmitted out of an average cell phone to fry an entire egg literally. It's like people are having two or three entirely different conversation here.

Crosstalk. Must be Verizon.
posted by rokusan at 9:55 PM on September 10, 2009


and of course there could be some lifestyle differences between people who use cellphones and those who don't.

Relatedly, people who walk around all day wearing douchey bluetooth headsets are more likely to suffer from my simmering rage.
posted by rokusan at 9:56 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Now, see, you got yer ionizing effects over here, and then you got yer thermal effects over there...and...whut I don't git is whut would a non-thermal effect be? An' it seems I can hear my ole pappy sain', "Mark my words, sonny, correlation ain't causation, hear?"
posted by carping demon at 10:03 PM on September 10, 2009


ryanrs: Non-ionizing radiation causes effects beyond thermal heating? I encourage you to cite a source.

Microwave radiation can alter protein conformation without bulk heating. Good enough?
posted by parudox at 10:19 PM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


IAmBroom: when an egg is fried, or more relevantly, cooked in a microwave, its temperature (a measure of heat) is found to rise significantly, from the ambient of a refrigerator (~40 deg F) or room (~70 deg F), to that of a freshly cooked egg (~150 deg F).
You have successfully mastered the use of scientificky words to construct accurate vagueries, but you seriously need to practice the "crunching the numbers" part.


A fried egg is simply a familiar example of protein denaturing. High temperatures are not necessarily required. Microwaves can cause denaturing with a temperature rise of as little as 0.3 degrees, presumably a non-thermal effect.

Perhaps you need to re-evaluate your "vagueries" and numbers.

I am not taking a position one way or the other on the dangers of cell phones, but people who give simple minded dismissals such as "it's non-ionizing radiation" or "it isn't hot enough" are doing a disservice to intelligent discussion. The interaction of electromagnetic radiation with living tissue is much more complex than you think.
posted by JackFlash at 10:27 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


YES!
posted by ryanrs at 10:27 PM on September 10, 2009


Yep, that there's purty good. Thank ye.
posted by carping demon at 10:33 PM on September 10, 2009


You should expect to hear simple minded dismissals such as "it's non-ionizing radiation" when articles go out of their way to refer to microwaves as "cell phone radiation". Although this usage is correct in a technical sense, the average person is going to associate the word "radiation" with radioactive substances, not radio waves. This association is strengthened by the tie to cancer, a well-known hazard of radioactive materials. It's perfectly reasonable to respond with a clarification that cell phone radiation is different from radioactive radiation, and cannot cause cancer via the same mechanism.
posted by ryanrs at 10:50 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Neat articles. JackFlash, the interesting thing about your article is that they found microwaves also sped up the unfolding process that happens when a protein is cooled. Since (1) the protein change happens because of a decrease in temperature, and (2) microwaves cannot possibly have cooled the sample, then the effect of the microwaves must be a non-thermal effect.

So it seems microwaves increase the rate of both protein folding and unfolding. That's interesting.

Remember how microwaves heat water? Water molecules have an electric dipole moment and orient themselves with the electric field of the radio waves. The rapidly changing (2.4 GHz) wave causes the water molecules to spin, gaining kinetic energy.

Although microwaves don't have the energy to ionize atoms or break chemical bonds, they do have enough energy to twist and squeeze a protein. Unlike a simple water molecule, a protein has a complicated structure with many little electric dipoles. By grabbing and twisting these many pieces, microwaves can catalyze the reconfiguration of the protein.

Unlike heat, microwaves generate coherent forces on the protein molecule. The perturbations due to heat tend to cancel each other out. A large piece of protein will experience relatively little movement due to heat, just like large gas molecules move slower than light ones. But if that piece of protein has a large electric dipole moment, the microwave will grab it and spin it around.

Some proteins are probably more sensitive to microwaves than others due to peculiarities of their internal electric dipole moments. Suppose a protein with a cancer-causing alternate folding was particularly susceptible to microwave-catalyzed reconfiguration. That would suck.

I wonder if microwaves can speed up inorganic processes that are sensitive to molecular orientation? For example, I wonder if microwaves would speed up ice crystallization?

</hand-waving>
posted by ryanrs at 12:36 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


So is there a chart or graph of how much EM energy are we surrounded by, across the spectrum, or of various devices? How does wifi compare to cordless phones, radio transmitters, & the sun, or the like?
posted by Pronoiac at 12:44 AM on September 11, 2009


"Pardon the skepticism, and I don't mean to be rude because I do appreciate the anecdote, but this wording sounds disturbingly like an AT&T sales pitch.

You're claiming that a tower mounted point source was equivalent or worse than a level of exposure received from today's hand held devices. Are you sure that's a correct assumption? And would you happen to know if there was ever an actual medical study that came to the conclusion that no harm was done or are we concluding that since nobody complained to AT&T, there was never a problem?

That doesn't seem very thorough an argument for something as ubiquitous as the cell phone has become. It just seems like all I get are more and more watered down straw men when it comes to this topic, though I mean no offense."

posted by peppito at 7:53 PM on September 10

Thanks for the favorable comparison to highly paid AT&T marketing mavens, but, really, I wrote that myself. :-)

As for the levels of exposure, yep, for hundreds of thousands of people in each of the downtown areas of most major American cities (or tens of millions of people a day), and for many people in rural areas along the line-of-site signal paths of the relay towers, the average microwave radiation exposure due to the operation of the microwave relay network was hundreds of times greater than the fields emitted by the cell phone network, and by hand held cell phones held in immediate proximity to our heads. And the duration of that exposure, for millions of people every day, was many times longer than today's average cell phone use generates, even given the minimal continuting traffic cell phones in standby mode continue to generate, to maintain registration with the cell network.

The TD-2 receiver/transmitter link equipment originally deployed in the late 1950s, put out 2 to 5 watts of microwave power, but the energy was directed and focused into inter-city beams by high gain horn or parabolic type antennas, so that the effective radiated power from the antennas was generally equivalent to transmitters putting out hundreds or thousands of watts of power. And, each relay tower could, and generally did, contain many such microwave sources, and related antenna systems, to give multi-channel capability, for greater voice, TV, and later, data bandwidth.

And yet, in a society that discovered the public health problems of thalidomide, and tobacco, and DDT, and that measured radioactive fallout levels on small numbers of its population from nuclear weapons testing, and went to underground nuclear weapons testing as a result, all in the same periods as the microwave relay network was being built and operated, no correlation to any public health problem was noted, due to operation of the microwave network. I think it is just highly unlikely that even a minimal disease causation effect of microwave radiation on human beings would have long gone completely unnoticed, given the size of the population exposed, the duration of exposure, and the amplitude of the exposure for many that were exposed.

If you wanted to do so, I suppose you could still go back and design a retroactive epidemiological study of the effects of that network on public health, today. The routes and locations of the network links and downtown intercity node points are known, as are the startup dates, and shut down dates of operation, as traffic was moved to the fiber optic network constructed in the '90s. There is excellent engineering data still available on the fields generated by the network equipment. There is good public health data for cancer rates and related disease for most of the country, for the entire period of operation of that network. In fact, I would think that researchers wanting to make a serious case for the danger of microwave radiation on human populations would be jumping at the chance to do a study with that large a population exposure base, and duration, of high power microwave radiation.

And I think it is telling, because of scale and duration, if only as a weak negative association result, that a public health system attuned to tracking diseases like influenza, polio, and diphtheria, would have been oblivious to a sudden higher than normal incidence of birth defects, and other childhood disease co-incident with the turnup of that continent wide microwave network. Or that a sudden nationwide up surge in rates of adult cancer, or other disease presumably caused by operations of such a far flung network would have been ignored for decades. After all, hundreds of millions of people were exposed, in aggregate, many for tens of man years, through some of their most vulnerable developmental phases.

And yet, people were not suddenly dropping like flies, even by the hundreds, to say nothing of the thousands that could have been expected for a strong causation relationship of microwave energy to human disease. It just never happened in ways significant enough to generate even a blip of interest in the public health community of the time, or in the decades since.
posted by paulsc at 12:50 AM on September 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


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posted by ryanrs at 1:35 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


paulsc: The TD-2 receiver/transmitter link equipment originally deployed in the late 1950s, put out 2 to 5 watts of microwave power, but the energy was directed and focused into inter-city beams by high gain horn or parabolic type antennas, so that the effective radiated power from the antennas was generally equivalent to transmitters putting out hundreds or thousands of watts of power.

