Speculation and pseudoscience

Redpath Museum hosts event on mobile phones and health

A popular notion that cellphones may be potentially cancer-causing agents is a source of worry for many who hear these hypotheses. News outlets such as the Globe and Mail, the New York Times, and the CBC have been caught in the whirlwind of these claims, publishing articles with titles like “The disturbing truth about cellphones,” “Cellphone Radiation May Alter Your Brain. Let’s Talk,” and “Cellphone use may be linked to cancer…” These types of articles feed off of speculative research and pseudoscience concerning mobile devices and health, and consequently propagate a baseless fear among the general population.

Lorne Trottier, co-founder of Matrox Group, and Kenneth R. Foster, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, held a talk at McGill entitled “Mobile phones and health: how should we respond to public concerns?” in order to dispel any myths surrounding the risks these devices may carry.

No, cell phones are not harmful, and every current study that attempts to conclude that can easily be proven wrong.

Whether it be at work, home or even a quick glimpse while driving, we are often compelled to check our cellphones. The radio waves (a form of electromagnetic radiation used for long-distance communication) emitted by cellphones may be a source of anxiety for many, to the extent of pointing to cancer as a potential result of the already long list of the supposedly harmful effects of cellphones on humans.

Foster claims that not enough documented evidence exists to prove that the radio waves from cellphones can be held responsible for cancer. Even though the belief that cellphones cause cancer leads to more anxiety, the reality is that radio waves “have no effect on biological tissues,” according to Foster. But the fear related to the belief in cellphones causing cancer has led to product scams claiming to protect a person from the ‘dangers’ of electronics.

Trottier described a lecture that promoted a misconstrued view of health related to mobile phone use. Magda Havas, a professor of Environmental and Resource Studies at Trent University, conducted a study published in the European Journal of Oncology in 2010 revealing that human heart rate doubled when people were in the presence of cordless phone chargers. This research was later shown to be false by Trottier and Harvey Kofsky, a professional engineer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, in a study entitled “Cell Phones and Cancer Risk” published in June 2013, some case-control studies in Sweden found statistically “significant trends of increasing brain cancer risk for the total amount of cell phone use and the years of use among people who began using cell phones before age 20.” On the other hand, another large, case-control study in Sweden found no increased risk of brain cancer for that same age group.

In Foster’s view, “What scares people is the fact that we use the word radio waves.” This fits into his early hypothesis that all the worry is psychological in nature. Trottier then concluded with the answer to the question on everyone’s minds: No, cell phones are not harmful, and every current study that attempts to conclude that can easily be proven wrong. Instead, it is up to the mainstream media to stop recycling speculations and myths, and advertising them as realities we should all be afraid of.