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Not Just For Crackpots Anymore!
March 26, 2010 9:09 PM   Subscribe

The 185 billion dollar a year cell phone/wireless communication industry is coming under increased scrutiny due to health concerns by some decidedly non tinfoil hat wearing parties. Earlier industry funded studies are also being more closely examined as many early adopters of cell phones are getting tumors at an alarming rate. And where does everybody's favorite, the ipod, sit? This is funny.....Apple actually advises you on page 7 of their product information guide to....well....not hold the thing up to your head. Or your body. But that's okay, cause the Evo, which doubles as a wi-fi hotspot, is about to hit. Good times!
posted by jake1 (105 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
This makes my head hurt.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 9:13 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not Just For Crackpots Anymore!
Now for crackpots and suckers!
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:18 PM on March 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Since when has the Huffington Post, promoter of anti-vax crazy, been considered a non-tinfoil-hat-wearing party?
posted by Punkey at 9:29 PM on March 26, 2010 [16 favorites]


Anecdotal data point here: my first cellphone was one of these. I used to keep it in my left pants pocket. At some point, I stopped doing that because it made my skin there tingle. That was probably ten years ago...maybe a little more. In the last six months, I've started getting a strong sensation in the same place, alternatingly burning or numb. I'm absolutely sure it's nerve damage and that the source must be that first cellphone. It's so uncomfortable sometimes that I can't wear pants that brush against the spot.

I try not to think about what sort of scrambling that phone did to my head.
posted by felix betachat at 9:31 PM on March 26, 2010


I like how anytime the Time article comes close to facts or replicable studies the cancer theory looks busted, but then they pull some new twist out of their asses to suggest some area of doubt "there is no evidence... But we just don't know!"

Their main source is a politician, for fucks sake.
posted by Artw at 9:38 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the Time article:
With 270 million Americans and 4 billion people around the world using cell phones — and more signing up every day — a strong link between mobiles and cancer could have major public-health implications. As cell phones make and take calls, they emit low-level radio-frequency (RF) radiation. Stronger than FM radio signals, these RF waves are still a billionth the intensity of known carcinogenic radiation like X-rays.

Yes, if such a link had been established, that would certainly have implications. But no such link has been established. Also radiation frequency != intensity. This is crucial to the science in question.

But the body of research is far from conclusive. In 1995, Lai co-wrote a study showing that a single two-hour exposure of RF radiation — at levels considered safe by U.S. standards — produced the sort of genetic damage in rats' brain cells that can lead to cancer. Though subsequent researchers — often funded in part by the wireless industry — failed to replicate Lai's results, a 2004 European Union — funded study reported similar findings.

Yes, well, the body of evidence proving that an effect does NOT exist is never conclusive, so that's kind of a truism. And, well, if an experiment's findings can't be replicated, then you shouldn't give those findings much credence, now should we? Even if we cast poorly-defined aspersions as to the funding sources of some subsequent studies.

Look, it's a great idea to study this, and it's important to make sure cell phones don't measurably increase our risk brain cancer, because god knows we use them a lot. But to me this looks like insubstantial sensationalist fear-mongering. Basically the only news here is that a Maine congressperson decided SHE thinks cellphones are dangerous and the public should be warned. Don't think there's much else to see here, move along.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:39 PM on March 26, 2010 [15 favorites]


You meant iPhone, not iPod, right?
posted by maudlin at 9:39 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Heh, what Artw said.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:41 PM on March 26, 2010


Whoops - somehow the second Time quote got out of its italics tags - I promise, I didn't say that! It wasn't me!
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:48 PM on March 26, 2010


Yeah, I meant the iphone. My bad.
posted by jake1 at 9:55 PM on March 26, 2010


It's Huff Post! And they're backed up by Time! OMG!

obligatory not a tumor reference

Science and technology are wonderful and all that, but I still don't have a cellphone or a driver's license or a microwave oven. Or a tumor. Yet.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 9:58 PM on March 26, 2010


Non-ionizing radation.
posted by schwa at 9:59 PM on March 26, 2010


But the body of research is far from conclusive.

The first GSM signal went live in 1992. Today there are 3 billion GSM subscribers. It's the world's largest clinical trial. If there was a causal link between mobile phone use and cancer, the evidence would be overwhelming and undeniable.

many early adopters of cell phones are getting tumors at an alarming rate.

A citation to peer-reviewed research would be nice.

Their product information guide to....well....not hold the thing up to your head.

Aside from the fact that such statements in a user manual are pro forma legalese, the iPhone has a miserable chipset, its radio performance is substandard, and keeping it away from your head is about the only way to get enough signal to make a decent radio connection. I love my iPhone, but I wish it worked as well as my old Nokia did. Hopefully the change to Qualcomm's chipsets will bring it up to par.
posted by three blind mice at 10:00 PM on March 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


Since when has the Huffington Post, promoter of anti-vax crazy, been considered a non-tinfoil-hat-wearing party?

Actually, the Huffington post article links to a rather even handed CNN story. And frankly I'm surprised that mainstream media is even ceding the subject matter he said/she said status considering the amount of money wireless companies spend on advertising.
posted by jake1 at 10:04 PM on March 26, 2010


Also radiation frequency != intensity.

Well... Intensity isn't the only thing that matters. Photon energy is dependent on frequency, and the higher the photon energy, the more likely there is a cancer risk. Or at least I think that's how it works...
Well, turns out to be more complicated than that -- this is on Power-Frequency Fields, but they cover some of the basics too.
posted by Chuckles at 10:11 PM on March 26, 2010


this
posted by Chuckles at 10:12 PM on March 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Frankly, I'm surprised that mainstream media is even ceding the subject matter he said/she said status considering how very little these nincompoops actually seem to know about the 'radiation' (ooh! ooh!) cell phones emit.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:13 PM on March 26, 2010


This was addressed in a question asked just the other day in AskMe. Bottom line: the signal used in modern digital communication equipment is nowhere near the strength required to break chemical bonds. Chemical bonds need to break in order to cause tumors. Ergo, a cellphone, even if you duct-taped one to your head, cannot cause cancer. You get far more EM radiation from the sun, or even the wiring in your house.

The lesson: being educated does not stop people from having irrational fears.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 10:19 PM on March 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


But... but... the phone gets hot!
posted by Artw at 10:20 PM on March 26, 2010


/invests in tin-foil underwear stock in preperation for the launch of the lap-based iPad.
posted by Artw at 10:21 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, darn. Pooched the link. Link to that AskMefi question. In response, a good overview and summary of the scientific response.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 10:24 PM on March 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


But... but... the phone gets hot!

Let's not make this a sexting derail.
posted by maxwelton at 10:25 PM on March 26, 2010


I was playing peggle and it got hot! Peggle is radioactive!
posted by Artw at 10:25 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bottom line: the signal used in modern digital communication equipment is nowhere near the strength required to break chemical bonds

Like the air currents that brought down the Tacoma Narrows bridge, if you can find the right resonance frequencies, you don't need a strong input to do damage, just repeated and consistent exposure. This non-thermal effect is not just damage to cellular infrastructure or genetic material, but also to alpha and delta brain waves, which lie in the same range as GSM microwave frequencies (cite).

Perhaps we'll learn that cell phone exposure has no measurable effect on the body, but the bottom line is that we simply don't know enough about the long-term effects to be sure. Like the cocktail of persistent industrial chemicals that we all carry in our bloodstreams, we're basically performing ongoing, multiplicative experiments on human beings with practically no controls. As with chemical exposure, instead of playing it safe we rank our convenience over our safety.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:54 PM on March 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that scientologists can help with this kind of problem.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:03 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


However, being so inherently dependent on aliveness, non-thermal effects cannot be expected to be as robust as thermal ones, as is indeed found; nor can everyone be expected to be affected in the same way by exposure to the same radiation

???