You are neglecting the high free space loss of microwave energy. Let's assume that your 5 watt transmitter antenna has a gain of 30 dB for 5000 watts. Let's also assume that the frequency is 4 GHz for a wavelength of 7.5 cm.

The free space loss is 22 dB in just the first wavelength, 7.5 cm. There is a reduction of an additional 6 dB for each doubling of distance. This means that at 6 meters, about 20 feet, the loss is 60 dB or a reduction of 1 millionth. So your microwave power is reduced to 5 milliwatts per square meter at a distance of just 20 feet. This is about one thousandth of the peak power of a cell phone held up to your head.

So sure there are lots of telecom transmitters around but people would only be exposed to microwatts unless they are standing within a few feet of the dish. How many people have spent much time within a few feet directly in front of a microwave parabolic transmission antenna? Cell phones held to the head are a 1000 times more powerful. So your example of telecom microwave systems tells us very little about the safety of cell phones.
posted by JackFlash at 3:01 AM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Seems like every time I write something quickly or in shorthand or assume the audience is not littered with hyena dip shits I get assaulted. Yes there is a substantial difference between ionizing and non ionizing radiation
The heating effect is not necessarily cumulative. But consider that your microwave operates at the same frequency as a wifi router abet at a lower power. It is about calories. You kids remember what a calorie is? Hang on I will ask my second grader. “The energy that it takes to heat one cubic centimeter of water (very clean water) one degree Celsius,” thanks Jack. Given that non ionizing radiation causes no proton shifts in field studies of hydrogen bridges of biopolymers you should be all squared away, and given the relatively low power of these radiation sources and distance your fat heads are from them the calorie accumulation (heating effect) should not be an issue. “Should be” and "there is no conclusive proof” is not an absolute. However the regulation for radiation surrounding emissions and exposures are substantially greater than anything known to cause harm (more or less).
But feel free to go on a roof top (by the way the government doesn’t recommend this) and stand two feet in front of a PCS antenna. When you have that metallic taste in your mouth it is the mercury in your fillings separating from the rest of the metal. Yummmm. Go read NCRP 67 and 86, then come back and we will have an adult discussion. WTF indeed. Till then I am busy working on my second graders fusion reactor in the basement.
posted by Mirror-Universe Optimus Chyme at 6:43 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the question we need to be asking right now is whether, if we talk about a conversation we saw on metafilter about radiation with our friends on the cell phone while we fry eggs, does the egg get cancer?
posted by saysthis at 7:53 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


JackFlash: The falloff of 6 dB per doubling of distance assumes isotropic transmission (1/r^2). Parabolic antennas do better than this.

parodux linked to an interesting experiment.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:20 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is one of the more fabulous nerd stand-offs I have ever witnessed. I am both increasingly educated and amused. Carry on....
posted by Go Banana at 8:34 AM on September 11, 2009


JackFlash: The falloff of 6 dB per doubling of distance assumes isotropic transmission (1/r^2). Parabolic antennas do better than this.

That is not correct. The power from a parabolic antenna still falls off at a 6dB rate, the same as an isotropic antenna. In the example I included the 30 dB gain of the parabolic antenna at the beginning. This boosts the effective power from 5 watts to 5000 watts. After that the calculation is the same. On the other end, at the parabolic receiver you again add an antenna gain of about 30 dB. But in between, its the same 6 dB rate of loss.

The bottom line is that at any reasonable distance from the commercial transmitter, a person is exposed to only microwatts. This is at least a thousand times weaker than what a cell phone user is exposed to.
posted by JackFlash at 10:27 AM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sorry, that italicized comment above was from fantabulous timewaster, not JackFlash.
posted by JackFlash at 10:29 AM on September 11, 2009



Eh, I don't know, if there were studies that honestly showed a beneficial effect of cell phone usage, why wouldn't corporate marketing be all over them, advertising the hell out of these, the same as is done with sugary cereals advertising their "heart healthy"-ness?


Okay, so where are the 20 studies that show no link between brain cancer and cellphones? Simply stating that it's theoretically possible the studies are wrong isn't really an argument.

Just to make sure this part of the discussion doesn't flag, here is a list of 32 review articles on the epidemiology of cell phone use and brain cancer. Also, note that this review of the reviews (helpfully titled "Brain tumor epidemiology: Consensus from the Brain Tumor Epidemiology Consortium") comes to the following conclusion:
Nonionizing radiation: Electromagnetic fields and radiofrequency cell phones

The association of exposure to nonionizing radiation, specifically exposures in the radiofrequency range (RF) or electromagnetic fields in the extremely-low-frequency range, and the development of primary BTs remains unresolved. Of particular interest is the questionable correlation between both gliomas and meningiomas and cellular phone use.[66] These exposures are ubiquitous, and recent research focuses principally on mobile phones, because these RF exposures occur near the head and brain. The possible influence of currently acceptable low-level RF exposures on carcinogenesis has been suggested by some studies and warrants further investigation.[67] While Although the relative rarity of primary BTs necessitates a case-control study design, these studies experience severe limitations with exposure assessment because of their reliance on personal recall of cases and controls of their RF exposures (ie, cell phone use). The INTERPHONE study, which was coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, included investigations from 13 European Union countries using a common protocol for the inclusion of cases and controls and for data collection using the same questionnaire.[68][69] Between 2000 and 2003, the study recruited 2708 patients with gliomas, 2409 patients with meningiomas, and 1000 patients with acoustic neuroma and their respective population-based controls. Several country-specific results from those studies have been published.[70-74] These results, which overall do not identify increased risks for malignant or nonmalignant tumors in most studies, suggest in some studies a nonsignificant increase in the risk associated with longer duration of use or longer follow-up. Publication of the combined results on cell phone use related to the risk for these tumors, ie, the INTERPHONE study, will be forthcoming. In the same vein as the INTERPHONE study, a study is being established to examine the synergistic effect between chemicals and metals and electromagnetic fields.
So, I don't know, if you want to get all scared about it, please feel free. If you want to wait to see if any conclusive data ever get produced, you can choose to do that. In any event, your beliefs either for or against the association is not supported by the literature. The effect if there is one at this point is too small to reliably detect. If larger, longer-term effects are real, you will have to wait to see them. But please, please, don't mischaracterize the scientific literature as supporting your position if it is other than agnostic, because it don't.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:34 PM on September 11, 2009


Actually, while we do know that some frequencies in use at the right amplitude have "some" effect on the human body, there is actually no conclusive and clear evidence thus far on the form and extent of that effect.

If you get your amateur radio license in some countries, you have to know things like "generally recognized safe use" of devices that emit radio-frequency radiation, even at low power. These are guidelines that are adopted based on the (at the time) current research on the safety of licensed and unlicensed devices that emit radio-frequency radiation.

So, for example, it is recommended that you keep such devices away from parts of the body with a lot of water in it. Therefore, it is recommended to keep even small-watt stuff away from your eyes when it is transmitting. This recommendation is based on the small amount of empirical evidence that we have on this stuff.

So, yeah. This link is pretty much tin-foil hat territory, but we know that even low power "non-ionized" energy is not completely harmless. Allowing for inverse-square law and varying power based on frequency, we probably don't need to throw the radio out with the bathwater quite yet.

(As an aside, that "ionized radiation only" argument need to be revisited. Remember that "RadarRanges" were created as a result of observations made with effect on tissue and foodstuffs with non-ionized microwave energy in the frequencies now used by some radio equipment! The key, of course, is primarily amplitude, which is why high-watt antenna arrays usually come with a Big Red Switch to help guarantee someone won't try to call home while you are standing right beside the transmitting elements.)

But prudence suggests those of you who like to yak for hours on mobiles should probably consider getting a (wired!) headset.
posted by clvrmnky at 1:51 PM on September 11, 2009


clvrmnky: "consider getting a (wired!) headset"

Don't phones use the the headset as an external antenna? Or is that an urban legend?
posted by idiopath at 2:18 PM on September 11, 2009


idiopath: Don't phones use the the headset as an external antenna? Or is that an urban legend?

Phones do not use the headset as an external antenna. Some portable headphone radios use the headphone cable as an antenna to receive AM radio signals, but that is for a receiver, not a transmitter.
posted by JackFlash at 2:59 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


BTW, eyes aren't especially susceptible because they contain lots of water (all of your organs have lots of water). Rather, RF heating is dangerous to eyes because:
1) Lack of nerves sensitive to heat, so you don't realize what's happening.
2) Lack of blood flow to carry away heat.
3) Eyes are on the surface, not buried in your abdomen.

