#917: AP Story on Univ of Pittsburgh Cell Phone Alert
From Louis SLesin, Microwave News:
Yesterday’s post of an AP story on the University of Pittsburgh advisory on cell phone health risks had a number of errors and mistaken emphases which made it seem as if the actions of Dr. Herberman, the director of the University’s Cancer Institute, were misguided and inconsistent with the published literature.
Here are some clarifications:
** The AP reporters cite a 2008 University of Utah meta-analysis,
as finding no tumor risks among cell phone users. In fact, it did find a 25% increase among long-term users, that is, among those who had used a mobile phone for ten or more years. This increase reached (just) statistical significance.
** Whether or not the results of the Interphone study, a 13-country effort to investigate possible tumor risks from cell phone use, suffers from selection bias remains an open and highly contested question. Indeed, this is a major reason why the publication of the project’s final results are now nearly three years behind schedule. The investigators seem unable to reach a consensus. While the NRC’s recent report cites selection bias as a possible confounder, it also cites other reasons as to why the Interphone study may underestimate the risks. It is far too early to toss out the project’s final results as unreliable.
** While the French Interphone study
did not show significant risks, it did find increases. These were sufficiently strong to prompt the French Ministry of Health to issue an advisory and reiterate the government’s view that children should be discouraged from using mobile phones.
** It’s true that most studies have not pointed to a tumor risk, but the majority of these have only looked at short-term users. For instance, the Muscat study (JAMA, 284, 3001, 2000) included only 17 cases which had used a phone for 4 or more years. The NCI study (Inskip et al., NEJM, 344, 79, 2001) also had very few long-term users: 22 who had used a cell phone for 5 years or more. Neither discloses how many had used a phone for ten years or more –maybe none.
** It’s also true that the Danish study (Schuez, JNCI, 98, 1707, 2006) showed no increased risks. But as a cohort study it could not provide any information on the side of the head the phone was used, which, not surprisingly, turns out to be a key variable. It also excluded corporate accounts, which tended to have the heaviest users.
To be sure, the jury is still out on cell phone health risks. That said, it will be a long time before we know what the true risks may be. (It seems that the American Cancer Society is awaiting for conclusive data showing elevated tumor risks before it is willing to advise caution, and some like physicist Robert Park will never believe it regardless of that the data might show.)
What we have now is highly suggestive results from a number of different Interphone groups, as well as a separate team led by Sweden’s Lennart Hardell, that point to long-term health risks. Surely it is time to have an open discussion on what these data mean and how we should protect the most vulnerable in our society. After all, there are now 260 million regular users in the U.S. and more than 2 billion worldwide. And the wireless phone industry, still looking to grow, is marketing its phones to younger and younger children.
They say journalism is the first draft of history, but in this case the AP story was a rough draft, at best.
Louis Slesin, PhD
Editor, Microwave News
A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation
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