(don’t send me the bill for the replacement)

I’m sure others will cover more of the scientific details, but science aside, we should examine why today’s statement on cell phones out of Pittsburgh is so ridiculous. Setting aside the lack of data connecting cell phones and health problems, this is horribly irresponsible.

Here’s the thumbnail: an alarmist report was released by the UP Cancer Institute’s Center for Environmental Oncology. It was apparently targeted at the university community, and stated that despite lack of current evidence, the community should worry about cell phones this instant.

On the official website, no author is listed. But authority is invoked…sort of…

The Case for Precaution in the Use of Cell Phones: Advice from University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Based on Advice from an International Expert Panel

Advice from UPCI based on advice from a international panel…a panel whose names are deceptively listed at the bottom of the report, as if they have endorsed it.

So who wrote and released this irresponsible, panic-infused report?

A driving force behind the memo was Devra Lee Davis, the director of the university’s center for environmental oncology.
“The question is do you want to play Russian roulette with your brain,” she said in an interview from her cell phone while using the hands-free speaker phone as recommended. “I don’t know that cell phones are dangerous. But I don’t know that they are safe.”

Hey, I don’t know for an absolute certainty that my popcorn won’t spontaneously combust, but I’m not yelling fire either.

From NPR:
“She said 20 different groups have endorsed the advice the Pittsburgh cancer institute gave…”

Read carefully…these groups didn’t endorse the report…they endorsed advice similar to that given in the report. The irresponsibility is tumesceing rapidly.

The warning is also apparently based on unpublished data from a poorly done study, but that won’t deter the cell phone panic squad:

Really at the heart of my concern is that we shouldn’t wait for a definitive study to come out

Of course not. That would be too…scientific.

At least some of the students are smart:

“I think if they gave me specific numbers and specific information and it was scary enough, I would be concerned,” [the student] said, planning to call her mother again in a matter of minutes. “Without specific numbers, it’s too vague to get me worked up.”

I can’t think of a comparable event to this. Will the University distance itself from this rogue cellphone savior?

(all quoted news reports from http://www.npr.org)


  1. Presently I have a teenager guest at my house. She is a friend of my daughter. Her parents (in two separate households) have given up the landline. They all use cellphones.

    That is because they communicate with the kid through text messaging… because she is deaf! (okay, very hard of hearing… let us just say, that I can yell at other teenager to get up and not bother her in the slightest even though she is just few feet away!)

    Okay, technically text messaging is not done next to the ear.

  2. Richard Eis

    and what tool might i ask are they going to use to prise the cell phone out of peoples cold dead hands?

  3. But I don’t know that they are safe.

    How about AM/FM radio and terrestrial TV signals? More importantly, what about heavy electricity? It’s dropping out of power lines like tons of lead soup!

  4. Andrew

    Don’t forget the internet as well, it only takes a hogshead of internet to potentially contaminate a whole community, some of whom may subsequently suffer health problems and perhaps even death!

  5. You forgot to add that Batman may be using your cell phone to visualize you and your entire environment. I think that’s far more likely than anything the scaremongers are concerned about….

  6. Yeah, I was thinking about writing about this, but I wanted to wait a day or two to see if information than just those news stories and the announcement would be forthcoming. This whole thing reeks of alarmism and premature sounding of the alarm. Given all the previous studies that showed no link or were equivocal for perhaps a slightly increased risk, along with the lack of biological mechanism, at most I’d conclude from the literature that cell phones might cause a slightly increased risk of brain tumors–maybe. The evidence is quite weak and not nearly mature.

    My question is: What on earth was Dr. Herberman thinking? He’s normally a pretty reasonable guy. Even if the data are as alarming (unlikely, given the number of previous studies that found either no risk or a questionable very slight risk), you don’t pull something like this. A few months to get the data published in a peer-reviewed journal or presented at a major meeting are not going to make a difference, and then at least peers can look at it closely.

  7. What about the bibliography at the end of the press release? Are all those sources bad science? I’m asking because I don’t understand, not because I don’t believe you.

  8. A woman was on one of the big morning shows this morning (maybe it was Devra Lee Davis? I think so) talking about this. At the end of the segment she made a pitch for her own book…

  9. It’s not surprising that some ‘Institute of Canine Halitosis’ would press-release stories of rampant dogbreath. Where is their funding coming from?

  10. No worries – all you need is a Crystal Catalyst to neutralize that harmful energy.


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  11. I wondered about this when I saw the report on Good Morning America this morning. To me, a non-scientist, it seemed premature to make such an announcement. According to the article on abcnews.com, here’s the explanation:

    Herberman is basing his alarm on early unpublished data. He says it takes too long to get answers from science and he believes people should take action now ? especially when it comes to children.