While (1) is applicable to most of your important organs, reasons (2) and (3) are specific to eyes. Eyes are also pretty delicate and you'd miss them if they were damaged.
posted by ryanrs at 3:46 PM on September 11, 2009


So where's my Nokia 6010? Shenanigans!!!
posted by mrgrimm at 3:50 PM on September 11, 2009


I have it on good authority that the same uncontrolled fusion reaction that causes cancer in so many, also causes heatstroke in thousands per year.


There are allegations that it was responsible for Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast as well.
posted by Megafly at 6:54 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Radios, including cell phones, emit nonionizing radiation, which is absorbed in the body as heat. X-rays and nuclear processes emit ionizing radiation, which produces free electrical charge in your body and interferes with its chemistry. If you're afraid of your cell phone, you'd better keep your lights off, too.

Don't spread this junk.


Why does this comment have 75 favorites? This kind of knee-jerk response is the junk, and not the EWG's rather innocuous and science-based caution.

EWG is worried about cell phone radiation because of a number of studies that show a link with cancer. They specifically state that the science is not definitive, but that they think it prudent to find out the level of radiation and reduce exposure until the science is clearer. MetaFilter's response? Tinfoil hat accusations, science-y explanations of how a link isn't possible, and other dismissals.

Is it really skepticism if anything with which one doesn't already agree gets labeled as bogus?
posted by parudox at 10:52 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


EWG is worried about cell phone radiation because of a number of studies that show a link with cancer.

If you were to worry about every risk factor that had a study showing link to cancer, you wouldn't get up in the morning. If you don't believe me, peruse it some time.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:05 PM on September 11, 2009


Microwave radiation can alter protein conformation without bulk heating. Good enough?

You shouldn't help these people. They won't appreciate it and I prefer to watch idiots wallow in their own ignorance.
posted by peppito at 11:15 PM on September 11, 2009


If you were to worry about every risk factor that had a study showing link to cancer, you wouldn't get up in the morning.

Looking at the EWG's overview, the studies cited show cell phone use increasing the chances of several kinds of cancers by 50% or more. That might not be huge in the greater scheme of things, but it's nothing to sneeze at.
posted by parudox at 11:32 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Radios, including cell phones, emit nonionizing radiation, which is absorbed in the body as heat. X-rays and nuclear processes emit ionizing radiation, which produces free electrical charge in your body and interferes with its chemistry. If you're afraid of your cell phone, you'd better keep your lights off, too.

Don't spread this junk.

Why does this comment have 75 favorites? This kind of knee-jerk response is the junk, and not the EWG's rather innocuous and science-based caution.

EWG is worried about cell phone radiation because of a number of studies that show a link with cancer. They specifically state that the science is not definitive, but that they think it prudent to find out the level of radiation and reduce exposure until the science is clearer. MetaFilter's response? Tinfoil hat accusations, science-y explanations of how a link isn't possible, and other dismissals.

Is it really skepticism if anything with which one doesn't already agree gets labeled as bogus?


I understand completely. Seems we've had a barrage of cranks, crackpots and misguided onlookers traipse through here with an occasional smattering of actual discussion by people with more expertise in meta-analysis than biology or engineering. This is probably why this discussion rarely makes it to these sorts of webpages, you need to know what it is you're talking about in order to even address this issue. It's why science isn't done by consensus.
posted by peppito at 10:16 AM on September 12, 2009


You know, your attitude is really bugging me, peppito. Here's a recap of our conversation:
ryanrs: An imperceptible amount of heat is not going to damage your body

peppito to ryanrs: When a molecule absorbs non-thermal energy, say a protein absorbing a radio wave, it is possible that it can use that energy to fold or react in the wrong way

ryanrs to peppito: Non-ionizing radiation causes effects beyond thermal heating? I encourage you to cite a source.

peppito: [various jokes, distractions, and general unhelpfulness]

parudox to ryanrs: Microwave radiation can alter protein conformation without bulk heating. Good enough?

ryanrs to parudox: YES!

peppito to parudox: You shouldn't help these people.
So not only did you refuse to discuss your claims in any meaningful way, you admonished another user when he did so in your stead! It's as if you would rather butt heads than persuade others to your point of view. That's not a very good way to discuss a topic that clearly has you concerned.

peppito: I prefer to watch idiots wallow in their own ignorance.

Oh, I see. According to my internet rule book, that makes you a troll. But I don't think you are a troll—not in the traditional sense, anyway. I think you simply haven't the interest or patience to discuss this topic. Any conversation about the health effects of cell phones is going to have a lot of disagreement because the science itself remains inconclusive. But when you enter the thread convinced the opposition is not receptive to logic or evidence, you forfeit the opportunity to engage with those who are. By refusing to present evidence for your assertions, you steer the dialog from a discussion fact to a discussion of opinion. It is no wonder then that the thread becomes "a barrage of cranks, crackpots and misguided onlookers."


peppito: Science isn't done by consensus.

It absolutely is. Scientists live to publish and measure their success in citations. The purpose of science, as a human endeavor, is the dissemination of knowledge. Bear that in mind next time this topic appears on the blue.
posted by ryanrs at 4:15 AM on September 13, 2009


Hey peppito please give up your cell phone and wireless router and computer and electricity and sunlight and move to a yurt in the deepest caves of outer Mongolia so that the light shall never touch you thanks in advance
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:20 AM on September 13, 2009


Uh huh. You missed the whole point of what just happened to you, and what I just said: "You need to know what it is you're talking about in order to even address this issue."

You're right in one sense, I don't have time to teach a course on metafilter about this topic, nor do most people who know what they're talking about. So the vacuum gets filled by ignorance, industry cheerleaders and obviously unpopular comments about not throwing caution to the wind. But so it goes, this is Matt's problem, not mine.

Hey peppito please give up your cell phone and wireless router and computer and electricity and sunlight and move to a yurt in the deepest caves of outer Mongolia so that the light shall never touch you thanks in advance


See what I mean?
posted by peppito at 11:16 AM on September 13, 2009


Peppito, the reason I'm so casually dismissive of you is because like MapGuy before you, who made crazy claims that a transmitting cell phone can hardboil an egg, you just started tossing shit at the walls to see what sticks. But considering that cell phones have been used by huge numbers of people, in huge doses, for years and years and years, there's just no evidence to support whatever claim it is you're making now.

You don't even have a hypothesis at this point other than "cell phones are dangerous in some way I refuse to pin down, using an as yet unknown physical mechanism." Sorry if the rest of us are so gauche as to find that hilarious and sad.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:41 AM on September 14, 2009


What's dangerous is your cellphone. I'm not touching that thing. I know you've been playing games and surfing the web on that nasty little germ pad while you're in the toilet stall next to me in the office restroom. I hear that clicking and scrolling. You're trying to be subtle about it, but it's like a marching band. Poop hands phone cretin!
posted by Burhanistan at 6:48 AM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, this conversation highlights why it is so hard to get anything done that is science-based. You have people who are "OMG proteins can fold differently when exposed to the environment and about 40% of studies show an association of cell phones with brain cancer! Let's ban cell phones!" and others who are "What harm could a cell phone do? There is no evidence they can do any harm. LOL some people." And then there are folks who are curious about what evidence does and doesn't exist and weigh their beliefs against this evidence. Unfortunately, the first two groups are the loudest and most obnoxious, so the third group is stuck waiting out their flame wars and nitpicking to get something useful done (like more studies, e.g.).

If everyone were familiar with the broad epidemiologic and biological literature enough to see how issues like this evolve over time, sometimes ending up in showing real threats, but more often ultimately showing the resiliency of the ecosystem and the human body, they might be able to take a more philosophical stance, either by waiting for the evidence to come in or to take an active part in assuring that the evidence is generated in a timely manner. Either is preferable to pretending to know the answer before it can possible be known.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:48 AM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and lest you be overly impressed with the reference parudox gave, be sure to examine the literature that follows from it. Not quite a clear-cut as one would imagine from the single reference.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:56 AM on September 14, 2009


who made crazy claims that a transmitting cell phone can hardboil an egg, you just started tossing shit at the walls to see what sticks.

Ughk, you're just some disgusting nutjob blatantly misrepresenting what I said and who I am. I casually dismiss you and others like you too.