Sounds like a big old heap of subjective woo to me.

Given this later paper by Hyland on how everyone is persecuting him I'd say that seems to be the consensus opinion.
posted by Artw at 11:17 PM on March 26, 2010


Bottom line: the signal used in modern digital communication equipment is nowhere near the strength required to break chemical bonds. Chemical bonds need to break in order to cause tumors. Ergo, a cellphone, even if you duct-taped one to your head, cannot cause cancer. You get far more EM radiation from the sun, or even the wiring in your house.

I'm only just reading this stuff, but from my understanding so far, the above qualifies as "not even wrong".. From my link above:
Carcinogens, agents that cause cancer, are generally of two types: genotoxins and promoters.
Photons have to have sufficient energy to break chemical bonds before they can be considered genotoxins, which makes the whole "you get far more EM ...." irrelevant. However, those low energy photons might be promoters (might be, but probably aren't).
posted by Chuckles at 11:19 PM on March 26, 2010


Can somebody explain to me how very weak RF radiation can possibly have any effect at all on our bodies? Any mechanism that can even be squinted at and made to look plausible?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:25 PM on March 26, 2010


Oh dear, oh dear...

One starts to get a sense of unease when Dr Hyland insists that his research is looking at ‘aliveness’, somehow implying that the fact that cells are alive is overlooked by other researchers. To the quackometer, this missing ‘aliveness’ starts looking like the talk of new-agers or energy quacks with their bonkers ’subtle energies’, not that of a serious researcher. Dr Hyland comes from a theoretical physics background so we might forgive for strange biological language. However, a little more delving adds to the concerns. Dr Hyland is now retired from Warwick and has been for a while. But, his effort appears to be focused with a group called the International Institute of Biophysics based in Neuss-Holzheim, Germany.

The institute is researching into something called biophoton emission. This effect is supposedly different from bioluminescence, where bright light is created by living cells in creatures like fireflies and deep sea creatures. Biophotons are ‘ultraweak photon emission[s] from living systems’. These photons somehow transmit information ‘within and between’ cells. And so, here we start to see the necessity of biophotonics to the anti-mobile lobby – a tentative but plausible mechanism of how non-thermal radiation effects can interfere with cellular processes. Can Emsignals of the right frequency interfere with the ‘coherence’ of inter-cellular biophotonic emission? Only, the problem is that the whole concept of biophotonics is extremely controversial and is treated as ‘fringe’ by most researchers. Indeed, biophotonics carries the many tell-tale signs of classic pseudoscience and pathological science. It pits itself against well established science such as the ‘central dogma of genetics’, that cellular communication occurs through the DNA-RNA-protein transcription and translation mechanism. It suggests that ‘Russian science’ has been aware of this for many decades, and we in the West have not woken up to it yet. (Look up Lysenkoism to see the problem with this.) Its ’subtlety’ and ‘ultraweakness’ means that it deals with effects at the limits of detectability, where noise and poor experimental set-up can wreak havoc with results and interpretations. (Look up N-rays for a comparison).

Worryingly, the research interests of people associated with the Institute starts to make the quackometer get a little jumpy. They include:

* holistic concepts and the understanding of consciousness
* schrödinger’s definition of food quality
* biophoton field reflecting biological rhythms
* molecular basis of stress and the concept of self-healing
* self-healing and the principles in homeopathy
* studies and medical applications of biophotons especially in connection with acupuncture and cancer
* anatomical structure of acupuncture meridians and its physiological significance

and so on…

posted by Artw at 11:27 PM on March 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


I was playing peggle and it got hot! Peggle is radioactive!

Is that what you call that thing?
posted by jjray at 11:28 PM on March 26, 2010


Also radiation frequency != intensity.

Well... Intensity isn't the only thing that matters. Photon energy is dependent on frequency, and the higher the photon energy, the more likely there is a cancer risk. Or at least I think that's how it works...
Well, turns out to be more complicated than that -- this is on Power-Frequency Fields, but they cover some of the basics too.

I think you misunderstood me. The Time article incorrectly implied that the "intensity" of the EM radiation was the difference between microwaves and X-rays. This is of course not true, and in a very important way. The minimum energy required for a single photon to break a chemical bond is on the order of 10 eV. Cell phone radiation has an energy of around 0.001 eV. Thus, unless 10000 photons from the cellphone simultaneously are absorbed by a single chemical bond (an unimaginably unlikely event), no chemical bonds will ever be broken by your cellphone, thus your DNA (and all other molecules in your body) will be quite unchanged.

The only remaining question is whether or not the minuscule amount of tissue heating provided by the microwave radiation from cell phones could somehow promote cancer. At the radiation intensity (read: number of photons per second) in question It seems pretty unbelievable to me.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 11:30 PM on March 26, 2010


Photon energy is dependent on frequency, and the higher the photon energy, the more likely there is a cancer risk. Or at least I think that's how it works...
The locution "more likely" obscures the issue. In the known mechanism for causing cancers, the photon energy has to be above the threshold for making ions --- essentially, ultraviolet or higher.

Here's an analogy which I think is due to Brian Greene. Imagine that you are standing on a balcony above a crowded room. The room is huge and completely full of people, tens of thousands of people, with space to walk around but not much else. The people are being held captive, but can buy their way out: there are guards at the doors, collecting an exit fee of $45. Everyone who can pay has already left.

You're a sympathetic fellow, and this bothers you, and you want to help. So you start tossing $1 bills down into the crowd. The people are pretty excited and jump up to catch the money. But there are so many people in the crowd that nearly all of the catch nothing from you. Since each dollar you toss flutters off in a slightly different direction, nobody catches more than one. There are just too many people to help this way: your money vanishes pointlessly into the crowd. You get same thing whether you toss singles, fives, tens, or twenties: nobody can catch more than one bill, so nobody gets out. But suddenly, when you start tossing in $50 bills, only one bill is necessary. Everybody who catches a bill heads straight for the exit and leaves, with extra money in their pocket. The interaction above the threshold is completely different from the interaction below the threshold.

In matter, electrons are like the prisoners and neutral atoms are like the prison. Money in the analogy plays the role of energy, which comes in denominations (quanta) of different sizes. The total amount of absorbed energy affects how many ions you make, but only if the energy denominations are big enough: a million singles dropped into the crowd will free fewer people than two fifties.

Cell phones emit $1 bills from Zimbabwe, billions of times too small to help anybody do anything. If cell phone radiation has a biological effect, it is completely different from the effects of ionizing radiation.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 11:33 PM on March 26, 2010 [32 favorites]


The tl;dr version of Gerald Hyland's theory: "Data? I have no data! Hunted, despised. Living like an animal. The jungle is my home. But I will show the world that I can be it’s master! I shall perfect my own race of people. A race of atomic supermen which will conquer the world!"
posted by Artw at 11:35 PM on March 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


nearly all of them catch nothing
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 11:41 PM on March 26, 2010


The first GSM signal went live in 1992. Today there are 3 billion GSM subscribers. It's the world's largest clinical trial. If there was a causal link between mobile phone use and cancer, the evidence would be overwhelming and undeniable.

Just like how 20 years after the widespread adoption of cigarettes after World War I, we saw overwhelming and undeniable evidence of the carcinogenic properties of cigarette smoking?

