The inconvenient truth about cancer and cell phones

We reject claims that mobiles are bad for your health – but is that because studies showing a link to cancer have been doubted by the industry?

28 March this year, the scientific peer review of a landmark US government study concluded that there is "clear evidence" that cell phone radiation causes cancer, particularly cancer of the heart tissue in children. rat which is too rare to be explained as random. occurrence.

Eleven independent scientists spent three days at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, to discuss the study by the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and which is among the most important conducted on the health effects of cell phone radiation. NTP scientists exposed thousands of rats and mice (whose biological similarities to humans make them useful indicators of human health risks) to radiation doses equivalent to the average mobile user's exposure to over its lifetime.

Peer-review scientists repeatedly raised the level of confidence that NTP scientists and staff placed in the study, fueling suspicions among criticism that NTP leaders had tried to downplay the results. So the peer review also found “some evidence” – one level below “clear evidence” – of brain and adrenal cancer.

Effects of radiation on health

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No major news agency in the United States or Europe reported this scientific news. But media coverage of mobile phone security has long reflected the wireless industry's outlook. For a quarter of a century now, the industry has orchestrated a global public relations campaign aimed at misleading not only journalists, but also consumers and policymakers about the current science regarding cell phone radiation. Indeed, wireless giants have borrowed the same strategy and tactics that tobacco and oil giants pioneered to mislead the public about the risks of smoking and climate change, respectively. And like their counterparts in tobacco and oil, wireless industry CEOs lied to the public even after their own scientists privately warned that their products could be dangerous, especially to children.

From the start, outsiders suspected that George Carlo was a front man to whitewash the industry. Tom Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), chose Carlo to defuse a public relations crisis that threatened to strangle his fledgling industry in its cradle. It was 1993, when there were only six mobile subscriptions for every 100 adults in the United States, but industry executives predicted a booming future.

It's remarkable that cell phones had been allowed into the U.S. market a decade earlier without any government security testing. Today, some customers and industry workers are being diagnosed with cancer. In January 1993, David Reynard sued the NEC America company, claiming that his wife's NEC phone caused her a fatal brain tumor. After Reynard appeared on national television, the story gained traction. A congressional subcommittee announced an investigation; investors started dumping cell phone stocks and Wheeler and the CTIA took action.

A week later, Wheeler announced that his industry would fund a comprehensive research program. Cell phones were already safe, Wheeler told reporters; the new research would simply "revalidate the results of existing studies."

Carlo seemed like a good bet to fulfill Wheeler's mission. An epidemiologist with a law degree, he had conducted studies for other controversial sectors. After a study funded by Dow Corning, Carlo said breast implants pose only minimal health risks. With funding from the chemical industry, he concluded that low levels of dioxin, the chemical behind the Agent Orange scandal, were not dangerous. In 1995, Carlo began leading the industry-funded Wireless Technology Research (WTR) project, whose final budget of $28.5 million made it the best-funded investigation into security mobile to date.

However, Carlo and Wheeler ultimately disagreed sharply over the WTR's findings, which Carlo presented to industry executives on February 9, 1999. By that date, the WTR had commissioned more than 50 original studies and reviewed many more. These studies raise "serious questions" about phone security, Carlo said during a closed-door meeting of the CTIA board, whose members included the CEOs or top executives of the 32 largest companies in the world. sector, including Apple, AT&T and Motorola.

Carlo sent letters to each of the industry leaders on October 7, 1999, reiterating that WTR's research had revealed the following: the risk “rare neuroepithelial tumors outside the brain more than doubled…among cell phone users”; there was an apparent correlation between “brain tumors occurring on the right side of the head and telephone use on the right side of the head”; and the “ability of phone antenna radiation to cause functional genetic damage [was] definitely positive.”

Independent medical research

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In 2011, the World Health Organization classified cell phone radiation as a "possible" human carcinogen and the governments of the United Kingdom, France and Israel issued warnings against it. use of mobile phones by children. Still, the industry's propaganda campaign would sufficiently allay concerns that today, three out of four adults worldwide own a cell phone, making the wireless industry one of the largest in the world. The key strategic idea that drives corporate propaganda campaigns is that a given industry does not have to make the scientific argument about safety prevail, it just needs to keep making the argument. Maintaining the debate amounts to a victory for the industry, as the apparent lack of certainty helps reassure customers, fend off government regulations and deter lawsuits that could reduce profits.

To maintain the debate scientific argumentation, it is essential to make people believe that not all scientists agree. To this end, and like the tobacco and fossil fuel industries, the wireless industry uses science as a "war game," as a 1994 internal Motorola memo put it. wargaming involves playing both offense and defense – funding industry-friendly studies while attacking studies that raise questions; by placing industry-friendly experts on advisory bodies such as the World Health Organization and seeking to discredit scientists whose views differ from those of industry.

A Closer examination reveals industry sleight of hand. When Henry Lai, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington, analyzed 326 safety-related studies conducted between 1990 and 2006, he found that 44 percent of them found no biological effects of radiation from cell phones and 56% did so; Scientists were apparently divided. But when Lai recategorized the studies based on their funding sources, a different picture emerged: 67% of independently funded studies found a biological effect, compared to just 28% of industry-funded studies. Lai's findings were replicated by a 2007 analysis in Environmental Health Perspectives, which concluded that industry-funded studies were two and a half times less likely than independent studies to find health effects.

Mobile phone security

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