Though the egg video was a beautifully sophisticated example of another straw man argument.

"OMG proteins can fold differently when exposed to the environment and about 40% of studies show an association of cell phones with brain cancer! Let's ban cell phones!" and others who are "What harm could a cell phone do? There is no evidence they can do any harm. LOL some people." And then there are folks who are curious about what evidence does and doesn't exist and weigh their beliefs against this evidence. Unfortunately, the first two groups are the loudest and most obnoxious, so the third group is stuck waiting out their flame wars and nitpicking to get something useful done (like more studies, e.g.).

Sorry, no, that's false balance. Moreover, you're putting words in my and other actual skeptics mouths (with exclamation points too! How quaint!), while mis-quoting and framing the "know-nothings" around here as the "rational skeptics" (using prudent rational punctuation, of course) to set a tone that there is equal "craziness and irrationality" on both sides represented in this particular discussion, while the "craziness and irrationality" here has been coming solely from the "know-nothings" via their vicious ignorance and straw men arguments. Your statement comes off as a little biased.

From my point of view, taking into account the history of 5 to 10 watt hand held radios, there is concern whether a 0.5 to 3 watt device, operated over a long period of time and used near the body is absolutely safe over a long period of time within a measure that would be less than or equal to the background risk associated with other risks in life, because there is published scientific evidence (in vitro and in vivo) that demonstrates it isn't, therefore it may not be. I'm sorry, but that's truly the case.

Beyond this, I do believe the lack of ANY warning to the general public incorrectly suggests that there are no possible health problems that could arise from the use of these devices, when the truthful, scientific, non-panicky answer is "We don't know, there is definitely hard evidence to suggest it is not safe, there is definitely hard evidence to suggest it is, we're not sure." So then you'd think the prudent thing to do would be to err on the side of caution, to suggest cautious usage practices (especially when it comes to children/babies who would be most at risk) or restricting their product lines to low SAR cell phones only, but that's not what's happening.

Because do we most often hear this? Cell Phone Caution

Or this? "If you're afraid of your cell phone, you'd better keep your lights off, too."

I suggest we hear the latter more often. This doesn't mean it's more truthful or well-resaerched and thought out a statement, just more common, and yes, let's face it (cui bono?), benefits the cell phone producers financially as well. In fact, the grayer this issue, the better for them.

But I agree with you on one thing: yes, more evidence is a good thing.

Not quite a clear-cut as one would imagine from the single reference.

You know, there are a lot references on that subject, not just that one. I'm not gong to debate studies here, nor I doubt would any other reputable person, I don't think this the place for it.
posted by peppito at 5:10 PM on September 14, 2009


Also this:

Source of funding and results of studies of health effects of mobile phone use: systematic review of experimental studies:

"CONCLUSIONS: The interpretation of results from studies of health effects of radiofrequency radiation should take sponsorship into account."
posted by peppito at 7:03 PM on September 14, 2009


Also this:

Source of funding and results of studies of health effects of mobile phone use: systematic review of experimental studies:


This paper illustrates just what a hodge-podge of outcomes are being looked at by the various studies. This means that very little corroboration of results has been done.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:22 AM on September 15, 2009



Also this:

Source of funding and results of studies of health effects of mobile phone use: systematic review of experimental studies:


"We examined the methodologic quality and results of experimental studies investigating the effects of the type of radiofrequency radiation emitted by handheld cellular telephones. We hypothesized that studies would be less likely to show an effect of the exposure if funded by the telecommunications industry, which has a vested interest in portraying the use of mobile phones as safe. We found that the studies funded exclusively by industry were indeed substantially less likely to report statistically significant effects on a range of end points that may be relevant to health. Our findings add to the existing evidence that single-source sponsorship is associated with outcomes that favor the sponsors’ products (Bekelman et al. 2003; Davidson 1986; Lexchin et al. 2003; Stelfox et al. 1998)."

"In multivariate logistic regression analysis, the only factor that strongly predicted the reporting of statistically significant effects was whether or not the study was funded exclusively by industry."
posted by peppito at 4:13 PM on September 15, 2009


I know this is kinda resurrecting an old thread - but this has some relevance.
posted by Nauip at 3:58 PM on September 17, 2009


Relevance and bees.
posted by Pronoiac at 10:56 AM on September 18, 2009


"The problem: The FCC's standards were set 17 years ago, when cellphones and usage patterns were much different, said Devra Lee Davis, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology of the Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh.

The FCC's standards are based on the effects of cellphone radiation on a "200-pound man with an 11-pound head" who talks for just six minutes a day, she told the committee."

USA Today: Experts urge more study of cellphone radiation, especially on kids


Ask Metafilter: Are cell phones dangerous to babies?

"Your phone is not a danger to your baby. Carry on.
posted by padraigin at 10:30 PM on July 24 [2 favorites +] [!] "
posted by peppito at 3:12 AM on September 19, 2009


USA Today: Experts urge more study of cellphone radiation, especially on kids

Yes, "do more study", not "OMGZ, zeez cellophones killz babby!"
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:09 PM on September 22, 2009



USA Today: Experts urge more study of cellphone radiation, especially on kids

Yes, "do more study", not "OMGZ, zeez cellophones killz babby!"


Uh huh, 'cus that's exactly what they're saying:

"Scientists to date have not been able to establish a hard link between cellphone radiation and cancer. But that doesn't mean that wireless devices aren't harmful, Dariusz Leszczynski, a radiation expert at the University of Helsinki, told the subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services.

To say that cellphones are "safe is premature," he said.

Recent studies have suggested that people who use cellphones for 10 years or more are most at risk, Siegal Sadetzki, director of the cancer and radiation epidemiology unit of the Gertner Institute in Israel, told the committee. Cellphones have become commonplace only in the past decade or so."

Tsk tsk, those 10 year studies. Hopefully the industry will get around to buying the results it needs to contradict their own results.
posted by peppito at 6:25 PM on September 22, 2009


Recent studies have suggested that people who use cellphones for 10 years or more are most at risk

Seriously, peppito, you strike me as someone who is earnestly concerned about this topic. If you are sincerely concerned and want to be truly informed and not just jumping on the data that support your preconceived notions, I urge you to read the scientific literature, all of it, so you can see why it is that scientists use language like "suggest" when talking about these studies and you can also see that the literature, the whole breadth of it, doesn't support your certainty by a long shot. You can start with the list of reviews I posted earlier, and work your way back through the literature they are based on. Similarly do a PubMed search on the laboratory research. I think you will find that you have been cherry-picking studies that agree with you and ignoring the remainder.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:55 PM on September 24, 2009


There seem to have been three camps here:

1. There's nothing to worry about.
2. It's not worth worrying about.
3. It might be something to worry about.

The third camp is as far as anyone in this thread has gone, including peppito. Certainty? The only certainty is in the first camp.

Does anyone read the posts down here?
posted by parudox at 8:40 AM on September 25, 2009


peppito: I personally use cell phones as infrequently as possible and don't carry one in my pocket.

I think this says "Cellphones are something to worry about," but others may disagree.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:38 AM on September 25, 2009


Does anyone read the posts down here?

I think just me and you and the other guy by now. And maybe a PR firm/think tank or two.

Seriously, peppito, you strike me as someone who is earnestly concerned about this topic.

Thanks, I guess.

If you are sincerely concerned and want to be truly informed and not just jumping on the data that support your preconceived notions, I urge you to read the scientific literature, all of it, so you can see why it is that scientists use language like "suggest" when talking about these studies and you can also see that the literature, the whole breadth of it, doesn't support your certainty by a long shot.


Without getting into the thick of it, I think this is what you're really suggesting we do, first when you say "breadth," we'd have to question a lot of what's printed in the literature (especially articles from the US, especially early on when only a few major corporations were the only ones even interested in this subject) because they were indeed affected by sponsorship (the journals, the authors, the design of the studies, the path to publication) and certainly still are to this day, the staunchest critics left are still the paid critics. To include too much of it would be biasing the results. And recent techniques and discoveries in biological sciences have made studies more accurate, faster and therefore better anyway. Then you want us to do this:

1. I show you recent, ubiased, repeatable in vitro evidence of low power RF effects on biological systems.
2. You scoff and say that can't be truly extrapolated to effects on people without epidemiological studies.
3. I show you recent, unbiased epidemiological studies showing an effect on people after 5-10+ years of heavy cell phone usage.
4. You claim "recall bias," which you can't really prove.
5. Repeat steps 1-5.

