The Independent has yet another hysterical article about the potential link between cell phones and brain cancer. And I’ve been asked, what are we seeing here? Is this the early reporting of a potential public health threat? Or is it just more nonsense from a newspaper that wouldn’t know good science if it sat on it’s head? Both Ben Goldacre and I have felt the need to take on some piece of nonsense from the Independent, and their previous writing on “electrosmog”, a repeatedly disproven piece of crankery, diminishes their credibility on this issue.
And guess what else diminishes their credibility here? Only about every single aspect of this article. For one they start out with an irresponsible claim about the risks of cell-phone use that I won’t bother to repeat since it will just reinforce an unproven statement.
Second, where is this study? I looked for it. I searched for the author’s name in pubmed, and while he’s well-published, there’s nothing about cell phones.
Yet they claim the study has been published:
The study, by Dr Vini Khurana, is the most devastating indictment yet published of the health risks.
But then we find out that this study isn’t “published”, the results are just on a “brain surgery website”. After a little more digging I found it here published on Dr. Khurana’s webpage. Just a little reminder for the Independent, putting a paper on a webpage does not make it “published” in a fashion equivalent to publication in a scientific journal, and they would do well to correct this in their article. I know they won’t because I’ve noted a total lack of journalistic responsibility in their science coverage, but one can dream. Then I see this:
Professor Khurana – a top neurosurgeon who has received 14 awards over the past 16 years, has published more than three dozen scientific papers – reviewed more than 100 studies on the effects of mobile phones. He has put the results on a brain surgery website, and a paper based on the research is currently being peer-reviewed for publication in a scientific journal.
Currently being peer-reviewed? This means this paper is unpublished and merely submitted for review. Further, it’s a very strange move to take a paper that is being considered for publication to put it into the public domain. This means that it’s either been rejected from wherever was supposed to take it, or the author doesn’t realize this will likely sabotage its chances of being published. I simply don’t understand this move. Dr. Khurana appears to be a legitimate scientist, but that doesn’t make this any less inappropriate a method of publishing such a result. Since he hasn’t gone through proper peer-review channels before making this article available I think this means it’s fair game for me to criticize, and there’s plenty of room for that.
For one, he has an entire section on “Popular Press and the Internet” which consists of anecdotal reports of cancer clusters in the press, crank websites repeating false claims about cell phones and second-hand reporting on scientific articles. This is hardly a scientific approach to epidemiology or risk assessment, and should be dismissed out of hand as unworthy of discussion in a scientific paper. A review of the literature does not include citations of “www.EMF-Health.com”, no kidding, this is one of the sources he mentions. A website that sells the Q-link, a quack remedy for a nonexistent malady!
Then I see this statement:
In other words, if cell phones interfere with aircraft and hospital electrical equipment (even at quite a distance), how can it be that they don’t interfere with the electrical equipment of the head (i.e., the brain, when held for extended periods of time right next to this
Who’s done with this guy now? Do you even have to go on after a statement so absurd? This reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of physics and biology and a terrible argument from analogy. It’s an especially bad analogy as the evidence seems to be that cell phones have no effect on plane equipment to the point the FAA has long considered dropping the ban. Finally there is very little physical basis for a carcinogenic link between these radiofrequencies and cancer, so what would be the mechanism? The EM bands used by cell phones are non-ionizing, and do not have a physically plausible mechanism for causing cancer.
So far we only a couple pages in, have incredibly questionable sourcing and a terrible argument from analogy, l’ve already dismissed this as unworthy of consideration, should we bother to keep going? Ok, maybe a little further.
Continue reading “Cell Phones and Cancer – Scaremongering from the Independent”