The HuffPo is indeed a haven of leftists anti-science crackpots, but your "refutation" is nonsense.
posted by rodgerd at 12:01 AM on March 27, 2010


FWIW from the GC article (one of the later links):
Perhaps most worrisome, though, are the preliminary results of the multinational Interphone study sponsored by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, in Lyon, France. (Scientists from thirteen countries took part in the study, the United States conspicuously not among them.)

Interphone researchers reported in 2008 that after a decade of cell-phone use, the chance of getting a brain tumor—specifically on the side of the head where you use the phone—goes up as much as 40 percent for adults. Interphone researchers in Israel have found that cell phones can cause tumors of the parotid gland (the salivary gland in the cheek), and an independent study in Sweden last year concluded that people who started using a cell phone before the age of 20 were five times as likely to develop a brain tumor. Another Interphone study reported a nearly 300 percent increased risk of acoustic neuroma, a tumor of the acoustic nerve.
and also:
Industry-funded studies seem to reflect the result of corporate strong-arming. Lai reviewed 350 studies and found that about half showed bioeffects from EM radiation emitted by cell phones. But when he took into consideration the funding sources for those 350 studies, the results changed dramatically. Only 25 percent of the studies paid for by the industry showed effects, compared with 75 percent of those studies that were independently funded.
posted by Davenhill at 12:04 AM on March 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Can somebody explain to me how very weak RF radiation can possibly have any effect at all on our bodies? Any mechanism that can even be squinted at and made to look plausible?

From the Hyland piece I cited (published in The Lancet, not exactly an outlet for crackpots), he put together a list of references to in vivo studies, to look at the biological effects of RF exposure.

Panel 2. Selected in vivo studies of non-thermal microwaveexposure, including GSM radiation

• Epileptiform activity in rats, in conjunction with certain drugs 24
• Depression of chicken immune systems (melatonin, corticosterone and IgG levels) 25
• Increase in chick embryo mortality 25
• Increased permeability of blood-brain barrier in rats 26
• Effects on brain electrochemistry (dopamine, opiates) 27
• Increases in DNA single and double strand breaks in rat brain 28
• Promotion of lymphomas in transgenic mice 29
• Synergistic effects with certain psychoactive drugs 30


Here are those references, for the benefit of people who cannot access the article in question:

24 Sidorenko AV, Tsaryk VV. Electrophysiological characteristics of the epileptic activity in the rat brain upon microwave treatment. In: Proceedings of Conference on Electromagnetic Fields and Human Health (Moscow, September, 1999): 283–84.

25 BJ Youbicier-Simo and M Bastide, Pathological effects induced by embryonic and postnatal exposure to EMFs radiation by cellular mobile phones (written evidence to IEGMP), Radiat Protect 1 (1999), pp. 218–223.

26 BRR Persson, LG Salford and A Brun et al., Blood-brain barrier permeability in rats exposed to electromagnetic fields used in wireless communication, Wireless Networks 3 (1997), pp. 455–461. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (47)

27 In: AH Frey, Editor, On the nature of electromagnetic field interactions with biological systems, RG Landes, Austin, TX (1994).

28 H Lai and NP Singh, Single and double-strand DNA breaks after acute exposure to radiofrequency radiation, Int J Radiation Biol 69 (1996), pp. 13–521.

29 MH Repacholi, A Baster, V Gebski, D Noonan, J Finnie and AW Harris, Lymphomas in EJ-Pim 1 transgenic mice exposed to pulsed 900 MHz electromagentic fields, Radiation Res 147 (1997), pp. 631–640. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (0)

30 H Lai, A Horita, CK Chou and AW Guy, A review of microwave irradiation and actions of psychoactive drugs, Engineering Med Biol 6 (1987), pp. 31–36. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (15)


Out of personal interest, I looked up the Lai and Singh paper on DNA breakage and read through it. They exposed Wistar rats (standard research lab rats) to 2.45 GHz frequencies at 0.344 mW/cm2 — about the power level of consumer devices that operate around this frequency range. They then isolated the DNA from exposed and control rats, visualized and quantified it with a standard electrophoresis technique and measured a repeatable, significant increase in genetic damage — fragmentation — in RF-exposed rats.

In addition to what Hyland references, there is other research Lai and Singh cited that points to RF exposure causing changes in levels of various interesting neurochemicals in developing rat brains, including acetylcholine esterase, acetylcholine, dopamine and serotonin. GSM radiation does appear to have a measurable effect on brain activity, at least in studies, and may possibly be deleterious, given the health problems we already know about that are caused by neurotransmitter imbalances.

Now rats aren't humans. And what one human is exposed to may not affect another. But rats are frequently used in brain model studies, experiments that model changes to the human brain. If we're exposing children to RF, whose brains are still developing, the body of studies suggest uncertainty, further research and, perhaps, therefore, caution.

On one hand, cell phones are convenient, so potential dangers may be outweighed by the device's general utility. I use a phone and I find it indispensable for those few occasions when I need it. On the other hand, asbestos was considered a miraculous material and its use was ubiquitous, even when people were coughing up pieces of lung down the line — even well after the companies that mined it knew that exposure to the stuff was incredibly dangerous and would eventually kill their workers, going so far as to cover it up.

Sometimes we just can't or don't want to think too long term because of the economic impact of changing what we do. Whether it is fair to note past experiences with this kind of short-sighted thinking is up to the reader. The research is there and, IMO, suggests caution.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:13 AM on March 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


In matter, electrons are like the prisoners and neutral atoms are like the prison. Money in the analogy plays the role of energy, which comes in denominations (quanta) of different sizes. The total amount of absorbed energy affects how many ions you make, but only if the energy denominations are big enough: a million singles dropped into the crowd will free fewer people than two fifties.

Completely irrelevant to the question, but this is a pretty good argument for why it makes sense sense to play the lottery once in a while. The dollar in your hand has zero probability of getting you out of the poor house, but winning the lottery will set you free.

Anyway, I kind of assumed that photon energies could never add up, but.. Turns out if you aim the stream of bills with laser like precision, it can work. Light me up buddy!
posted by Chuckles at 12:13 AM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Stepping back from the research that's out there for a moment, one thing that continually puzzles me about this contentious matter is how many people are skeptical of anything that questions the safety of these devices.

I grok scientific skepticism — my paycheck is predicated on it — but we have two parties here: telecom companies that make billions on reselling airwaves, and — who, exactly? — investigators of various stripes who work in non-profits, writing papers and giving talks.

Of these two, which entity, broadly speaking, has more motivation or more at stake in defending their particular point of view by any means necessary, honest or dishonest? Cell phone companies have a lot to lose if there is research that question the product's general safety. What do researchers have to lose? Meager funding for research at non-profit institutions?

Dishonest companies that get caught would be sued for billions of dollars. Dishonest scientists would quickly get caught, losing their reputation and means for making a living. I don't know why all the researchers who are doing these studies that cast doubts on safety would choose collectively to be dishonest, when the punishment is more or less equivalent to a career's death sentence. Though I do know why moneyed interests would choose to be dishonest, and there's plenty of history to back up why and how this happens.

I think skepticism is a valuable tool for getting us to the truth of things, but I wonder if it is placed properly in this context.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:34 AM on March 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


I grok scientific skepticism — my paycheck is predicated on it — but we have two parties here: telecom companies that make billions on reselling airwaves, and — who, exactly? — investigators of various stripes who work in non-profits, writing papers and giving talks.

And Powerwatch, cited in some of the articles above, who appear to be an organisation purely dedicated to convincing people of nonsensical problems in order to sell them shit.
posted by Artw at 12:41 AM on March 27, 2010


I think skepticism is a valuable tool for getting us to the truth of things, but I wonder if it is placed properly in this context.

