THE BLOG

War-Gaming Cell Phone Science Protects Neither Brains Nor Private Parts

05/21/2013 12:20 pm ET | Updated Jul 21, 2013
  • Devra Davis, Ph.D. Visiting Professor, Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School, President, Environmental Health Trust, award-winning scientist and writer

In science news as in life, timing is everything. As soon as the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer expert review declaring cell phone radiation a "possible human carcinogen" -- just like lead, DDT, and jet fuel -- was drafted in 2011, the global multi-trillion dollar cell phone industry set up a quarter of a billion dollar defense fund to produce and promote science that would discredit the WHO. Whenever a report pops up questioning cell phone safety, a contrary report stands ready in the wings to cast doubt about its legitimacy.

Case in point. The WHO published detailed documentation for its year-long 2011 expert review last month. Extending this work, Santosh Kesari, chief of neuro-oncology at the University of California, San Diego, two of Canada's top physician-epidemiologists, Antony B. Miller and Colin Soskolne, and I have just published a technical report concluding that more recent studies indicate that cell phone radiation constitutes a "probable human carcinogen."

Now, let's look at what's being presented as "new science" from Taiwan and Sweden -- packaged for headline writers as proving that because there is no increase in brain cancer at this time, cell phones can be used with impunity. In fact, the effort to promote these skeptical reports is part of a longstanding practice of this industry that sees science as nothing but a matter of public relations. When first reports that cell phone radiation could damage DNA emerged from the laboratory of Henry Lai and N.P. Singh, a memo written by Motorola to their media advisors in 1994 announced the clear strategy that remains alive and well: war-game the science.

Of course, the public remains confused.

Despite its press hype, the poorly-worded Taiwanese report is being hyped to the media now because the WHO IARC publication has "reignited" interest in the health impacts of cell phones. A phantom that only exists as an online abstract that emerged April 14 through the scientific literature search engine PubMed, the full report can not be found on that journal's website as an epublication ahead of print. Entitled, "The incidence rate and mortality of malignant brain tumors after 10 years of intensive cell phone use in Taiwan," no information is provided about whether this study considered microwave radiation exposures to cordless phones or other wireless devices besides cell phones, which can provide two-thirds of all microwave radiation exposure daily. The online abstract ends with some highly unscientific language that sounds as though it was crafted for the PR section of Foxconn -- the Taiwanese producer of phones for Apple, Motorola, and Sony:

In conclusion, we do not detect any correlation between the morbidity/mortality of malignant brain tumors and cell phone use in Taiwan. We thus urge international agencies to publish only confirmatory reports with more applicable conclusions in public. This will help spare the public from unnecessary worries.


Available as a full document, the online report of the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority (SRPA) provides a more substantial review of both laboratory and human studies but is hardly the reassuring declaration of safety the headlines imply. The report notes growing experimental evidence that cell phone radiation alters chemical responses of the brain and brain waves and also noted that one highly-sensitive individual could perceive electrical fields. Regarding the absence of a general increase in brain cancer at this time, the report cautions that vigilance is appropriate in light of these other indications and the long latency of brain cancer.

One of those mocking cell phone dangers in Forbes magazine in March is Geoffrey Kabat, a scientist with no research or publications on the topic. He ignores two important facts: After exposure to a cancer-causing agent, brain cancer can take between 40 to 50 years to occur in the general population, and no environmental cancer-causing agent including tobacco produces a population-wide impact within a decade. As a former government leader of the U.S. effort to produce a safe cigarette, Kabat does have an impressive resume. As recently as 2002, the tobacco industry funded his work that regularly found no harm from passive smoke.

Another who's consistently skeptical about brain cancer ties to cell phones is Anders Ahlbom, M.D., the former chairman of the SRPA expert group. Because he did not disclose his business ties to a telecom lobbying firm headed by his brother Gunnar, Ahlbom resigned from his Swedish post and was asked to withdraw from the IARC review group in 2011.

In fact, brain cancer is hardly the only health matter of concern when it comes to cell phones and other devices. While important studies are carried out, we need to protect children from wireless routers, baby monitors, and numerous other sources of microwave radiation that can affect the brains and bodies of infants and toddlers, and we need to protect young men and women who wish to become parents of healthy children.

Scientists and policy makers in tech-savvy nations like Israel and Finland are taking steps to protect the young brain and reproductive organs. Yet in the states, the iPhone plastic baby rattle case protects the phone's glass screen from cracking when dropped or nibbled on by teething inquisitive babies but does not protect the infant's young brain and rapidly growing body from the phone's pulsed digital microwave radiation. The WHO report notes that the bone marrow of a child's head absorbs 10 times more radiation than an adult, while those of infants and toddlers will absorb even more. The American Academy of Pediatrics cautions that children need more real face time than screen time, more laps than apps, and has written the FCC urging that fine print warnings that come with all smartphones to not keep phones in the pocket and avoid contact with the pregnant abdomen or those of teenagers should become standard medical advice.

War games can make for fun when confined to computer screens, but when carried out on science, this places our health and that of our children and grandchildren at risk.

For more information download and share our one page, two-sided doctors' pamphlet about the need to practice safe phone, written by Charlie Teo, one of the world's top neurosurgeons, and other experts in the field

See Dr. Davis at the Institute for Functional Medicine National Conference in Dallas, Texas May 28 - June1, 2013

For more by Devra Davis, Ph.D., click here.

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