More scare mongering about cell phone use, now in Salon

Salon has published an excerpt from a book by Dr. Martin Blank that is a bit alarmist about EMFs including from cell phones. He invokes the Precautionary Principle.

Your cellphone is killing you: What people don’t want you to know about electromagnetic fields –

The damage to DNA caused by EMF exposure is believed to be one of the mechanisms by which EMF exposure leads to negative health effects. Multiple separate studies indicate significantly increased risk (up to two and three times normal risk) of developing certain types of brain tumors following EMF exposure from cell phones over a period of many years. One review that averaged the data across 16 studies found that the risk of developing a tumor on the same side of the head as the cell phone is used is elevated 240% for those who regularly use cell phones for 10 years or more. An Israeli study found that people who use cell phones at least 22 hours a month are 50% more likely to develop cancers of the salivary gland (and there has been a four-fold increase in the incidence of these types of tumors in Israel between 1970 and 2006). […] Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated EMF—including power frequencies and radio frequencies—as a possible cause of cancer.

While cancer is one of the primary classes of negative health effects studied by researchers, EMF exposure has been shown to increase risk for many other types of negative health outcomes. In fact, levels of EMF thousands of times lower than current safety standards have been shown to significantly increase risk for neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease) and male infertility associated with damaged sperm cells.

In this alarmist piece, the studies are not critiqued. They are presented too definitively. There is nothing definitive about this question but the results so far are very suggestive that there is NOTHING to be alarmist about. The WHO EMF designation is also misleading in a propagandistic sort of way because this designation is given to MANY things that in various doses may or may not cause cancer. [And was highly controversial, see here for better info.] We just don’t know but after 10 years of cell phone use, a direct cause-effect relationship is not obvious. People are not getting cancer in droves because of cell phone use. The same appears to apply to other claimed health effects. The solid conclusion that is promoted here just does not exist.

I apologize for not being able to take the time and effort needed to do a good rebuttal on this piece. As many of you know, DN is a more than full-time job without salary and so I can’t devote the time necessary to address this but the data and analysis to dispute it is out there. Here’s a start with a pile of sound, science-based information that rebuts the cell phone EMF fear. Feel free to add more in the comments.

I get the impression that Salon, like many other web outlets, publish such pieces in order to fan the controversy in a shallow way that promotes web hits instead of providing actually useful information. That’s a big disappointment but a reality of the web.


Cell Phones and Brain Tumors « Science-Based Medicine.

New Data on Cell Phones and Cancer « Science-Based Medicine.

[T]here is no convincing data to link cell phone use and brain cancer. Epidemiological studies have not found an increase in the incidence of brain cancer following the widespread adoption of cell phones in the mid 1990s – as one would expect if there were a causal relationship. Further, large-scale studies have not found any consistent correlation between cell phone use and brain cancer.

Cell phones and cancer again, or: Oh, no! My cell phone’s going to give me cancer! « Science-Based Medicine.

Cell phones and cancer again, or: Oh, no! My cell phone’s going to give me cancer! (revisited) « Science-Based Medicine.

A Disconnect between cell phone fears and science « Science-Based Medicine. Critique of a similar alarmist book.

Critique of “Risk of Brain Tumors from Wireless Phone Use” « Science-Based Medicine.

Magnetic field exposure and neurodegenerative disease risk. Even for electrical workers, there is no clear effect on exposure according to this piece. This lends credence to the conclusion that there really are no health effects from EMF exposures at everyday rates.

The Alzheimer’s link? It’s certainly not clearly there is a study that shows the exact opposite. Do Cell Phones Prevent Alzheimer’s? « Science-Based Medicine.

Canadian consumer protection group reports: Wifi hazard claims unsupported by science | Doubtful News.

Royal Society of Canada OK with Wi-fi If wifi and other EM fields WERE hazardous, we would have been able to measure the effects prior to this. And, it would up-end the way we think about physics.

Tip: Craig Rheinheimer

  10 comments for “More scare mongering about cell phone use, now in Salon

  1. spookyparadigm
    April 13, 2014 at 11:52 AM

    “I get the impression that Salon, like many other web outlets, publish such pieces in order to fan the controversy in a shallow way that promotes web hits instead of providing actually useful information.”

    They didn’t use to. In the 2000s, Salon was a pretty good emagazine, at times quite worth either subscribing or doing their ad-paywall experiments. Much of their better content was political commentary (Glenn Greenwald, for example, before he ended up being so entangled in the Snowden story), but some of it was on other topics. They were accused from the get-go of being tabloidish, but that didn’t mean tabloid in the Weekly World News sense, but as in their style (vs. say The Economist)

    But in the last year or so, it seems like they have decided to follow much more closely the business model of their long-term rival, Slate. Covering politics as well as elements of “elite” society of affluent educated people, Slate developed a model of contrary articles, and especially headlines designed to annoy their likely readers, but still making sure they clicked the link. In a sense, they were doing a higher-brow version of “You won’t believe what happened next …” long before HuffPo and Buzzfeed perfected it. In the last year or so, I and apparently from comments others have started to notice Salon increasingly taking this tack, especially with writing inflammatory headlines over at most mildly contrary articles, as well as running more outrage-inducing pieces.

  2. CLamb
    April 13, 2014 at 1:14 PM

    I would expect the danger of doing something hazardous because of distraction by a cell phone would be far more dangerous than the EMF.

  3. April 13, 2014 at 2:05 PM

    I agree. I used to participate in a lot of Salon’s online offerings.