No thanks.

I think you will find that you have been cherry-picking studies that agree with you and ignoring the remainder.

Well that's really your problem: You're dismissing ALL the evidence that doesn't agree with you as cherry picked caveats, while more enlightened people such as myself (or the unbiased people who testified before Congress) see them as clues to what's actually happening.
posted by peppito at 4:50 PM on September 25, 2009


Completely ignoring the content of this discussion, and the issue of who is right or wrong:

You may want to avoid saying "more enlightened people like myself" while engaged in a heated debate.
posted by idiopath at 5:20 PM on September 25, 2009


Completely ignoring the content of this discussion, and the issue of who is right or wrong:

You may want to avoid saying "more enlightened people like myself" while engaged in a heated debate.


You're right, I take that smarmy phrase back.
posted by peppito at 6:26 PM on September 25, 2009


You're dismissing ALL the evidence that doesn't agree with you as cherry picked caveats

Which ones don't agree with me? I don't believe that individual studies can agree or disagree with me. My position is that the sum of the literature gives little consistency.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:56 AM on September 26, 2009


You're dismissing ALL the evidence that doesn't agree with you as cherry picked caveats

Which ones don't agree with me? I don't believe that individual studies can agree or disagree with me. My position is that the sum of the literature gives little consistency.


Huh. You must mean the epidemiological studies, not the in vitro studies then.

Now, is this a meta-analysis that doesn't take sponsorship (or industry connections), a latency period (with end points less than 8 to 10 years), real-time industry cell phone usage data (so you can still claim "recall bias"), laterality (or incorrectly accounts for it), the exclusion of heavy users (corporate or teen users) into account that gives you little consistency?
posted by peppito at 10:54 PM on September 26, 2009


For layman who wish to read more about this (from microwave news):
• "Researchers Push for New Cell Phone Safety Standards" (CNET)

• "Cell Phones: Feds Probing Health Impacts" and
"Cell Phones: Precautions Recommended" (Science News);

• "U.S. Senator Promises Look into Cellphone-Cancer Link" (Reuters);

• "Is Your Cell Phone Melting Your Brain? Not Yet" (PC Magazine);

• "Experts Urge More Study of Cellphone Radiation, Especially on Kids" (USA Today);

• "Scientists Call on U.S Senate To Issue Advice on Mobile Phones" (U.K. Telegraph);

• "Cancer Risk of Cell Phones Debated" (Detroit News);

• "Mixed Verdict on Mobile Phones as Cancer Cause" (Voice of America);

• "Cell Phone Radiation Risks: Why the Jury's Still Out" (Time);

• "Is Cell-Phone Safety Assured? Or Merely Ignored?" (BusinessWeek);

• "More Research on Cell Phone Safety Needed, Experts Say" (American Cancer Society)

Going back and reading this whole page makes me wonder if topic like this should even be breached this way. There is just too much loud-mouthed ignorance, and very little informed discussion occurring, it gives a false public impression of the actual state of things and only serves to confuse and misdirect people who are not informed.
posted by peppito at 3:39 PM on September 27, 2009


You're coming off as extremely ax-grindy, peppito, if that explains anything about this discussion to you.
posted by Pronoiac at 3:58 PM on September 27, 2009


businessweek has the hard-hitting science i'm looking for thanks
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:05 PM on September 27, 2009


Is it legal to go around kicking people who always wear their bluetooth earpieces in the head yet?
posted by Burhanistan at 4:08 PM on September 27, 2009


You're coming off as extremely ax-grindy, peppito, if that explains anything about this discussion to you.

You're right, I shouldn't care so much. I just can't stand stupidity though, it's entertaining but (ughk) it grates my conscience.
posted by peppito at 6:37 PM on September 27, 2009


Does anyone read the posts down here?

I think just me and you and the other guy by now. And maybe a PR firm/think tank or two.


Heh. You've both been keeping this post near the top of my "Recent Activity" page for the last few days. So yes, other people are reading. Well, I am at least.

I'm sure the fact that I work for a PR firm is just a coincidence. ;)
posted by zarq at 11:27 PM on September 27, 2009


From peppito's Cancer Risk of Cell Phones Debated" (Detroit News);" link:
"There is more smoke than fire here," said Dr. Michael Thun, vice president emeritus of epidemiology and surveillance research for the American Cancer Society. "The radio frequency that comes from a cell phone is half way between a microwave oven and an FM radio. It's non-ionizing radiation, which doesn't change DNA and lead to cancer, and there has been no increase in brain cancer."
Now, maybe the American Cancer Society is biased toward cell phone manufacturers. Or maybe they just don't care about cancer. But they seem a little less certain than might be indicated by some posters here.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:33 AM on September 28, 2009


From peppito's Cancer Risk of Cell Phones Debated" (Detroit News);" link:

"There is more smoke than fire here," said Dr. Michael Thun, vice president emeritus of epidemiology and surveillance research for the American Cancer Society. "The radio frequency that comes from a cell phone is half way between a microwave oven and an FM radio. It's non-ionizing radiation, which doesn't change DNA and lead to cancer, and there has been no increase in brain cancer."

Now, maybe the American Cancer Society is biased toward cell phone manufacturers. Or maybe they just don't care about cancer. But they seem a little less certain than might be indicated by some posters here.


Well my opinion of the American Cancer Society isn't really important, except to say it's unbelievable that a "non-profit" pays a CEO over a million dollars a year. People seem fairly angry with them though about their ineffectiveness and siding with corporate fundraisers (especially about their flaking out on the Clean Air Act), so I'm not sure you'd want to totally rely on their reputation to make your point.

Can you please elaborate on your meta-analysis that comes to the conclusion that there is little consistency on human epidemiological studies?

Are you aware of the studies/results on acoustic carcinoma and cell phone usage?
posted by peppito at 12:47 PM on September 28, 2009


acoustic carcinoma

Sorry was distracted, I meant acoustic neuroma.
posted by peppito at 2:13 PM on September 28, 2009


Can you please elaborate on your meta-analysis that comes to the conclusion that there is little consistency on human epidemiological studies?

Well, assuming you're asking in good faith, I will repeat some of what I have linked to previously in this thread. It isn't just the epidemiologic literature, it's the laboratory research as well. The follow-on literature to the study parudox linked to that found deformations in proteins does not consistently support its finding. And even if one finds consistent molecular-level changes it does not lead directly to the conclusion that harm is being done. Every external stimulus causes molecular changes, or else we couldn't perceive them. There has to be some evidence that those changes lead to pathology.

I also gave review articles that summarize the epidemiologic and medical literature (some other garbage in there as well; please ignore) and, if you read the abstracts, you can see they are nowhere near consistent. I did give the consensus conclusions of a group focused on the topic previously, and I think it is a balanced opinion.

