Cell Phones: Proceed at your Own Risk

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Cell Phones: Proceed at your Own Risk

Ethics and Profits
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Do cell phones cause brain cancer? http://bit.ly/cAMGJ2 or http://3bl.me/8fmrxc

Summary

For ten years, there have been "rumors" of the connection between mobile phones and brain cancer. The World Health Organization organized a long-term study on how low levels of radiation emitted from cell phones affect human health. Investigative journalist, Staffan Engström reports on the important Interphone research and analyzes the evidence with a searing lens.

Monday, June 21, 2010 - 9:15am

CONTENT: Blog

Reported by Staffan Engström  

Interphone, the long awaited study by the World Health Organization investigating the relationship between cell phone usage and increased risk for brain tumors, was finally released last month.
 
The $25 million dollar study was financed by the United Nations, the European Union and the mobile phone industry making it the largest study ever conducted on this topic. Five thousand (5,000) individuals diagnosed with Meningioma and Glioma brain tumors were interviewed on their mobile usage over a ten year period.
 
The study results were delayed by four years as the fifty research scientists could not agree on the interpretation of data. However, despite that real problem the official conclusion was that “no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phones.” The data revealed that “an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels,” was possible. However, biases and error prevent a causal interpretation.”
 
The final suggestion after ten years, $25 million dollars and thirteen participating country’s top scientists was that the “effects of long-term heavy use of mobile phones require further investigation.”
 
Rather then just starting of with new research, maybe there is a point in reading their results a little closer. According to the study, ninety percent of respondents used their mobile phone 2.5 hours per month—an uncommonly low amount for cell phone users. Ten percent of study participants were termed “heavy users” referring to those participants who used their cell phones thirty minutes per day over ten years. The evidence showed a 40% increase in the brain tumor Glioma among these users. This is a rather serious finding as most of us use our mobile phones at least 30 minutes a day.
 
But not to panic! The researchers claim that we are saved by “biases and errors”—meaning they are not sure of the validity of the respondents claims.
 
Sketchy Memories
 
The study concluded that, “A brain tumor, particularly in the frontal or temporal lobes, may adversely affect cognition and memory.”
 
The researchers claim that people with brain tumors have weak memories and, therefore, are not reliable witnesses for their own cell phone usage. Yet the testimony of these 5,000 impaired memory individuals is precisely the evidence the study is based on.
 
Dr.Maria Feychting, a Swedish researcher from the Karolinska Institute, claimed that it is not easy to remember phone habits from fifteen years ago, “especially not if one has a brain tumor.” Another member of the research team, Dr Daniel Kewski of the Center for Population Health Risk Assessment at the University of Ottawa in Canada, added that “the group was unable to prove that heavy mobile phone use increased the risk of cancer because the findings were based on the sketchy memories of some participants.”
 
It seems more than a coincidence that Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), a lobbyist group for the mobile phone industry, gave one million dollars to fund the Interphone study and also pays the salary of Dr. Daniel Krewski who happens to be the head scientist of the report.
 
Upon closer scrutiny, the “sketchy memory” theory appears to be based on responses from participants who claimed to use their mobile phones more than 12 hours per day. When reached by telephone in Sweden, Dr. Feychting confirmed that out of the 210 reported “heavy users,” the total number of the 12 hour per day users was (12) twelve. Researchers based their $25million dollar theory that foggy memories prevent reliable conclusions on the connection between brain tumors and heavy cell phone usage on 12 people!
 
Motivated to Recall
 
The study blew further smoke on participant testimony with the statement that, “cases may be more motivated to recall and report a publicized potential risk factor for their disease.” Researchers claimed that people who learned they had a brain tumor were inclined to falsely report heavier usage of their mobile phones.
 
Dr Elisabeth Cardis at the Centre for Research in Environment Epidemiology (CREAL) suggested at a press conference that respondents with brain tumors were angry and motivated to falsely blame mobile phones for their health issues. Therefore, they may claim higher cell phone usage than what actually took place.
 
Interphone’s own validation study from 2006 stated there were “a substantial proportion of subjects who markedly over or under-estimated their mobile phone use.” Yet “under-estimating” cell phone usage is not included in the analysis.
 
