Mobile phones: dangerous until proven safe?
The paranoid will be all too convinced by cancer specialist Dr Robert B. Herberman’s tentative advice* based on unpublished data to limit cell phone use because of a possible risk of cancer.
Never mind that the University of Pittburgh release flies contrary to almost every major study on the cell phone-cancer link published to date. In fact, let’s just ignore anything that could be considered remotely factual. The advice from the University’s Cancer Institute centres on the same argument I hear from people who refuse to flash their headlights to tell others to turn theirs on: it’s not about what we do know, it’s about what we don’t know.
It is a recurring theme throughout the case: “Sufficient time has not elapsed in order for us to have conclusive data” … “Studies in humans do not indicate that cell phones are safe, nor do they yet clearly show that they are dangerous” … “we are not yet able to evaluate their long term impact on health.” What Dr Herberman is promoting is fear of the unknown, a trait echoed by his colleague Devra Lee Davis:
“The question is do you want to play Russian roulette with your brain,” she said in an interview that she did from her cell phone. “I don’t know that cell phones are dangerous. But I don’t know that they are safe.”¹
One can only imagine the sort of lives we would live if we lived in fear of everything we “don’t know”. We don’t know that walking to school, university or work’s safe on this particular day (think ambush, abduction, rape), but does that stop anyone? This retort by PalMD in his blog sums it up well:
Hey, I don’t know for an absolute certainty that my popcorn won’t spontaneously combust, but I’m not yelling fire either.
I won’t provide a biological evaluation of the cell phone-cancer claim (I’m not a medical practitioner); Orac’s provided some analysis in his blog and I’m sure others will have done the same. It is worth pointing out, though, an American Study, a British study, a French study, a German study and a Swedish study (the last of which studied long-term users)—and there are many more, you just have to run a journal search or Google it and follow some links—all of which find no link between mobile phone use and brain tumours, or at least no statistically worthwhile evidence. If there’s a real case for us to be worried, I can’t find it.
Not so, says Dr Herberman:
“Really at the heart of my concern is that we shouldn’t wait for a definitive study to come out […]”²
So panic now, children, distance yourself from these guilty devices. Until they are proven safe beyond all reasonable doubt, you should presume them to be dangerous.