Of course, there are some that conclude that an association is there for some conditions, including acoustic neuroma, but even most of those express a good deal of uncertainty and caution. The meta-analysis you linked to regarding bias by funding very nicely illustrates what we call publication bias, wherein a finding favorable to the researcher or to the funder is more likely to be submitted for publication than one not. But it also painfully illustrated the fact that the studies themselves varied in what endpoint they were looking at, another problem with much of the literature, in that one study may find an effect on a particular measure, but others cannot replicate it, e.g.:
Title Effects of exposure to DAMPS and GSM signals on ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) activity: II. SH-SY5Y human neuroblastoma cells.
Abstract PURPOSE: An increase in Ornithine Decarboxylase (ODC) activity was reported in L929 murine fibroblast cells after exposure to a digital cellular telephone signal. This result was not confirmed by several other studies, including the one reported in a companion paper. As a partner in the Perform-B programme, we extended this study to human neuroblastoma cells (SH-SY5Y), using well-defined waveguide systems to imitate exposure to radiofrequency radiation (RFR): Digital Advanced Mobile Phone System (DAMPS) or Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) signals emitted by mobile phones. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Human neuroblastoma cells (SH-SY5Y) were exposed at various Specific Absorption Rates (SAR) to DAMPS or GSM signals using different set-ups. Cell ODC activities were assayed using 14CO2 generation from 14C-labeled L-ornithine. RESULTS: SH-SY5Y cells were incubated for 20 hours, and were blindly exposed to 50 Hz-modulated DAMPS-835 or 217 Hz-modulated GSM-1800 for 8 or 24 h using Information Technologies in Society (IT'IS) waveguides equipped with fans. After cell lysis, ODC activity was determined using 14C-labeled L-ornithine. ODC activity was estimated by the 14CO2 generated from 14C-labeled L-ornithine, as generated d.p.m. 14CO2/h/mg protein. The results showed that, irrespective of the signal used (835 MHz/DAMPS, or 1800 MHz/GSM) and exposure conditions (duration and SAR), human SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells did not exhibit any alteration in ODC enzyme activity. CONCLUSION: This work did not show a significant effect of mobile phone RFR exposure on ODC activity in neuroblastoma cells (SH-SY5Y).
So my impression overall, looking at both the laboratory studies and the epidemiological research, is that there is no clear evidence of a harmful effect of cell phone usage. But by all means, it should continue to be researched. It is useful to note the conclusion of one of the reviews:
Electrical power and mobile communications deliver enormous benefit to society, but there are concerns whether the electric and magnetic field (EMF) emissions associated with the delivery of this benefit are linked to cancer or other health hazards. This article reviews the strength of the available epidemiological and laboratory evidence and notes that this falls short of what is normally required to establish a causal link. However, because of scientific uncertainty a cautious approach is often advocated, but here, too, there may be a tendency to judge these risks more harshly than those in other areas with similar strength of evidence.
You may choose to continue to be concerned about it, and since proving that something is NOT associated with something else is impossible without an infinite sample size, you should have ample opportunity. On the other hand, if it turns out that longer-term exposure is harmful to a measurable degree, carefully done epidemiological research will reveal that. It's also good to remember exactly what the risks and trends for brain cancer are. In the US, the age-adjusted incidence rate was 6.4 per 100,000 men and women per year in 2006. I've chosen to focus on larger and more established risks and how they might be minimized, myself. It's my public health instinct.


posted by Mental Wimp at 4:28 PM on September 28, 2009


The follow-on literature to the study parudox linked to that found deformations in proteins does not consistently support its finding......I also gave review articles that summarize the epidemiologic and medical literature (some other garbage in there as well; please ignore) and, if you read the abstracts, you can see they are nowhere near consistent.

There is a problem with your use of the word "consistency" in this context. Specifically, you're being disingenuous about what defines it. When one paper disagrees with the findings of another, you may argue that there is "not much consistency" and get away with it. But if a few, very thorough papers come to the conclusion that there is, say a link/association between cell phone usage and acoustic neuroma, while there are a few papers that are industry funded on the same subject which find no link/association, is it still accurate to say that there is "little consistency"? It's not, it's disingenuous, and that's exactly what's happening here (according to Source of funding and results of studies of health effects of mobile phone use: systematic review of experimental studies as well as some of the papers which cite it).

And that is also what seems to be happening with some of the reviews/meta-analyses you've referred to. There is inconsistency, yes, but it's inconsistency that's due to selective inclusion/exclusion of heterogeneities (such as in the question I posed here) among the studies (studies which may be flawed to begin with). In fact, one of those reviews, among that list of reviews, even comes to a conclusion based on the realization of this effect:
Cell phones and brain tumors: a review including the long-term epidemiologic data.
Khurana VG, Teo C, Kundi M, Hardell L, Carlberg M.

BACKGROUND: The debate regarding the health effects of low-intensity electromagnetic radiation from sources such as power lines, base stations, and cell phones has recently been reignited. In the present review, the authors attempt to address the following question: is there epidemiologic evidence for an association between long-term cell phone usage and the risk of developing a brain tumor? Included with this meta-analysis of the long-term epidemiologic data are a brief overview of cell phone technology and discussion of laboratory data, biological mechanisms, and brain tumor incidence. METHODS: In order to be included in the present meta-analysis, studies were required to have met all of the following criteria: (i) publication in a peer-reviewed journal; (ii) inclusion of participants using cell phones for > or = 10 years (ie, minimum 10-year "latency"); and (iii) incorporation of a "laterality" analysis of long-term users (ie, analysis of the side of the brain tumor relative to the side of the head preferred for cell phone usage). This is a meta-analysis incorporating all 11 long-term epidemiologic studies in this field. RESULTS: The results indicate that using a cell phone for > or = 10 years approximately doubles the risk of being diagnosed with a brain tumor on the same ("ipsilateral") side of the head as that preferred for cell phone use. The data achieve statistical significance for glioma and acoustic neuroma but not for meningioma. CONCLUSION: The authors conclude that there is adequate epidemiologic evidence to suggest a link between prolonged cell phone usage and the development of an ipsilateral brain tumor.
This is one of the features/flaws of meta-analysis. Which is why I doubt so much of what you are saying, whether you are conscience of the flaws or not.

The meta-analysis you linked to regarding bias by funding very nicely illustrates what we call publication bias, wherein a finding favorable to the researcher or to the funder is more likely to be submitted for publication than one not.

Yes, and this is a huge problem in the pharmaceutical industry. Which is why it wouldn't shock me at all to find out that there is more publication bias and other wrongdoing in this field that hasn't been exposed yet. Of course, I speculate here, but there certainly is precedent, precendent, precedent, precedent in similarly high profit fields.

It's industry's persistent theme: Lie a little, profit a lot.

On the other hand, if it turns out that longer-term exposure is harmful to a measurable degree, carefully done epidemiological research will reveal that.

Maybe it will, maybe it won't, if the problems with the INTERPHONE study and its authors are any indication - I think it's just as equally possible the first red flag could be an "epidemic" of acoustic neuroma considering the way this is going.

It's also good to remember exactly what the risks and trends for brain cancer are.

Perhaps the number of brain tumors is decreasing overall but the incidence of Glioblastoma Multiforme (and others of its type) is actually increasing according to the papers I've read, which isn't accounted for in the link you've posted. Try the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States.

As for the existence of specific and non-thermal microwave effects which you question the repeatability of, the jury is still out, but people seem to be using it to a certain degree already, and there are some phenomena that seem to be only explainable by it (see green fluorescent protein). These papers have held up to others' scrutiny so far:

Bohr, H. and J. Bohr, “Microwave-enhanced folding and denaturation of globular proteins,”
Phys. Rev. E, Vol. 61, 4310–4314, 2000.

Copty, A. B., Y. Neve-Oz, I. Barak, M. Golosovsky, and D. Davidov, “Evidence for a specific
microwave radiation effect on the green fluorescent protein,” Biophys. J., Vol. 91, 1413–1423,
2006.

George, D. F., M. M. Bilek, and D. R. McKenzie, “Non-thermal effects in the microwave
induced unfolding of proteins observed by chaperone binding,” Bioelectromagnetics, Vol. 29,
324–330, 2008

etc.

and if you find that interesting, you may be interested in this:

A case-control study of occupational magnetic field exposure and Alzheimer's disease: results from the California Alzheimer's Disease Diagnosis and Treatment Centers

If anyone else is also skeptical about the this topic in the same direction I am, you can read more here at BioInitiative Report: A Rationale for a Biologically-based Public Exposure Standard for Electromagnetic Fields (ELF and RF), Cellphones and Brain Tumors 15 Reasons for Concern Science, Spin and the Truth Behind Interphone August 25, 2009 (PDF).

I hope you're at least getting paid for all this writing work Mental Wimp, I'm not.
posted by peppito at 4:57 AM on September 29, 2009


late night mistakes...
conscience != conscious.
specific microwave effects do very much exist, e.g. superheating of a liquid.

and to sum up: I don't know whether cell phones cause cancer or any other ill effects, but I'm concerned and I'm going with the precautionary principle on this one.
posted by peppito at 9:40 AM on September 29, 2009


I hope you're at least getting paid for all this writing work Mental Wimp, I'm not.