One of the weirder aspects of a chunk of modern sceptical thought is that a certain chunk seems driven by a kind of misplaced iconoclasm, so we see, say "global warming sceptics" who appear to think they're taking on the big bad guy by... supporting the agenda of oil companies.

Stepping back from the research that's out there for a moment, one thing that continually puzzles me about this contentious matter is how many people are skeptical of anything that questions the safety of these devices.

That might puzzle you less if you knew the people I know who can come up with the most absurd rationales to justify their smoking habits - and I have heard one trot out the "I know someone who lived to 100 and smoked every day" line, too.

We like it, therefore it can't be bad for us.
posted by rodgerd at 12:44 AM on March 27, 2010


Now rats aren't humans.

You can say that again. The fundemental flaw of the studies you cited is that the power diminishes as the square of the distance.

Which is to say that EMR that could traverse a rat's brain would have trouble making it through my skull to the grey matter and wouldn't have a chance of making it out to the other side.

This is another way of saying that while rats work really well for modeling certain human attributes, they fail here because size and distance matter.

So yeah, pump enough wattage in and you can mess things up. That's not news - it's how your microwave oven works. Cell Phones have no where near the amount of power necessary to accomplish that. If they did, I would love to save myself some counterspace.

By way of comparison, an MRI can dump a hell of a lot more energy into your head, and so far no one has found any problems with that.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:50 AM on March 27, 2010


And Powerwatch, cited in some of the articles above, who appear to be an organisation purely dedicated to convincing people of nonsensical problems in order to sell them shit.

That's worth calling out. No doubt about it. It's easy to peddle shit by taking advantage of people's fears. That's how we get into wars with Iraq, etc. So that's worth pointing out and criticizing in no uncertain terms.

But I don't agree that this is a good basis on which to invalidate whole swaths of research that comes from legitimate institutions, published in reputable, peer-reviewed outlets. Unless these researchers are short selling Verizon and AT&T, I don't see the same kind of economic incentive that motivates questioning their integrity like this.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:50 AM on March 27, 2010


Which is to say that EMR that could traverse a rat's brain would have trouble making it through my skull to the grey matter and wouldn't have a chance of making it out to the other side.

Since there is no mechanism proposed for the DNA fragmentation, I do not know how the radiation not making it out the other side of your head would contradict the effect that they reported.

In any case, they used rats at a stage where the brains are developing: they intended to model the effect of RF on the brain tissue of a younger human, with the notion that a child's skull is thinner, and the brain is smaller and undergoing more physiological changes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:57 AM on March 27, 2010


Hmm... here's what Bill Guy, also of the university of Washington, has to say on the earlier research of H Lai:

The first experimental finding that Lai reported to support the beginning of his media blitz against cell phones was not new at all. It was based on an old study of the effect of microwave pulse exposures on rat behavior that he and I had published three years earlier. I had developed the exposure system and was responsible for the dosimetry. The study was designed to test the effects of high power radar exposure on the health of rats. No way did the experiment apply to cellular phone exposure.

I was startled when my former colleague Henry appeared on the local TV news in 1997, indicating he had found that cellular phone emissions can cause rats to forget. The next day I called Henry and asked him what experiment that was. When I found out it was the one with my name as co-author that was reported in the 1994 paper relating to radar research, I explained to Henry the difference between cell phone signals and radar signals and that he should do something to correct the misinformation. He did not correct the misinformation or lack of key exposure information in his later public statements regarding the 1994 paper nor his later studies on behavior or DNA damage.As the one responsible for the dosimetry and applicability of the research results to various sources of exposure in our publications, I told Henry that if he was not going to correct his erroneous interpretations on the applicability to cell phones that I had a public duty to set the record straight. This was done several weeks after my discussion with Henry with his full knowledge of my intentions.


(link)
posted by Artw at 1:02 AM on March 27, 2010


The paper I referred to is from 1996. The paper Guy is referring to is from 1994. Do the same criticisms apply to both publications? (Honest question, I have no idea.)
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:07 AM on March 27, 2010


I have no idea either, but I am certainlymade deeply suspicious.

The fact that the guy has a psychology doctorate rather than anything related to biology or physics seems like it might be a bit of a warning sign as well.
posted by Artw at 1:09 AM on March 27, 2010


He's also a proponnent of a rather dubious sounding cancer cure.
posted by Artw at 1:11 AM on March 27, 2010


The fact that the guy has a psychology doctorate rather than anything related to biology or physics seems like it might be a bit of a warning sign as well.

I'm really embarrassed, I need to correct my previous comment. The paper on DNA fragmentation by RF treatment is actually from Paulraj and Behari, published in 2006:

This investigation concerns with the effect of low intensity microwave (2.45 and 16.5 GHz, SAR 1.0 and 2.01 W/kg, respectively) radiation on developing rat brain. Wistar rats (35 days old, male, six rats in each group) were selected for this study. These animals were exposed for 35 days at the above mentioned frequencies separately in two different exposure systems. After the exposure period, the rats were sacrificed and the whole brain tissue was dissected and used for study of single strand DNA breaks by micro gel electrophoresis (comet assay). Single strand DNA breaks were measured as tail length of comet. Fifty cells from each slide and two slides per animal were observed. One-way ANOVA method was adopted for statistical analysis. This study shows that the chronic exposure to these radiations cause statistically significant (p <>

The Lai paper (here's the right citation) appears to use the same frequency, but with a higher power exposure and with different treatment types. I can't seem download the paper, but the abstract suggests the assay may be similar and that both report genetic damage.

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:28 AM on March 27, 2010


I can't even close tags properly, apparently. That'll teach me to use tabs better.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:32 AM on March 27, 2010


He's also a proponnent of a rather dubious sounding cancer cure.

I followed that link, and from your comment I don't know what he's a proponent of that is problematic.

He appears to be mostly "pessimistic" or "doubtful" about various alternative medicines — which seems a mark of skepticism, to my eyes — adds citations here and there to what appears to be a wordy essay on various therapies, and he recommends Quackwatch, which is a pretty well-respected skeptics group.

Doesn't seem too problematic to me, but, in any case, I don't have too much of an interest in defending the guy's views on acupuncture.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:47 AM on March 27, 2010


what makes me curious is that when there's 150% penetration of mobile phones in places like italy or europe averages 105%; where's the output of research from those locations?
posted by infini at 1:59 AM on March 27, 2010


Can somebody explain to me how very weak RF radiation can possibly have any effect at all on our bodies? Any mechanism that can even be squinted at and made to look plausible?

I saw the Lai article soon after it came out and didn't believe it because cell phone radiation can't ionize much of anything, and I still don't for the same reasons.

However, the energy necessary to break a chemical bond to promote the development of cancer and the energy necessary to cause a protein to fold into a different configuration without changing its sequence of amino acids are very very different things.

Changing protein folding without changing the sequence is exactly what those infective prions do, and I thought the chances cell phone radiation would accelerate the rate of development of Alzheimer's (if not initiate it!) were so good I refused to allow my partner to have one for 10 years because of her family history of Alzheimer's.

But last year some guy in Florida with similar thoughts tested rats genetically modified to express human apoE of the most vulnerable type, and who therefore go on to develop Alzheimer's, to see what cellphone radiation would do to their Alzheimer's.

He found that the rats exposed to cell phone radiation actually developed notably less of the misfolded Alzheimer's protein than matched controls.

My sweetie is quite happy with her new cell phone and doesn't even seem to resent me unduly-- at least over that.

But I think that study raises a huge caveat even though it seems to show that cell phone radiation actually may retard or even help prevent the development of Alzheimer's (and I believe that is the case), because about the only way cell phone radiation could reduce or reverse the deposition of misfolded apoE, in my opinion, is by activating heat shock proteins the purpose of which is to prevent proteins from misfolding under heat stress.