    And I thought this little nugget of overreaction was good:

    He even warns against using cell phones in public places like a bus because it exposes others to the phone’s electromagnetic fields.

    Here’s the whole article.

  12. Next up… Second hand cell phone disease.

  13. I’m glad to see someone who actually has readers (in other words, someone other than me) picked this story up. My jaw dropped when I saw this on the front page of my local paper today.

    All I could think of when I read it was Bob Parks book Voodoo Science and the chapters on the power lines- childhood leukiema panic. At least that scare was caused by a poorly done study. This “warning” comes from “authority” completely ignoring all the scientific evidence.

    The saddest part of the story, to me at least, is the women telling her ten year old girl she can’t use a cell phone anymore because she doesn’t want her to get cancer.

    Way to scare people for no reason. *sigh*

    My take on the issue: http://fosterdisbelief.blogspot.com/

  14. qetzal

    ticktock asked:

    What about the bibliography at the end of the press release? Are all those sources bad science? I’m asking because I don’t understand, not because I don’t believe you.

    I wondered the same. In fact, many of their citations come from a single source – The BioInitiative Report: A Rationale for a Biologically-based Public Exposure Standard for Electromagnetic Fields (ELF and RF) (available here).

    I’ve been skimming over sections of the report. They cite quite a few studies, so it would take a long time to really evaluate all the data. However, there seems to be some pretty clear bias in their evaluations.

    For example, in Section 10 Part I on brain tumors and acoustic neuromas, studies suggesting an increased odds ratio (OR) with cell phone use are cited relatively uncritically. In contrast, studies that suggests a reduced OR are repeatedly assumed to be flawed, apparently simply because they did not get the “correct” result! Examples:

    All 21 other ORs were < 1.0 indicating systematic bias in the study.

    For glioma 22 additional ORs were calculated using different exposure criteria as discussed above and all calculations yielded OR < 1.0, seven significantly so. Also for meningioma most ORs were < 1.0. Again these results indicate systematic bias in the study.

    Furthermore, most ORs were < 1.0 indicating serious methodological problems in the studies.

    Risk of cancer was underestimated, e.g., in the group with first use > 10 years, the associated risk for brain tumors was low (SIR=0.7, 95 % CI = 0.4- 0.95).

    In that study all 17 odds ratios for high-grade glioma were < 1.0 indicating systematic bias in assessment of exposure.

    Is it any wonder the authors conclude “[There is] a consistent pattern of an increased risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma after > 10 years mobile phone use.”

    I’m not in any position to draw my own conclusion; not without re-reviewing all the same studies. But the authors’ bias is so obvious that I certainly don’t trust theirs.

  15. Is there some way to spread the rumor that using cell phones causes cancer, but only if the cell phone user is also driving a motor vehicle?

  16. Given that Google News now lists 735 media stories on this, with the number growing by the minute, I’ll probably write about this within the next few days, also. I’m certainly wondering about Dr. Herberman’s judgment.

  17. When I read stories like this, I ask myself what that person has to gain from such scare-tactics. In this case, I am at a loss. Maybe it’s just about attention?

  18. I heard (and wrote) about this from my favourite purveyor of wooey crap MSN. One doctor who admits that there is evidence for his point of view is all it took for Microsoft to publish this fear screed.
    the world is full of those who like to scare people.

  19. Electromagnetic radiation is a weapon of mass destruction. Let’s go to war!

  20. I started doing daily research on all this six months ago, and came to the clear conclusion, as a concerned parent, that no one can reasonably say any wireless technolgy is safe-wifi, cell phones, cell towers-none if it- and the sensible response, which is difficult because it is all so wide-spread, might be to just get over the wireless habit, and deal with it.

    And we might be much better off if we do it sooner rather than later. There are many scientists out there who simply say low level RF exsposure over a log term is not safe. One independent scientist who has studied this subject is well covered in the first link below. His name is Henry Lai, and he has cataloged a large number of studies on the subject-over half showing serious health concerns for humans. Also, I am providing links to a couple other
    related sites. There are dozens more that I could have sent.




    These technologies have not been tested properly, if you hear otherwise, research more and see if it is true. Look at George Carlo’s youtube videos-he was the chief scientist for the telecoms, whole left after finding the tech was not safe. See the Panorama show on cell phones and wifi at youtube.