Two Opposing Views
 
Over the four year debate, two theories emerged in the research community. One concluded there was no link between cell phone usage and brain cancer. The other concluded that there was a great deal of evidence to support this connection.
 
Dr Feychting claimed in Computer World that mobile phone usage resulting in “increased risk” of brain cancer from heavy cell phone usage “isn't biologically believable.” In my brief discussion with Dr. Feychting, she explained that all the research done today on this topic in all interrelated fields suggested the same thing. No relationship exists between cell phone radiation and brain cancer.
 
Her colleague, Dr. Olle Johansson, does not share her view. “At the Karolinska Institute, we have for many years observed very serious biological changes from exposure to microwave radiation and extremely low-frequency magnetic fields of the kind emitted by cell phones.” One of the studies he was referring to showed a 3.9 times increase in acoustic neuroma, a type of cancer in the ear.
 
Dr. Lennart Hardell, a professor in oncology and cancer epidemiology at the University Hospital in Orebro, Sweden, has conducted research on young people’s usage of mobile phones. His conclusion is that, “People who started mobile phones before the age of 20 had a more than five-fold increase in glioma.”
 
Conflicting Interests
 
The Interphone researchers, Dr Feychting and her colleagues at the Institute dismiss Dr. Hardell’s research, however, Dr. Hardell has written a paper entitled "Secret Ties to Industry and Conflicting Interests in Cancer Research which suggests close connections between the Karolinska Institute, the SSI, the Swedish Radiation Protection Agency, Dr. Feychting and the mobile phone industry.
 
Working relationships between industry and research are of course common, but there are few countries in the world in which industry and research institutions collaborate as closely and as successfully as in Sweden, and especially on the very edge of advanced technology and research. The relationship between government, industry and research institutions put Sweden at the top ranking of The Global Information Technology Report 2009-2010 determining the worlds countries competitive edge in terms of information technology. This report was released in March by the World Economic Forum with the motivation “The success of these countries (Sweden, Singapore and Denmark) underlines the importance of a joint ICT (information and communication technology) vision, an implementation by all the different stakeholders in a society for a country to take full advantage of ICT advances in its daily life and overall competitiveness strategy.”
 
Yet the monetary interests of the mobile phone industry lobbyists and executives and the close industry ties to the Interphone researchers throw a cloud of uncertainty over the reliability of their findings. Additionally, the unscientific theories of false blame and sketchy memories make this study’s conclusions harder to accept.
 
A leading scientist of the Interphone project, Dr Elisabeth Cardis of Spain, stated at a May 17, 2010 press conference that they had “not been able to demonstrate that there is an increased risk” between cell phone usage and brain tumors.
However in an interview with Microwave News Dr. Cardis admitted, “To me, there's certainly smoke there.” "Overall, my opinion is that the results show a real effect," she continued.
 
Dr. Cardis will continue her investigation with a research project focusing on mobile phone usage and its relation to brain tumors in young people dubbed Mobi-kids.” This study will take 5 years, excluding time for interpretation of the data, through surveys of young adults with brain tumors as well as “exposure assessments” provided by France Telecom SA. Representing Canada will be a Dr Daniel Kewski, who very well could conclude that peoDr. ple with brain tumors have sketchy memories and therefore cannot be reliable.
 
It is possible that “bias” was present among brain tumor patients who reported 12 hours of mobile phone usage every day over 10 years. Yet it is also possible that industry relationships make researchers biased judging by their emphasis on 12 respondents (out of 5,000) who overstated their usage. 
 
Is there a coincidence that the Swedish researcher Dr. Maria Feychting and her Canadian colleague Dr. Daniel Kewski who both refer to the “poor memory thesis” as grounds for disqualification of this study and the fact that their countries’ economies are dependent on the success of industry telecom giants Ericsson and Nortel?
 
©2010 – All Rights Reserved
 
Staffan Engström is a media executive living in New York City. He has a Master's Degree in Business Administration and a background in philosophy and information technology. Staffan is a socially conscious freelance writer that scrutinizes the world with critical eye and a sharp witty tongue.
 
Keywords: CWTA | Dr. Elisabeth Cardis | Dr. Lennart Hardell | Dr. Maria Feychting | Dr. Olle Johansson | Glioma | Interphone | Meningioma | brain tumors | cell phones

CONTENT: Blog

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