  4. spookyparadigm
    April 13, 2014 at 4:01 PM

    The thing related to DN in all of this is a topic Jodi Dean raised 15+ years ago with her book “Aliens in America.” I’m not a fan of the book, and it still seems like something of an X-Files cash-in at the academic press level, but she did benefit in part from doing it first.

    Anyway, there is a lot of semi-Freudian analysis of alien abduction vs. astronaut imagery which is at best mildly interesting. But her big takeaway point in the long-distant late 1990s is that conspiracy theory and paranoia is a rational response to the decentering of authority that the information age brings. That the internet particularly, and widespread media generally, undermines authority, and the “find the links” style of conspiracy theory actually makes sense.

    Nevermind the question of whether this is rational or not, this is to some degree what has happened. But for those who have grown up in this environment rather than having it thrust upon them (basically those younger than a Boomer), it has led less to media tribalism (the demographics of the open propaganda media like Fox etc., is mostly old, and even those who tribally defend the less partisan NPR are on the upper age range), than to general disenchantment. In this sense, the die-hard Alex Jones followers are a minority in their allegiances. Younger consumers aren’t interested in trusting any sources of information, but not so much in a shrewd democratic deconstruction of power, but more in a reactive consumerism that does indeed support listicles and eye-grabbing youtube “scoops” like the Yellowstone Bison.

    Sharon, you’ve been working on this in various ways, and if you don’t want to spill here as it is good material for more lucrative places, that’s fine. But I’d ask you: can you detect generational differences in how this stuff is consumed?

    To me, there is a transition from a more tribal and systemic approach, to one that is more individual, less concerned with structure, and more ephemeal, something that shows up nicely in occulture, but can also be seen in the transformation of media like Salon. And it isn’t a “these kids today” argument. I think it mirrors significant changes in the last forty years in our class structure and the basis of employment and class mobility in the US especially but visible in a number of other wealthy societies (partly due to changing technology, but mostly due to the rise of neo-liberal “free market” policies and the collapse of the strong nation state which itself is related to issues of the collapse of the old colonial system), and a related shift in educational policy in the last 15-20 years.

  5. April 13, 2014 at 5:53 PM

    Yes, it really is this complicated. Not one factor at all. I haven’t been able to make heads or tales out of it.

  6. Phil
    April 13, 2014 at 9:41 PM
    “Where do cell phones fall on this spectrum? According to phys­i­­cist Bernard Leikind in a technical article in Skeptic magazine (Vol. 15, No. 4), known carcinogens such as x-rays, gamma rays and UV rays have energies greater than 480 kilojoules per mole (kJ/mole), which is enough to break chemical bonds. Green-light photons hold 240 kJ/mole of energy, which is enough to bend (but not break) the rhodopsin molecules in our retinas that trigger our photosensitive rod cells to fire. A cell phone generates radiation of less than 0.001 kJ/mole. That is 480,000 times weaker than UV rays and 240,000 times weaker than green light!”
    So bearing in mind cell phone radiation is 240,000 times less intense than light, how can they be imparting enough energy to cause cancer?

  7. Frederick
    April 13, 2014 at 11:26 PM

    Of course, there’s electromagnetic waves that can give you cancer! it’s call UV light. do those people ever study physic? Do they ever look at electromagnetic spectrum? Do they ever understand That EMF from cell phone and wifi are hundred of thousand even million time less energetic than visible light? Here in Quebec the the main power company is installing smart and wireless power counter all over the province ( i have mine since 2008). there group of people complaining that those are killing them. Those people are annoying.

    Great Post phil thank for the numbers 🙂

  8. James G
    April 14, 2014 at 3:00 AM

    We have the same problem here in BC. A small and very vocal minority has opposed smart meters claiming there are adverse health effects. After lawsuits and a lot of complaining, BC Hydro finally gave people the opportunity to opt out, but at a price of 35 bucks a month, or 20 if you just wanted the transmitter turned off. This is to cover the costs of visiting the meter and the extra administration. According to the CBC, of the 68,000 people who objected to the smart meters, only 19,000 were willing to fork out the money; the rest accepted the installation.

    They represent one percent of BC Hydro’s 1.8 million customers. They really are a fringe element, which, to me, is encouraging.

  9. Blargh
    April 15, 2014 at 2:56 PM

    Moles of photons? Madness!
    *grumble grumble electronvolts grumble*

    Anyway. There is in fact at least one plausible mechanism of action for cancer-by-mobile-phone that doesn’t involve direct ionization – there have been studies indicating that cell phone EM exposure can at least to some extent affect the permeability of the blood-brain barrier (e.g. [1], [2]), potentially then leading to a higher (chemical) carcinogen exposure. So just going “well cell phone radiation isn’t ionizing!” is in no way a debunking.

    The only thing to do is look at the epidemiological data, and there is where the hypothesis falls apart. After 30 or so years of widespread mobile phone use, we still see no detectable link between mobile phone use and cancer, meaning there’s either no link or any increased risk is too small to matter.

  10. Norm
    April 18, 2014 at 7:36 PM

    Hello James G

    I too am from B.C. As yet there have been no law suits in regard to the health concerns of smart meters in B.C.

    The majority of those who have opted out have been those who do not wish to have their privacy compromised. As you know these smart meters record, store and transmit ll your electrical usage. When you operate any lamp, appliance, power tool or garage door. They are nothing more than wire tapping devices. The $35.00 per month is an extortion fee. Many people cannot afford the $35.00 fee, so have accpted under duress.

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