    The precautionary principle has been ignored in the deployment of this tech, and the studies that are coming out are far from showing wireless microwaves are “safe”. Every study done on actual populations(again, mostly in Europe)have shown serious health issues for those living near(within 1/4 mile of) cell towers-for example-7 out of 7 studies-and NONE showing no problems.

    What to do?

    -legislate so the US follows the guidelines of the International Cell Tower Siting meeting from 2000 in Salzburg.

    -Stop wifi in homes(secnod hand radiation in neighborhoods)and schools.

    -stop any future cell towers, and create one unified network that all providers share

    -repeal the 1996 telecom bill, which makes it illegal to stop the irradiation of you, your family and your community

    -don’t listen to anything anyone who has a financial stake in this has to say!!!!

    -get telecoms out of your portfolio-remember the cigarette companies!

    -get wired, get safe

  21. Do you have any studies that come from unbiased locations?

    I admit I got a kick out of reading about “homeopathic replacements for antibiotics” at naturalnews, laughed a bit at the petition to make fluoride a “by prescription only” drug at townsendletter, and shook my head at omegas obvious agenda, but even though I was entertained by your links, they did absolutely nothing to convince me.

    As for the “studies” that show greater health risk amongst those living near cell towers, remember, say it along with me, Correlation does not imply causation!

    You do make one very good point. ” -don’t listen to anything anyone who has a financial stake in this has to say!!!!”

    I agree. I expect you to do a little research into the sites that you are getting your news from now, and follow your own advice.

    An entire industy was created from the first few flawed studies that showed a link between EMFs from power lines and Childhood Leukemia. That industry needed to stay alive after the power line panic was debunked. It will move elsewhere when it can no longer use cell phones to scare you.

    What to do?
    -follow your own advice.
    -Don’t do your daily research at sites that promote homeopathy as real medicine or have an obvious anti-EMF agenda.
    -Read Voodoo Science by Robert Park. Especially the parts on the previous EMF scare.

  22. You say premature, and I say prudent in the case of chilImagine similar preliminary warnings that the use Xrays to help find the right sized shoe might not be a good idea.

    You’d be against such precautions until after the studies came out?

    Meanwhile, I have not yet (but will) compare the the frequency dependent attenuation of water versus the carrier frequencies of cell phones, and see if this is in fact plausible.

    Certainly, cell phones cannot pop popcorn.

  23. Please replace ‘chilImagine’ with “children. Imagine” in above.

  24. PalMD, could you also go on the record regarding the FDA’s caution about using Ultra-sound for Fetal Keepsake Videos, even though they admit they have no evidence that it is dangerous to the fetus?

    Although there is no evidence that these physical effects can harm the fetus, public health experts, clinicians and industry agree that casual exposure to ultrasound, especially during pregnancy, should be avoided.

    I agree with the FDA here, and also understand the concern of Devra Lee Davis.

    Can we guess your view of the FDA alert based on this blog entry?

  25. Since some of you cannot be bothered to read the science (to busy reading evolander blogs) let’s see what real scientific conclusions can be drawn from research in to RF energy:

    Conclusion: Scientific research has shown that the public is not being protected from potential damage that can be caused by exposure to EMF, both power frequency (ELF) and radio frequency (RF).

    Conclusion: DNA damage (e.g., strand breaks), a cause of cancer, occurs at levels 3 of ELF and RF that are below the safety limits. Also, there is no protection against cumulative effects stimulated by different parts of the EM spectrum.

    Conclusion: The scientific basis for EMF safety limits is flawed when the same biological mechanisms are activated in ELF and RF ranges at vastly different levels of the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR). Activation of DNA to synthesize stress proteins (the stress response), is stimulated in the ELF at a non-thermal SAR level that is over a billion times lower than the same process activated in the RF at the thermal level.

    Conclusion: There is a need for a biological standard to replace the thermal standard and to also protect against cumulative effects across the EM spectrum.–Martin Blank, PhD

  26. The crickets chirping—isn’t that a form of denialism?

  27. Anonymous

    It’s hard to take seriously someone who thinks cell phones melt your brain, but at the same time promotes vaccine-preventable diseases.

    It’s called reflexive contrarianism. It’s useless.

  28. Denialism is the blog for denialists, it seems. I use cell phones all the time. However, in my youth, many doctors smoked cigarettes. That is to say, the conclusions above are scientific, and plausible. If you want to dismiss them with lies, so be it.

  29. Citations? Evidence? Or more smoke blown up our collective asses by Limp Willy?

    Just regurgitating random snippets of pseudo-scientific garbage does not make for an actual argument.

    Have you stopped beating your wife yet?

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