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More nonsense about cellphones and cancer

September 8, 2009 |  3:36 pm

In the most recent instance of the triumph of wishful thinking over basic physics, a "collaboration of international EMF activists" last week released a new report repeating the tired old argument that "cellphones cause brain tumors."  Their evidence: that studies discrediting the link between cellphone radiation and tumors were funded by telecommunications companies, which deliberately excluded data that might have shown a link.

Many people probably first heard about the "risk" of cellphones when David Raynard, whose wife died of brain cancer, appeared on the television show "Larry King Live" in 1993 to support his lawsuit claiming that the tumor had been caused by her cellphone. His evidence: "She held it against her head and talked on it all the time." More recently, King hosted three neurosurgeons who said they would never place a cellphone against their head because of the risk. They may be good neurosurgeons, but apparently they flunked physics in college.

Cancer occurs when cellular DNA is disrupted, producing mutant strands of DNA. That is true for carcinogens, viruses and radiation. All radiation is composed of photons, and the energy they contain depends on the wavelength of the radiation. Yellow light has a frequency of 5 x 1014 Hz and is not powerful enough to break DNA bonds. Otherwise, we'd have to sit around in darkened rooms all the time. The frequency of a typical cellphone is about 1 x 109 Hz, while that used in a household microwave oven is 2.45 x 1012 Hz. In other words, the radiation from a microwave oven packs only a thousandth of the energy of yellow light, while that from a cellphone packs a millionth of the energy. (See, for example, the September/October issue of Skeptical Inquirer.) The energy of EMF radiation from power lines -- also a bugaboo of the EMF activists -- has a million-fold less energy than a cellphone.

(The risk of cancer from sunlight is caused by ultraviolet radiation, which does have enough energy to break DNA bonds.)

That is nowhere near enough energy to break bonds in DNA. For a microwave oven, it would be like trying to cut barbed wire with plastic scissors. For a cellphone, it would be more like paper scissors. And for EMF from powerlines, in the words of New Yorkers, fuhgeddaboutit.

And if that isn't enough, Danish researchers reported in in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2001 on a study of half a million cellphone users in that country, linking computerized records of cellphone use to cancer databases. The result: no detectable risk. An editorial in the same journal by physicist Robert L. Park of the University of Maryland summarized the evidence against a potential link. Many other studies have found the same results -- which is to be expected if the laws of physics do, in fact, hold in this universe.

And as for those YouTube videos purporting to show cellphones popping corn: They're fake. Cardo Systems, a manufacturer of Bluetooth headpieces for cellphones, has publicly admitted that it created the videos to scare consumers and encourage them to buy its products. The effect was created by dropping popped corn on the table, then editing out the unpopped kernels.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II