No problem, right? We all know cell phone radiation can heat up tissues and that could just cause heat shock proteins to be expressed, end of story.

Not so fast. When I looked at this a few years ago, I found a study conducted with C. elegans which purported to show that cell phone radiation induced expression of heat shock proteins directly without heating tissue at all.

If we add this result to the perennial complaint by certain rather epicene members of the gourmet community that microwaved food doesn't taste good precisely because proteins get folded more than in conventionally cooked versions of the same dishes, we could have a problem.

Namely, if cell phone and other lower frequency EMR can directly induce the induction of heat shock proteins, that amounts to prima facie evidence that certain of those frequencies might cause protein misfolding, and while the Florida study shows to my satisfaction that this is not the case with the Alzheimer's protein and cell phone radiation, other frequencies are not yet exonerated.

Some WiFi, for example, which is very close in frequency to the radiation of a typical microwave oven, definitely does not seem to me to be exonerated.

I have to go to bed now; if this thread is still alive tomorrow I'll try to find the C.Elegans study at least. Here's an account of the Florida study.
posted by jamjam at 2:05 AM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nope, here's an account of the Florida study.
posted by jamjam at 2:22 AM on March 27, 2010


Pope Guilty wrote: "Can somebody explain to me how very weak RF radiation can possibly have any effect at all on our bodies? Any mechanism that can even be squinted at and made to look plausible?"

I can't. If I wasn't aware of the inverse square law (and the absolutely miniscule power level with which our phones usually transmit these days), I'm sure I'd try.

Blazecock Pileon wrote: "SAR 1.0 and 2.01 W/kg"

That SAR is significantly higher than modern cell phones emit when on a call. Mine, to use a convenient example, has a SAR of 0.52 on a voice call in GSM mode at the phone's maximum output power, which it rarely uses. When using data, it uses more power, up to a SAR of .82, but only on GPRS. On EDGE, the SAR is .37.

I don't have the WCDMA test numbers in front of me, but they should be even lower.
posted by wierdo at 5:23 AM on March 27, 2010


Years ago I spoke to someone with a moderate amount of knowledge of this kind of thing, and their best guess was that we'd probably eventually have solid evidence of some negative consequences at a low level, but would shrug them off as worth the risk, in the same way we happily use cars despite death and injury from accidents, pollution, etc.
posted by malevolent at 5:28 AM on March 27, 2010


I despise the HuffPo and their "science" reporting. They had an article on their frontpage that claimed, "Science now has evidence that this life, not the only one!"

Their evidence? Quantum entanglement, hey spooky action at a distance happens to quarks why not ENTIRE HUMAN BEINGS!

Jesus Herbert Christ!
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 6:33 AM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just like how 20 years after the widespread adoption of cigarettes after World War I, we saw overwhelming and undeniable evidence of the carcinogenic properties of cigarette smoking?

The HuffPo is indeed a haven of leftists anti-science crackpots, but your "refutation" is nonsense.


There was already evidence in the late 20's of the link between tobacco and cancer, and the paper by Doll and Hill that is commonly held to have proved the link was published in 1950, a little over 30 years after WW1 and no doubt delayed by a 6 year WW2. Bearing in mind that modern evidence based medicine has advanced greatly since that time, I'm going to go out on a limb and say, yes, the HuffPo are crackpots when it comes to medicine, and yes, the medical community would surely have found some real epidemiological evidence by now if there was a significant cancer risk from cellphones.
posted by Jakey at 6:53 AM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


If there is an effect it's vanishingly small: n=16,000,000 humans.

I'm all for continuing to study the phenomenon but for pure research purposes not public safety ones.
posted by Skorgu at 7:00 AM on March 27, 2010


I followed that link, and from your comment I don't know what he's a proponent of that is problematic.

I should have mentioned that you'll need Ctrl-F...

Artemisinin for cancer

The anti-malarial drug artemisinin and its relatives are being promoted by the alternative-medicine community for cancer in general. There is some interest in their possible possible anti-cancer properties, and a few decent papers, mostly focusing on which patterns of gene expression predict that the drug will kill cells in tissue culture (Pharmacogenetics Journal 6: 269, 2006). They're well-known to do this, because they are poisons, and the fact that they kill cancer cells (J. Med. Chem. 49: 2731, 2006, from the Hop) should come as no surprise. Especially, they may have activity as angiogenesis blocker.

The foremost proponent in the US seems to be Dr. Henry Lai, whose professional degree is in psychology and who teaches in the department of bioengineering at U. Wash. His focus on the effects of non-ionizing fields on humans seems to have led him into fringe medicine, and he has been writing papers about artemisinin as an anti-cancer agent since 1995. He notes that breast cancer cells reportedly (a few old papers in obscure journals) tend to have more surface transferrin (iron-binder) than their benign counterparts. So artemisinin (which generates toxic free radicals when exposed to iron) could induce apoptosis selectively in breast cancer. He managed to demonstrate this effect in a culture of breast cancer cells awash in iron-binder (Life Sciences 70: 49, 2001). Artemisinin alone was a dismal failure. At least he's honest. It sounds to me as if the breast cancer cells simply were more adherent for the iron-binder; the experiment does not support the claim that they have greatly increased transferrin surface levels. However, around this time, Dr. Lai speculated about how one could saturate the allegedly-increased transferrin molecules with enough iron, not mentioning that flooding the body with iron is itself dangerous. The iron-bearing pigment that accumulates in malaria is orders-of-magnitude richer in iron than one could possibly accumulate simply from having extra surface transferrin. (At least, both are ferric.)

Readers should know that there are no reports to date (despite ten years of interest, especially by Dr. Lai) of artemisinin inducing even a partial remission of any cancer in any animal system. The claim that there are 350 papers showing an effect on cancer is just another lie. The 88 that I found were mostly cell-culture studies without benign cells as controls. Conspiracy buffs who assume that the drug companies have shunned artemisinin since it's a naturally-occurring substance and therefore less profitable should note that taxol (a similar case) became part of mainstream breast cancer therapy as soon as it proved to work.

There just might be an effect. Dr. Lai actually got a chance to try it as a breast cancer preventative in mice in 2006 (Cancer Letters 231: 43, 2006). This was the only in vivo study I could find. He claimed an effect with p<0>

posted by Artw at 8:11 AM on March 27, 2010


1. no solid evidence either way.
2. industry not about to admit to it if it is so.
3. govt oversight seldom if ever works anywhere near 100% of time
4. companies make more money from texting than they should...and no indication that reading or sending texts is an issue.
5. conclusion: text don't talk. But do it while driving and drinking...be a true multi-tasker. If those who spend an inordinate amount of time on the phone die of this, this may be an instance of culling that Darwin noted.
posted by Postroad at 8:14 AM on March 27, 2010


This is why I don't snort cocaine off my cellphone (also, it scratches the screen).

I'm not sure why we are relying on GQ and Huffpo to tell us what the Interphone study says when the study itself has a very detailed website.