Oh, would that I were! No, I'm a poor, starving academic. Being in public health, I look at a lot of studies of environmental exposures, especially epidemiologic investigations. Most are poorly done and often ignore many of the potential biases from such studies. I view almost all studies with skepticism, whether positive or negative. One thing I preach is sensitivity or uncertainty analyses to test the robustness of the finding against potential violations of the assumptions. As you see in the papers you've read, this step is mostly ignored in the literature, so you're left wondering to what extent the results are affected by potential systematic biases. I started off as a clinical trialist, because it's easy to eliminate a lot of bias by randomization. However, most things that make people sick cannot be studied ethically in this way, so we're stuck with observational studies. Since we can directly eliminate confounding we have to look at careful control of confounding through all means, whether selection bias, measurement error (like recall bias), or screening or other diagnostic biases. I have also done many laboratory and animal studies and so am familiar with the potential pitfalls not only of the studies themselves but of extrapolating to humans. Errors can occur both directions because rats are not humans, nor are dogs or monkeys or chimps. Although biologically many genes are conserved across species, they don't function in identical ways and can lead to big mistakes. I'm familiar with the broad literature and have seen issues like cell phone cancer risks come and go, often driven by litigation. If you want to see how that plays out in practice, review the breast implant and connective tissue disease literature and compare it to the popular press stories, or the Dalkon shield studies and the litigation. On the other hand, the smoking and lung cancer or asbestos and lung cancer findings are strong consistent and correct. Other occupational and environmental exposures are still under study, but most turn out to be negative. The human body is remarkably resistant to most low-level environmental exposures and, in fact, there is an effect called "hormesis" by which low level exposures make one more resistant to higher level exposures.

In any event, I avidly await further science on this fascinating subject. Funding such science is vital to my career, so I go that going for me.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:22 PM on September 29, 2009


Since we can directly eliminate confounding we have to look at careful control of confounding through all means, whether selection bias, measurement error (like recall bias), or screening or other diagnostic biases.

What's "confounding" is that there are methods to eliminate much of this error, but have often been rebutted by the industries that actually do NOT want a clear answer whether their product or waste is causing the effect under investigation (e.g. cell phone companies denying access to cell phone records to independent studies investigating RF dosage vs. cancer risk links), because once the matter is settled then "action" occurs. Therefore they fund contradictory studies, act in bad faith, and fight the bad fight (sometimes on the internet through boutique PR firms).

I'm familiar with the broad literature and have seen issues like cell phone cancer risks come and go, often driven by litigation.

I'm fine with that. Sometimes that may be the only way to stimulate independent research on a specific topic.

On the other hand, the smoking and lung cancer or asbestos and lung cancer findings are strong consistent and correct.

Ugh, yes, but you are WAY oversimplifying the fight to get these risks regulated in the face of contradictory industry funded studies, politicians and other shenanigans. These were decades long battles in courts, legislatures, media etc.

The human body is remarkably resistant to most low-level environmental exposures and, in fact, there is an effect called "hormesis" by which low level exposures make one more resistant to higher level exposures.

Ugh, I assume you've read the Science Magazine and Nature articles linked on that wiki page, they pretty much tore that thesis apart years ago. Essentially, the industries that want "hormesis" to be true buy the results that give them "hormesis," and use the results in dishonest ways.


In any event, I avidly await further science on this fascinating subject.


Hah, let's hope that research is honest, unbiased, correct and uncorrupted by funding sources.
posted by peppito at 11:44 PM on September 29, 2009


Ugh, yes, but you are WAY oversimplifying the fight to get these risks regulated in the face of contradictory industry funded studies, politicians and other shenanigans. These were decades long battles in courts, legislatures, media etc.

I didn't characterize the process at all. The literature was very clear on tobacco smoke and lung cancer from the mid-fifties on. It was, and is, the political efforts by the tobacco companies that prevent tobacco from being removed from the market place. There is no scientific controversy and hasn't been for half a century. That's a political funding problem: companies can buy politicians with campaign contributions and "lobbying." Asbestos and lung cancer came later, but the literature was pretty clear from the beginning, as well, and there is a lot of money being paid out for that health effect even as we speak (I've been on plaintiff's side on lawsuits).

Ugh, I assume you've read the Science Magazine and Nature articles linked on that wiki page, they pretty much tore that thesis apart years ago.

Actually, if you look at specific research on, e.g., heat-shock protein, there is ample evidence that up-regulation through mild exposuers protects against higher levels of heat. I think you're referring to the controversy regarding radiation hormesis, for which there is little laboratory or epidemiologic evidence.
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:59 AM on September 30, 2009


I didn't characterize the process at all. The literature was very clear on tobacco smoke and lung cancer from the mid-fifties on. It was, and is, the political efforts by the tobacco companies that prevent tobacco from being removed from the market place. There is no scientific controversy and hasn't been for half a century.

Decades long: "Grosse reviewed 100 years of autopsies in Dresden, Germany, and found that the incidence of lung cancer had gone from 0.3% in 1852 to 5.66% in 1952....Since there is a time lag of approximately 20 to 30 years between the onset of smoking and the development of lung cancer, the damage done was not immediately apparent. Doctors were surprised to see a sudden epidemic of lung cancer cases in the 1930s. They quickly discovered the association between smoking and lung cancer. Large statistical studies in England and the United States in the 1950s (Doll and Hill, Cutler) conclusively proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that cigarette smoking markedly increased the chances of developing lung cancer."

Also second hand smoking.

Actually, if you look at specific research on, e.g., heat-shock protein, there is ample evidence that up-regulation through mild exposuers protects against higher levels of heat. I think you're referring to the controversy regarding radiation hormesis, for which there is little laboratory or epidemiologic evidence.

No, I'm referring to the fact that there is more than one stress response by cells under stress and industry picks the one it wants to publicize - this is what the articles say.
posted by peppito at 12:25 PM on September 30, 2009


"They quickly discovered the association between smoking and lung cancer. Large statistical studies in England and the United States in the 1950s (Doll and Hill, Cutler) conclusively proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that cigarette smoking markedly increased the chances of developing lung cancer."

Even this is somewhat spurious. You'll love this (from "Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences" Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 59.3 (2004) 329-374) Lung Cancer, Chronic Disease Epidemiology, and Medicine, 1948-1964 Colin Talley, Howard I. Kushner, Claire E. Sterk *used for educational purposes only*):
Making the Case

One of the earliest epidemiological investigations of lung cancer was initiated in the late 1940s by Wynder and Graham.21 Their retrospective study included four groups of respondents. The first consisted of 605 male hospitalized patients diagnosed with epidermoid, undifferentiated and unclassified carcinomas. The second group included 100 hospitalized male lung cancer patients and 186 patients diagnosed with a chest disease. The third group involved 1,322 patients, without lung cancer, recruited from St. Louis hospitals. The final group consisted of eighty-three hospitalized patients who were interviewed by physicians in New York, Boston, and Hines, Illinois.

Data were collected using standardized format interviews about smoking behaviors.22 On completion of the interview, when available, the site of lesion, microscopic diagnosis, and Papanicolaou and etiological class were recorded. Respondents were clustered into six [End Page 337] categories: nonsmokers, light smokers (one to nine cigarettes per day for more than twenty years), moderately heavy smokers (ten to fifteen cigarettes per day for more than twenty years), heavy smokers (sixteen to twenty cigarettes per day for more than twenty years), excessive smokers (twenty-one to twenty-four cigarettes per day for more than twenty years), and chain smokers (thirty-five cigarettes or more per day for more than twenty years).

Among the men in the first group, all of whom had been diagnosed with lung cancer, 1.3 percent had no smoking history while 86.4 percent were either heavy (35.2 percent), excessive (30.9 percent), or chain (20.3 percent) smokers. In the second group, all of the lung cancer patients were smokers; 30 percent were excessive smokers, 23 percent were chain smokers.23 In the third group, men without cancer in the general hospital population, the percentage of nonsmokers was 14.6 percent higher than among the first two groups, but 54.7 percent were either heavy (35.6 percent), excessive (11.5 percent) or chain (7.6 percent) smokers. Of the eighty-three patients with lung cancer in group four, 86.4 percent were either heavy, excessive, or chain smokers.

