Catch and Release


From my post on beliefs yesterday:

Life expectancy is going up.  The air is cleaner.  Water is cleaner.  The incidence of cancer is going down.  Cell phones do not, cannot, cause cancer.  Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.

By far, the claim getting the most attention was that cell phones don’t and can’t cause cancer.

Well, I care about having bigger fish to catch later on and so practice a catch and release policy.  Following is the verification stage information.

Earlier this year The National Cancer Institute (NCI) released it’s findings (more here) from an international study of cellphone use and brain cancer.  They concluded:

The risk of developing brain tumors did not increase with increasing years of use or average minutes of use per day, nor did brain tumors among cellular phone users tend to occur more often than expected on the side of the head on which people reported using their phone. There was no evidence that the risk of any of the three major categories of tumors included in the study (glioma, meningioma, or acoustic neuroma) was increased among persons who used cellular telephones 60 or more minutes per day, or regularly for up to five years.

But this is not enough for the careful gene (the evolutionary advantage conferred upon the safe person that watches others die from trying new things and new foods and survives to reproduce). From the American Cancer Society, commenting on the very study released by NCI

Results from a major international study do not establish a definitive link between cell phone use and cancer, but they don’t rule one out, either. In fact, the Interphone study, coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), may have raised more questions than it answered.

Ah yes,  “But they don’t rule one out either.”  When dealing with epidemiological studies based on statistical associations this kind of reasoning can go on forever.

Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on statistics for this question.  We can rely on physics.  Quoting at length from a response to a James Fallows post about TSA X-Ray machines a physics professors says

All microwave photons are far too weak to cause damage to molecules through their absorption. The energy level of a microwave photon is sufficient to cause a molecule to rotate or vibrate (this is how microwave ovens work) but not to cause it to disintegrate or modify its structure, and those are essential requirements for causing a DNA molecule to mutate into a malignant strand. Epidemiology cannot answer this question because its methods are not aware of physical laws. They can place a statistical limit on mutagenicity, but physics actually rules it out as physically impossible. Lesson? Cell phones do not cause cancer. Period.

We can often find instances of statistical association, which is the technique used in the cell phone cancer causing debate.  But these associations don’t mean causation and cannot violate the laws of physics. 

Talk on risk free . . .as long as you area not driving.

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