Health

Romm Echoes Groundless Cell Phone/Cancer Fears

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJun 1, 2011 8:06 PM

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Joe Romm, deviating from his oeuvre, abandons science with this post. He begins:

Three years ago, Climate Progress published "Should you or your kids keep a cell phone pressed against your heads for hours?" My answer back then was "no." It still is. A year ago, I published, "Are cell phones safe? The verdict is still out." It still is.

Say it ain't so, Joe! To buttress his "the verdict is still out" claim, Romm cites this WaPo story, which reports:

Cellphones are "possibly carcinogenic" to humans, according to the panel organized by the World Health Organization. But an exhaustive, eight-day review of hundreds of studies concluded that the existing evidence is insufficient to know for sure. And because cellphones are so popular, further research is urgently needed, the experts said.

(For a roundup of media coverage on the WHO panel report, see Charlie Petit's post at the Science Tracker.) Now let's go to the indefatigable slayer of all quackery and dubious, science-free claims, who writes that,

the evidence supporting a link between cell phone radiation and cancer is so resoundingly nonexistent in epidemiology, preclinical science, and physics that it boggles the mind the WHO would come to even the tepid conclusion that cell phones should be added to Group 2B indicating that cell phone radiation might be carcinogenic.

Why is Romm, who regularly touts the accumulated body of climate science in his arguments for action on climate change, giving currency to irrational fears about a cell phone/brain cancer link that is not supported by scientific evidence? Here he is in the same post (my emphasis):

As I wrote three years ago, "You can choose to ignore the risks, of course, but from my perspective, I think the science is more than strong enough to raise concerns, and the measures needed to minimize risk are trivial." That is obviously even more true today.

No, it's not. If anything, the science has shown exactly the opposite. Again, here is Orac:

There are a lot of problems with the claim that cell phones cause cancer, not the least of which is that the science and epidemiology just don't support it. In particular, the INTERPHONE study, whose results were reported last year, showed no evidence of a link between cell phone use and glioblastoma or meningioma. In fact, to me the decision by WHO is exceedingly puzzling because, if anything, over the last several years the evidence has been trending more and more towards being inconsistent with with a link between cell phone use and brain cancer--or health problems of any kind, other than getting into car crashes because of texting or talking while driving.

If Romm wanted to be a credible voice on this matter and still be able to raise his concern in a responsible manner, he might have taken a page from Orac, who says near the end of his post:

I don't dismiss on basic science grounds alone the possibility of a link between cell phone radiation and cancer. In other words, I do not consider such a link to be impossible. I do, however, consider such a link to be incredibly implausible and improbable based on basic science considerations alone. Add to that the essentially negative epidemiological evidence, and, for now, I consider the question of whether or not there is a link between cell phone radiation and cancer to be in essence a dead issue, the question having been answered provisionally (and strongly) in the negative.

Romm, citing only a Washington Post story, a CNN article, and this publication (which is edited by his cousin), gives undue credence to the cell phone/brain cancer link. For a guy who advertises himself as grounded in science, he sure has a poor way of showing it sometimes. UPDATE:Here are some additional posts worth checking out. Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy. Ed Yong at the UK Cancer Research site. Maggie Koerth-Baker at BoingBoing. And William Connolley. Of course, nothing beats a good cartoon, and Scott Stantis in the Chicago Tribune captures the fear meme here.

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