The hysterical cancer campaign against cell phones

If zealots in San Francisco get their way, wireless technology could be banned from your home and workplace

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I'm no fan of the CTIA, and simply posting inane SAR signs would hardly be a disaster. But the ordinance sets a terrible precedent that will be used by NIMBYs everywhere to block installation of cell phone towers and other types of wireless equipment. If those people live next door to you or in an adjacent apartment, they could even claim that your cell phone use endangers their children. Sure, that's a stretch, but given how litigious our country has become, I'd be surprised if that didn't happen.

What about the evidence?
Concerns over the health effects of cell phone use go back as far as the 1990s. The National Cancer Institute began a comprehensive study of possible environmental and genetic causes of malignant and benign brain tumors in 1994 and published the results in 2001. Here's what they said:

The researchers found no evidence that a person's risk of developing a brain tumor increased with increasing years of use or average minutes of use per day, nor did brain tumors among cellular phone users tend to occur more often than expected on the side of the head on which the person reported using their phone.

To be fair, cell phones in use at the time were analog, but a larger, contemporary European study that did look at digital phones had similar results. The Interphone study has been characterized by some in the media as ambiguous. I'm not at all sure that's the case. Here's the conclusion of the 10-year study as expressed by the researchers themselves.

In this first national report from the Interphone Study, there was no significantly increased risk of development of acoustic neuroma among regular users of handheld cellular telephones. In addition, the pattern of use of a cellular telephone did not correlate with the location of the tumor or symptoms of the disease. In line with previous studies, we found no correlation between the side on which the telephone was most frequently held and the site of the tumor. Finally, there was no increase in risk according to the telephone operating system first used (analogue or digital).

Doesn't sound ambiguous to me. Yes, the study was funded, in part, by the wireless industry. Does that poison results? I haven't seen a serious critique of the work that would lead me to think that the results were biased.

More studies are under way, including one that looks at the effects on children. If it turns out that there is a serious health danger associated with cell phone use, a sign in the store won't be of much help.

The somewhat hysterical campaign against cell phone use worries me. It's easy to poke fun at people who disregard science and claim the earth is only 5,000 years old. But is fearmongering about wireless technology and vaccinations any smarter?

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Post them here so that all our readers can share them, or reach me at bill.snyder@sbcglobal.net.

This article, "The hysterical cancer campaign against cell phones," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com.

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