Anyway, the Interphone study's FAQ:
All of the studies except that of Hardell and colleagues showed no association between wireless phones and brain cancer. Hardell's 2000 study showed a slightly increased risk of tumours on the same side as the phone was used, but this was based on small numbers and was not supported in the studies by Inskip and Muscat. His 2002 study, which led to 2 papers in 2002 and 2 more in 2003, showed similar findings. There was no risk for malignant tumours, but an increased risk for benign tumours. This latter finding was due to the increased risk for acoustic neuroma.
Acoustic neuroma, btw, is a benign tumor with a slow growth rate.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:16 AM on March 27, 2010


Reading the GQ article and the actual Interphone study reminds me of this PHd Comic.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:25 AM on March 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


There was some interesting literature dug up during our last round of this discussion on Metafilter.
jamjam: However, the energy necessary to break a chemical bond to promote the development of cancer and the energy necessary to cause a protein to fold into a different configuration without changing its sequence of amino acids are very very different things.
That's true. But the energy carried by a microwave photon is a very different thing from either of these. Specifically, a 2 GHz photon carries roughly a thousand times less energy than the room-temperature phonons rattling around in the environment. The mechanisms that fold proteins in cells are robust against small fluctuations around room temperature; it's hard to imagine a quantum-mechanical mechanism where the protein folding is not robust against fluctuations a thousand times less energetic.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:14 AM on March 27, 2010


Quackwatch, which is a pretty well-respected skeptics group.

QW is not healthy skepticism. Like a fun-house mirror, they amplify skepticism. They rarely take a middle ground or come down on the side of "uncertain", it's usually tinged with mockery and an underlying deep conservatism appealing to absolutists who want ammunition to brush off Aunt Mary's latest fad chain email.
posted by stbalbach at 10:04 AM on March 27, 2010


fwiw, this is the website of a group here in Portland called RespectPDX that's trying to block cell phone tower construction in residential areas. The resource list at the bottom of the homepage is quite a bit better than the articles in the fpp, imo.

full disclosure: I interviewed two men from the group on my radio show, and there is a link to it on their page. But I really don't know what I think about the whole thing at this point.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:51 AM on March 27, 2010


Lutoslawski wrote: "trying to block cell phone tower construction in residential areas"

At least they aren't in the realm of the utter crazy there, although there's still not any likely effect since the cell sites are usually 50-100 feet in the air and the antennae are not pointed straight down and, well, inverse square.

At least the sites use a few hundred watts of transmitting power. It's much less silly to get worked up over that than it is the 100-200 milliwatts or less your phone is usually putting out when on a call. Still silly, but at least there is the aspect of it being accepted as not being a good idea to bear hug an active cell tower antenna.

In reality, the power you're receiving from a cell site is usually less than 0.01 mW, and that quoted figure is actually a rather strong signal, the strongest I've ever seen it receive. Standing on top of a building. That has a cell site on it. Less than a foot from one of the antennae.

In daily life, the most you're exposed to from cell sites is more like .00001 mW. A good phone will be able to carry on a call at a received signal strength around .00000000316 mW.

It still amazes me that handheld cell phones are even capable of working at all, given the power constraints imposed by both distance from the base station and battery power.
posted by wierdo at 12:09 PM on March 27, 2010


There were people trying to block a free wi-fi router (admittedly, one of those higher-powered ones) in Bar Harbor because it would create "electro-smog".

What was really a shame is that the people were the same ones protesting against the war every Sunday in the town park. Way to make the peace movement look bad.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:02 PM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Many ham radio operators have been using handhelds (MUCH more powerful than cellphones) for decades.

Here's a 1989 ARRL article (PDF) on the subject. It has a good list of preventive measures.

It describes a study done that shows possible increased risk of acute myelogenous leukemia.

Minimize exposure. Remember that radiation strength falls off as the square of the distance. Get twice as far away, 'catch' one-fourth the power. If concerned, use (lower-power) bluetooth ... or a corded headset ... and keep the antenna away from the head.
posted by Twang at 5:40 PM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


But if you use a bluetooth, you'll look like one of those pompous Benz-driving dickbags who come up from New York each August to make my life miserable.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:08 PM on March 27, 2010


I haven't come up with the article I wanted to link originally, but here is a more recent article which asserts the essential points:

The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is widely used as a model system in biological research. Recently, examination of the production of heat-shock proteins in this organism in response to mobile phone-type electromagnetic field exposure produced the most robust demonstration to date of a non-thermal, deleterious biological effect. Though these results appear to be a sound demonstration of non-thermal bioeffects, to our knowledge, no mechanism has been proposed to explain them....
posted by jamjam at 9:43 PM on March 27, 2010


This nematode, it has a skull?
posted by wierdo at 9:48 PM on March 27, 2010


This nematode, it has a skull?

Ever put a cell phone in your pocket?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:45 PM on March 27, 2010


Out of personal interest, I looked up the Lai and Singh paper on DNA breakage and read through it. They exposed Wistar rats (standard research lab rats) to 2.45 GHz frequencies at 0.344 mW/cm2 — about the power level of consumer devices that operate around this frequency range. They then isolated the DNA from exposed and control rats, visualized and quantified it with a standard electrophoresis technique and measured a repeatable, significant increase in genetic damage — fragmentation — in RF-exposed rats.

*scratches head* Well, that's funny. Cell phones don't really operate at 2.45GHz -- something about it being absorbed by water, which is sort of why it's used (at very high wattage) to cook food. Lets see what the paper says:

Ah, but cell phones don't actually operate at 2.45GHz. From the paper itself:
Mobile phone technology uses frequencies between 800 MHz and 3 GHz. And RFR of 2450 MHz is used in microwave cooking.
What? 800Mhz and 3GHz? Where does that number come from? Looking here, there's a grouping around 2.4GHz, and 4G (ten years after the paper was written) is looking at around 2.5GHz and 2.6GHz, but mostly everything is in the 900Hz range.

Where this gets really interesting is here:
It must be pointed out that the 0.1-0.5 mT magnetic field intensities used in our study are much higher than the levels most people encounter in daily life. However, they are still within the limits contained in current magnetic field exposure guidelines and can be encountered in occupational situations. For example, the International Nonionizing Radiation Committee of the International Radiation Protection Association guidelines for maximum levels of magnetic field exposure in occupational situations are 0.5 mT for workday exposure and 5 mT for short-term exposure, whereas for the general public it is 0.1 mT for 24 hrs per day exposure and 1 mT for exposure for a few hrs per day. Regarding RFR exposure, one can get an SAR of 6-8 W/kg per gm of tissue in certain parts of the head when using a mobile phone.
Ahem. I know a bait and switch when I see one. They *studied* two frequencies (60Hz and 2.45GHz). They *could* have studied 900Hz, but *didn't*. However, they sure imply that they did, because you know, cell phones *could* use this frequency.

Right. I'm going to discount this entire data source as suspect.

Does anyone have good data?
posted by effugas at 10:52 PM on March 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here is the abstract of an article which addresses the question of whether or not microwaves can cause direct, non-thermal folding of proteins:

Microwave-enhanced folding and denaturation of globular proteins.


It is shown that microwave irradiation can affect the kinetics of the folding process of some globular proteins, especially beta-lactoglobulin. At low temperature the folding from the cold denatured phase of the protein is enhanced, while at a higher temperature the denaturation of the protein from its folded state is enhanced. In the latter case, a negative temperature gradient is needed for the denaturation process, suggesting that the effects of the microwaves are nonthermal. This supports the notion that coherent topological excitations can exist in proteins. The application of microwaves hold promises for a wide range of biotechnological applications, such as protein synthesis, protein aggregation, etc., and may have implications for biological systems as well. [my emphasis]
posted by jamjam at 11:09 PM on March 27, 2010


Looking here, there's a grouping around 2.4GHz, and 4G (ten years after the paper was written) is looking at around 2.5GHz and 2.6GHz

So how is that contradictory?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:21 PM on March 27, 2010


I will strongly consider giving up my cell phone if it can be plausibly argued that cell phones cause more than 10 deaths per day* in the US. (Or I'll just drive 5 mph slower to compensate.)