Wynder and Graham believed they had demonstrated a definite association between smoking and the risk of lung cancer, which indicated that age was not as important a variable as smoking. They concluded that excessive and prolonged cigarette smoking seemed to be an important factor in the induction of lung cancer, and that lung cancer in nonsmokers was rare.24

In the late 1940s the New York State Department of Health's Bureau of Cancer Control in Albany and its Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo collaborated on an investigation of the causes of lung cancer. This study, published in 1950 by Morton L. Levin, Hyman Goldstein, and Paul R. Gerhardt, also supported a link between smokingand cancer. Since 1938, researchers at Roswell Park (a public [End Page 338] hospital specializing in cancer) had routinely recorded the smoking habits of patients admitted to the hospital before their diagnoses were known. The study was based on histories taken of 1,045 male patients with lung, lip, pharynx, esophagus, colon, or rectum cancer and a few patients with cancer at different sites. Levin, et al., chose 605 different male non-cancer patients for comparison because they had signs referable to the same sites, but that later proved not to be cancer. The data showed that 84.8 percent of the cancer patients smoked cigarettes, pipes, or cigars; but 77.8 percent of noncancer patients smoked similarly. When adjusted for age, the investigators found that cigarette smokers who smoked for twenty-five years had twice as many cases of lung cancer than pipe smokers, cigar smokers, or nonsmokers.25 They also showed that lip cancer was increased among pipe smokers and cigar smokers, but not cigarette smokers. Unlike Wynder and Graham, Levin and his colleagues did not report the relationship between amount smoked and the risk of lung cancer. Also, they did not describe how the case histories were taken or whether a standardized form was used. Moreover, Levin admitted that "the reliability of the quantitative aspects of smoking obtained by a history is of course highly variable."26

Contemporaneously, Hill and Doll initiated a study among patients admitted to the hospital for lung, stomach, colon, or rectum cancer. Eligible patients were identified by admitting clerks, house-physicians, the cancer registrar, and staff from radiotherapy departments. Those who were eligible and interested were interviewed using a questionnaire on their smoking habits. In addition, hospital patients without cancer, matched in terms of age and gender, were enrolled as controls. Between April 1948 and October 1949, 2,370 cases were identified and a final sample consisting of 1,732 cases was selected. Data collection involved face-to-face interviews on topics such as life-time smoking habits, ages started or stopped smoking, the amount smoked prior to admission, changes in their smoking history, most intense smoking habit, varying proportions of pipes and cigarettes smoked, and inhalation behavior. To classify as a smoker the subject must have smoked at least one cigarette a day for a year. [End Page 339]

The control group consisted of 709 general medical and surgical patients, matched except that they differed slightly with regard to their residence. Non-smokers were significantly (p<> ACS epidemiologist E. Cuyler Hammond and Surgeon General Leonard Scheele were dismissive of Wynder and Graham's retrospective study.30 Graham recalled that "Hammond told me that if he had anything to do with it, we would not get our grant from the American Cancer Society renewed. He went on to say also that he had no confidence in your results or in the answers to the questionnaire that Miss Croninger [Wynder and Graham's research assistant] was getting." Graham decided that he did not want to have any further dealings with the American Cancer Society. "I think the attitude of Hammond, which was supported by Cameron [Medical and Scientific Director of the ACS], was inexcusable and I feel somewhat sour on the whole [End Page 340] bunch."31 Wynder called Surgeon General Leonard Scheele to find out the reasons for the grant denial and asked him whether he had read Wynder and Graham's JAMA article.32 Wynder reported Scheele's reaction: "This article had not proved [sic] anything. He said the same correlation could be drawn to the intake of milk." Scheele added that "no kind of interviewing could get satisfactory results from patients." Moreover, he concluded: "since nothing had been proved [sic] there exists no reason why experimental work should be conducted along this line."33

Negative reactions to Wynder's data collection methods came from other cancer researchers. For instance, Dr. James W. Ellis, of the Bureau of Disease Control, State of California Department of Public Health, wrote to Graham "that if your conclusions are based upon statistics complied [sic] by Dr. Ernest Wynder, we very [sic] skeptical of their validity." According to Ellis, Wynder's investigations in the Bay Area and in Los Angeles was observed by "the leading men in those areas" and for a few days he was accompanied by one of Ellis's investigators. "The concensus [sic] of opinion," Ellis claimed, "was that Dr. Wynder was extremely biased in his approach, asked leading questions regarding smoking habits, and received directed answers. He was uninterested in other possible factors and ignored them. He impressed us as one who was trying to bolster a theory rather than make an objective survey."34

Despite these concerns, or because of them, other studies were initiated, some by Wynder's and Graham's critics. In order to overcome the methodological problems associated with retrospective studies, Doll and Hill in Britain and Hammond and Horn in the U.S. began conducting prospective studies in the early 1950s. As Doll and Hill wrote: "Further retrospective studies of that same kind would seem to us unlikely to advance our knowledge materially or to throw any new light upon the nature of the association. If, too, [End Page 341] there were any undetected flaw in the evidence that such studies have produced, it would be exposed only by some entirely new approach." Doll suggested that the next "approach we considered should be 'prospective.' It should determine the frequency with which the disease appeared, in the future, among groups of person whose smoking habits were already known."35

In summer and fall of 1951, Hammond and Daniel Horn of the ACS designed a standardized questionnaire to be used in a prospective study. Four pages long, it covered areas such as demographic characteristics and smoking history.36 To conduct the interviews Hammond and Horn recruited and trained approximately 22,000 volunteers from 394 counties in nine states to collect the data. Each trained volunteer received a packet containing eleven questionnaires and was asked to recruit five to ten white men between fifty and sixty-nine years of age whom they could track for several years. Initial enrollment began in January 1952, and the follow-up began on 1 November 1952. Death certificates from the state health departments were checked if a subject could not be reached. If cancer was indicated as a cause of death, efforts were made to gather further details from the physician listed on the death certificate and from the hospital, tumor clinic, or cancer registry records when available. The second follow-up began on 1 November 1953 and included 190,134 men, 4,854 (2.6 percent) of whom had died.37

For purposes of analysis, the sample was divided into three categories: never smoked, occasionally only, and regular smokers. Within [End Page 342] each of the categories, age groups were constructed. The findings showed that regular smokers had a significantly higher mortality rate than men who never smoked across all age groups (p<>The association appeared causative when other evidence was included; for instance the earlier statistical studies by Lombard and Doering (1928), Pearl (1938), and the Massachusetts State Health Department (1945), all of which also found a statistically significant association between smoking and lung cancer. They pointed to trends in cigarette use in the United States. In 1920 the rate of consumption was 630 per person fifteen years of age or older. By 1953 it had risen to 3,500 per person.38 The cumulative meaning of all this evidence, concluded Hammond and Horn, was that the relationship between cigarette smoking and cancer was cause and effect.



posted by peppito at 2:01 PM on September 30, 2009


I had meant to highlight this segment also:

ACS epidemiologist E. Cuyler Hammond and Surgeon General Leonard Scheele were dismissive of Wynder and Graham's retrospective study.30 Graham recalled that "Hammond told me that if he had anything to do with it, we would not get our grant from the American Cancer Society renewed. He went on to say also that he had no confidence in your results or in the answers to the questionnaire that Miss Croninger [Wynder and Graham's research assistant] was getting." Graham decided that he did not want to have any further dealings with the American Cancer Society. "I think the attitude of Hammond, which was supported by Cameron [Medical and Scientific Director of the ACS], was inexcusable and I feel somewhat sour on the whole [End Page 340] bunch."31 Wynder called Surgeon General Leonard Scheele to find out the reasons for the grant denial and asked him whether he had read Wynder and Graham's JAMA article.32 Wynder reported Scheele's reaction: "This article had not proved [sic] anything. He said the same correlation could be drawn to the intake of milk." Scheele added that "no kind of interviewing could get satisfactory results from patients." Moreover, he concluded: "since nothing had been proved [sic] there exists no reason why experimental work should be conducted along this line."33
posted by peppito at 2:05 PM on September 30, 2009


One of my advisors in grad school was Leonard Schuman, one of the authors of the Surgeon General's Report*. Of particular note is table 4, which shows the huge (2.2 to 34.1(!!!!)) relative risks attributable to smoking. That the tobacco companies are able to this day to continue selling a product that leads to the highest mortality rate of any human activity, even war, can only be explained by the absolute corruption of our political system. Oh, and kids? Don't do drugs. Drugs er bad, nkay? Full stop.



*I linked to the OCR, but the more readable PDF is here.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:26 PM on October 1, 2009


Full stop.

One last thing. Your quick assertion/accusation that there is some great financial incentive for researchers in this field to use their time investigating this effect in a dishonest way is weak at best, and spurious at worst. It suggests to me personally that you either don't know/or do very little actual non-industry science as there is not much financial incentive to make hay from something that isn't there when you live or die on your reputation as a scientist - and as if there isn't a much, much, much larger financial incentive for corporations that sell cell phones to make this whole subject "go away." No, unless you're a PI who loves to waste his/her time, or enjoy getting rejected by the scientific community in general one would never do this wittingly and your assertion that this is happening here is laughable. You're either joking or lying.
posted by peppito at 6:13 PM on October 3, 2009


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