WHO phone cancer link misreported
Here’s an excellent article from the Haaretz newspaper in Israel on how the WHO Cell phone cancer link was misreported.
By Tamara Traubman
The world’s approximately 1 billion cellular telephone users received good news at the end of August: new research showed the devices did not increase the chance of cancer, even among those who used them for a decade or more. But the research included another part not reported in the press that experts have called “a warning light.”
Among those who used cell phones for more than 10 years, the risk of developing acoustic neuroma, a nervous system tumor, was almost twice that of people who did not use them.
The good news was reported by hundreds of media outlets worldwide, including Haaretz. Cellular carriers could not have hoped for better PR: “Cell phones don’t cause cancer!” However, the press all relied on a press release penned by the researchers that did not include the worrisome findings.
Channel 2 reporter Chico Menashe uncovered the story, which will be reported today. Menashe, who reported the complete findings, said he began to look into the matter when Channel 2 newsroom staff began to wonder why his report differed from those published worldwide.
The findings do not unequivocally determine that cell phones are dangerous to health. According to the researchers, the study did not include enough subjects, and suffers from methodological weaknesses.
Scientists in four Scandinavian countries and the United Kingdom conducted the research. It is part of a larger World Health Organization study involving scientists in 15 countries, including Israel. Some researchers began releasing the results of the studies in their own countries, including Professor Anthony Swerdlow’s study published in the British Journal of Cancer. The scientific journal reported the entire findings; however, a press release only mentioned the “good news.” The first to report the study was Reuters, a central news source for thousands of newspapers and television and radio stations. About 300 media outlets around the world picked up the story.
Dr. Sigal Sadetzki, who heads the Israeli team participating in the WHO study, says: “A 10-year study is insufficient to determine if cell phones increase the chances of cancer. Even the results of smoking are not evident in such a time period. To examine the effect of cell phones, 20 or even 40 years must be examined,” she says.
“The results aren’t strong enough for me to accept as a scientist,” she explains. “On the other hand, they are a red warning light.”
Swerdlow responded to a Haaretz email inquiry, explaining that the findings that suggest a connection between cellular use and morbidity were omitted from the press release in order to use language clear to the general public. “Press releases are inevitably compressed and simplified,” Swerdlow writes. “The article gave full details of the research, and the press release included a link to the full results.”
Sadetzki refrains from criticizing Swerdlow, but believes the entire findings should have appeared in the press release, with the requisite explanations and reservations. “A scientist can say `don’t take these results as carved in stone,’ but must publish complete findings. There’s a difference between publishing partial findings and the interpretation of findings.”
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