I feel the same way about terrorism.

* Not including deaths caused by phone use while driving
posted by ryanrs at 12:15 AM on March 28, 2010


The problem with the idea that cell phones cause any is kind of cellular damage that you get more radiation from a 60-watt light bulb than you do from a cell phone clutched to the side of your head. If cell phones cause cancer, then so do light bulbs.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:02 AM on March 28, 2010


Biochemical spectroscopists we are not.
posted by peppito at 1:40 AM on March 28, 2010


Blazecock--

There's a billion cell phones, and practically none of them are anywhere close to the frequency range tested. Since testing 900MHz would not have been any particularly large amount of work, that:

a) He didn't, and
b) Went through obvious linguistic contortions to make it seem like he did

...tells me I should treat everything he says now as suspect. I'm not saying he's *wrong*, mind you, but it's just unwise to ever give credence to anyone who pulls that sort of bald faced crap. I mean, you read it, and you know he is actively trying not to *actually* lie, he just wants to ... not tell the truth.

I don't trust people like that.

Jimmy--

Eh. Frequencies matter. Lower frequencies deliver less energy but penetrate deeper. Higher frequencies deliver more energy but are blocked easier. And of course, distance from the body matters well.
posted by effugas at 2:30 AM on March 28, 2010


Frequencies matter. Lower frequencies deliver less energy but penetrate deeper.

Radio is an extremely low frequency. It "penetrates" because it doesn't interact with tissue. Not only are individual radio frequency photons low energy, cell phones themselves emit an extremely low amount of energy.

We've had radio, and populations exposed to radio transmissions, for over a century. If radio caused cellular damage, we'd have a large body of evidence of it long ago.

The people who claim that cell phones are dangerous can't come up with a mechanism to explain their claim, and substitute handwaving for theory.

Actually, all these experiments I'm reading about remind me of anti-drug research, like the ones that discover that Ecstasy causes "abnormal" neurons, or that LSD damages chromosomes, or that pot smoke causes brain damage. There's a predetermined result in mind, and the researcher is doing whatever he can to get to it, whether it's sketchy procedure, creative interpretation of data, or outright lying.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:19 AM on March 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Jimmy,

Eh. Raise the intensity of a wifi transmitter about four orders of magnitude, and it'll boil you alive. And high power radio transmitters next to human ears *are* somewhat new.

Lai's proposing a mechanism and showing some apparently decent evidence. The fact that he pulls this bait and switch though discredits his entire paper. So we're left with no evidence for extraordinary claims.
posted by effugas at 11:32 AM on March 28, 2010


four orders of magnitude

What, 10,000 times? Raise the intensity of a lightbulb four orders of magnitude and it will turn you and your house to ash. And cell phones aren't "high power." They're minuscule, far less than a watt, as pointed out above.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:47 AM on March 28, 2010


Jimmy,

Yeah, and hold an active 100W lightbulb against the side of your face and you'll get a nasty burn.

Look, I'm with you here, I'm not really seeing great evidence for damage. But it's not mercury in Thimeserol or anything like that.
posted by effugas at 12:23 PM on March 28, 2010


all these experiments I'm reading about remind me of anti-drug research, like the ones that discover that Ecstasy causes "abnormal" neurons

As a matter of fact, the study that found that Ecstasy eats away at your brain was done with methamphetamine. The "scientists" doing the study were later caught in the lie, IIRC.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:24 PM on March 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eh. Raise the intensity of a wifi transmitter about four orders of magnitude, and it'll boil you alive.

You do understand what four orders of magnitude means, yes?

This thread is full of stupid. Hard-headed, hand-wringing stupid.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:24 PM on March 28, 2010


Also, if you raise the number of gallons of water in your bath by four orders of magnitude, you'll fill your whole house with water and DROWN OMG OMG OMG BAN THE BATH
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:29 PM on March 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Funny how if you have to say "we're not crackpots!", you're almost invariably a bunch of crackpots.
See: anti-vaxers, 9/11 truthers, intelligent designers, UFO people.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:47 PM on March 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


good thing then that what I was going to say is that i'm henceforward going to think in words, in case I need a tin foil hat to wrap my cellphone with, wait... or is that a new hat for my pointy head?
posted by infini at 12:49 PM on March 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Raise the intensity of an incandescent bulb 10,000 times, and you're in a Thomas Kinkade painting.
posted by dirigibleman at 1:08 PM on March 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


You do understand what four orders of magnitude means, yes?

This thread is full of stupid. Hard-headed, hand-wringing stupid.


Well, the transmitter in my old Prism II 802.11b card was rated at 100mW.

The Microwave in which I used to cook all my meals in high school was rated at 1000W.

Both emitted at 2.45GHz.

Four orders of magnitude tends to refer to 10^4.

100mW * 10^4 == 1000W.

So, yes. I am pretty sure I understand what four orders of magnitude means.

Look, the whole point about being a rational scientist is you don't tolerate silly arguments any more than bad data. Radio being "extremely low frequency" is irrelevant. Assuming "penetration" means "absolute noninteraction" is counterfactual. Stating if there was a problem, we'd know it by now, is ridiculous. And acting like there aren't proposed mechanisms, in a response to somebody who did indeed post a paper proposing a mechanism, is active indifference to the truth.

Again, I don't believe by any stretch of the imagination that I've seen good data backing these cancer links. I've specifically discounted everything I'm every going to see from this one Lai guy, who in my estimation very much tried to get away with something. But if you respond to bad science, with more bad science, you just leave people figuring out who they emotionally want to support. And guess what, that's a battle we always lose.
posted by effugas at 2:01 PM on March 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


It occurs to me that perhaps you guys aren't familiar with the photoelectric effect, or the base concept that photon energy is quantized such that *intensity alone* cannot alter behavior.

What Einstein got his Nobel Prize for, was the observation that an absurd amount of infrared light was insufficient to cause a charge to flow from a certain type of solar cell, but even a tiny amount of ultraviolet radiation was. (Yes, this difference can be four orders of magnitude. Still no effect.)

Photon energy is quantized, and a lot of photons without enough energy just isn't going to have an effect.

2.4GHz, in very high intensities, has an uncontroversial and deleterious effect. Does it have such an effect at vastly smaller intensities? I don't think so, and I certainly haven't seen data to convince me otherwise. But, certain on a photon by photon basis, there's enough energy to possibly do something interesting, or all the intensity in the world wouldn't make it so.

I'm not saying you guys are wrong. Just that you need better arguments.
posted by effugas at 2:18 PM on March 28, 2010


This thread is full of stupid. Hard-headed, hand-wringing stupid.

It sure is. Unfortunately, the stupid is flowing from both sides of the debate with equal intensity and with similar stupid-spectrum profiles (from only slightly stupid, to super-duper stupid).

My conclusion, cell phones probably aren't as bad as smoking. Smoking itself isn't exactly that terrible, just pretty bad, so...Beyond that, we really have no idea, and it is going to be many years yet before we do.
posted by Chuckles at 2:28 PM on March 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Funny how we disagree on the physics of the situation, even though we agree on the specious validity of the research.

Frequency does matter, because low frequency photons don't have enough energy to cause molecular damage. Penetration does imply non-interaction, because interaction is what prevents penetration. High-frequency photons don't penetrate because they interact with molecules, and high-frequency photons are dangerous because they interact with molecules.

Oh, right, the claim is that it's a thermal effect. But the problem there is that the magnitude of the thermal effect is so low that it's below the thermal effects of metabolism.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:43 PM on March 28, 2010


Jimmy--

My feeling on the matter right now is I want some better data that shows an effect at all, long before we try to argue about the source of the event. DNA is ridiculously weird stuff and I wouldn't really presume the normal rules of molecular damage apply.
posted by effugas at 3:48 PM on March 28, 2010


Also, Jimmy, penetration vs. nonpenetration isn't absolute. Humans have high water content and thus do block 2.4GHz to some nonzero degree. (900MHz less so.)
posted by effugas at 3:50 PM on March 28, 2010


Oh, right, the claim is that it's a thermal effect.

No, it isn't. As in:
Here is the abstract of an article which addresses the question of whether or not microwaves can cause direct, non-thermal folding of proteins
The fact that observed folding of proteins (whatever that means, I know almost nothing about the biological aspects) is non-thermal has been well established throughout this thread.
posted by Chuckles at 4:06 PM on March 28, 2010


Protein folding is a very hot topic right now, so I'm not surprised that someone who wants to handwave would choose it as the place to wave their hands. I'm surprised they don't claim that cell phones generate prions.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 7:40 PM on March 28, 2010


DNA is ridiculously weird stuff and I wouldn't really presume the normal rules of molecular damage apply.

What?! Uh, no. We actually understand mechanisms of DNA damage pretty well. DNA's big, sure, but it's a polymer made out of only four repeating parts, it's got a well-known structure, etc. It's way easier to work with than proteins - and, in fact, there are a fair number of more chemistry-based methods that can be used on DNA but not (often) on proteins simply because proteins are so much bigger, more complicated, made of more sorts of subunits, etc. Some of the major results of exposure to ionizing radiation include abasic sites - sometimes causing single-strand breaks (double strand breaks are rarer but much harder to recover from) - and DNA lesions where bases are modified in some way that makes them either cause mis-coding or stop the polymerase (and thus replication and transcription) completely. (We specifically know the mechanisms for the formation of the major lesions, including 8-oxo-dG, FaPydG, FaPydA, etc.) There are, of course, other mechanisms of DNA damage - UV, alkylation by various chemicals, etc. - but those are reasonably well understood too, as are the proteins involved in repair.

There are very specific amounts of energy needed to cleave the bonds like the ones in DNA, and while I don't know much about the frequencies used by cellphones, they're way further from the range of ionizing radiation than, say, visible light. Seeing as DNA is a big chemical, wherein the normal mechanisms of molecular damage do apply, I'd be surprised to find any lesion formation or strand breakage caused directly by that sort of radiation. Thermal effects on proteins that interact with DNA sound slightly more plausible, but you'd have to show me that the fluctuations are so far out of the normal cellular range that protein structure or protein/cellular behavior are actually affected in some meaningful way - and that those effects somehow result in the sorts of mutations, changed regulation of certain proteins, etc. that actually result in cancer. Maybe we'll see that - who knows? - but it really doesn't seem proven at this point.
posted by ubersturm at 9:52 PM on March 28, 2010


That would totally rule the Comics page on reddit for a day or so is somebody made it, I guarantee it.
posted by Artw at 10:01 PM on March 28, 2010


The people who claim that cell phones are dangerous can't come up with a mechanism to explain their claim

Medical research often shows demonstrable (statistically significant) effects from treatment conditions, without providing mechanisms. If you think a mechanism is an absolute requirement for determining the right or wrong of research studies, you are incorrect.

This thread is full of stupid. Hard-headed, hand-wringing stupid.

You are correct on this point. The other stuff, not so much, maybe. But you're right about this.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:15 AM on March 29, 2010


uber--

I'll always defer to superior knowledge. DNA seemed weird because it's actively replicative, in a way your average polymer (or molecule, for that matter) isn't. Since the necessary energy levels for all sorts of interactions are already present, the question shifts to whether those interactions can be modulated by ambient non-ionizing radiation.

I assigned that "unknown due to insufficient data" rather than "no, because energy levels are insufficient" specifically due to this. The answer is still no -- the burden of proof is never to prove the negative -- but flat out saying "it's impossible for there to be damage since the per-photon energy isn't there" seemed an overstatement of the science. Dynamic systems are weird.

Let me know if you think I'm completely off base.
posted by effugas at 10:48 AM on March 29, 2010


i have seen this debate ongoing online for some years now and each time I've frankly found myself not even bothered to click through the silly headlines. cellphones do this, mobiles do that bla bla bla, the bottom line is that if we dig up some old papers, we'll find someone somewhere said,

nobody's going to put a pc in their house

everything that's been invented already has

wait, that's a horse? why does it need iron rails, lets put in green ones (sorry I digressed )

so, let allow time to reveal the solution. we do not always know when one is right and the other wrong, or whatever, but in the years since the slightly mangled quotations above were made, which I'm sure many of you recognize, we've found what? a computer (or 4) within reach of everyone here reading these words of mine? many apply for patents and others who don't only because they know what a painful, expensive adn long process it is plus there's more where that came from so why bother, and i LOVE the trains
posted by infini at 11:00 AM on March 29, 2010


DNA seemed weird because it's actively replicative, in a way your average polymer (or molecule, for that matter) isn't. [...] flat out saying "it's impossible for there to be damage since the per-photon energy isn't there" seemed an overstatement of the science. Dynamic systems are weird.

I'm not sure what you mean by "actively replicative." Polymerization of nucleotides is just like polymerization of anything else: it depends on the energetics of the coupling reaction, the concentration of the reactants (or effective concentration in the active site of a polymerase), etc. Basic chemical properties of the compound (solvent exposure, base stacking, H-bonding, etc.) affect DNA stability. Some things can help catalyze it or slow it. But if you think that nucleotides just sorta spontaneously bind to each other and copy each other in the cell - well, that's not how it happens. There are definitely non-enzymatic ways to synthesize DNA, but they really play no major role in vivo. There's a complex set of protein machinery that copies DNA and error-checks it, and many of the proteins involved are ATP-dependent (in other words, they require an energy input to perform their functions.) It's not magic.

But really, that has limited relevance to the question of DNA damage, because we're talking about breaking DNA, not making it. How does DNA damage via ionizing radiation usually occur? I worded stuff in my previous post a bit confusingly, but most commonly, it occurs via the formation of radicals (often hydroxyl radicals or various oxygen radical species, which is why "oxidative DNA damage" is a term seen a lot in DNA damage/repair research.) When water is exposed to ionizing radiation, hydroxyl radicals and reactive oxygen species can result. If we're talking about lower-energy radiation, the radiation may excite the water molecule, and dissipation of the energy sometimes may include bond breakage. If I recall correctly - and it looks like I'm close to right - the threshhold for excitation is something like 7eV and the threshhold for ionization is more like 13eV. Now, if the numbers bandied around above are correct, you're looking at 800MHz to 2.5ish GHz for cellphone radiation. So, let's take a look at photon energy for that range of frequencies: E=hf, where h is Planck's constant and f is the radiation frequency. That puts us solidly in the... micro-eV (µeV) range. Orders of magnitude too weak to break bonds, create nasty radical species, etc.

So again: maybe you can hypothesize something where thermal excitation minutely affects polymerase structure or behavior, slightly edging up its error rate, or thermal excitation changes cell behavior in some other way (that maybe through a long chain of events also increases the risk of mutations.) I'm all for gathering more data, and I certainly don't think it's impossible that there's some sort of effect! However, claims of direct damage to DNA by cellphone radiation just don't seem particularly likely to me, unless we've got some heretofore unobserved process going on.
posted by ubersturm at 11:15 AM on March 30, 2010


uber--

Thanks for your time. FWIW, you've actually convinced a human being on the Internet of the correctness of your position.
posted by effugas at 6:42 PM on March 30, 2010


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