How is the cell phone-cancer myth like Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th slasher flicks?

There are certain myths that are frustratingly resistant to evidence, science, and reason. Some of these are basically medical conspiracy theories, where someone (industry and/or big pharma and/or physicians and/or the government) has slam-dunk evidence for harm but conspires to keep it from you, the people. For example, despite decades worth of negative studies, the belief that vaccines are harmful, causing conditions ranging from autism to sudden infant death syndrome, to all varieties of allergies and autoimmune diseases, refuses to die. Fortunately, this myth is one that, after more than a decade of hammering by scientists, skeptics, and public health advocates, has finally taken on enough of the patina of a fringe belief that most mainstream news sources no longer feel obligated to include the antivaccine side in stories about vaccines for “balance.” It was a zombie myth, one that, no matter how often it is “killed,” always seems to rise again.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the myth that cell phones cause cancer. Indeed, given that zombies can be killed, I sometimes think I should refer to this as the Freddie Krueger myth, or the Jason Voorhees myth or the Michael Myers myth, after the iconic horror movie slashers who are often destroyed at the end of one film installment, only to be resurrected in the next.

Some very credulous reporting a little more than a week ago demonstrated this slasher myth in the form of headlines like this:

Yes, I know that is not a mainstream news site. Rather it’s a quack site run by Mike Adams. Just search this blog or my not-so-super-secret other blog for numerous posts about the contortions and abuse of science and medicine by Mr. Adams. I included his article, quite simply, to illustrate that some headlines from mainstream news articles on the study don’t sound all that different from Mike Adams. Also notice how many of these headlines leave out an important fact, namely that this study was not done with humans, but with rats.

Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a quote from the Consumer Reports article:

The results of this large, long-term study could dramatically shift the national debate over cell phone safety. The NTP’s website says that the results may be used by the Food and Drug Administration and the FTC in determining how best to protect consumers from the potential harms of radiation that comes from cell phones.

The CDC might also consider reinstating the cautions it pulled from its web site. (We’ve reached out to the agency for comment, and will update our story once we hear back from them).

Likewise, the cell phone industry may have to alter its stance. The wireless association trade group CTIA has maintained that cell phones are completely safe, and has fought to block San Francisco from passing laws that would require electronics retailers to notify consumers about the proper handling of cell phones.

From Mother Jones:

It’s the moment we’ve all been dreading. Initial findings from a massive federal study, released on Thursday, suggest that radio-frequency (RF) radiation, the type emitted by cellphones, can cause cancer.

The findings from a $25 million study, conducted over two-and-a-half years by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), showed that male rats exposed to two types of RF radiation were significantly more likely than unexposed rats to develop a type of brain cancer called a glioma, and also had a higher chance of developing the rare, malignant form of tumor known as a schwannoma of the heart.

Now, NaturalNews:

After decades of denials and attacks by the media which called people concerned about cell phone radiation “tin foil hat-wearing conspiracy theorists,” a massive, multi-year study funded by the federal government now concludes that yes, cell phone radiation causes brain cancer.

The study is published here and it’s entitled, “Report of Partial Findings from the National Toxicology Program Carcinogenesis Studies of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Radiation in Hsd: Sprague Dawley SD rats (Whole Body Exposures).”

“The findings, which chronicle an unprecedented number of rodents subjected to a lifetime of electromagnetic radiation, present some of the strongest evidence to date that such exposure is associated with the formation of rare cancers in at least two cell types in the brains and hearts of rats,” reports Scientific American.

To be fair, NaturalNews includes Adams’ usual conspiracy-mongering about vaccines, GMOs, and the like, linking them all to “government coverups,” but when you are a mainstream publication like Consumer Reports or Mother Jones and your headlines and much of your text are not that far removed from something published on NaturalNews, you are doing it wrong. As Matthew Herper put it writing for Forbes about the reporting on this study, “Yesterday’s cell phone cancer scare scares me a little about the future of journalism.” In fact, if you look at some of the stories linked to above, you’ll note that many of them include notes at the end mentioning something like, “This article was updated to reflect criticism of the study’s conclusions by outside researchers.” That’s the press jumping first and being forced to backtrack under reasonable criticism. Unfortunately, none of them seem actually to make it very clear specifically how the stories were altered in response to criticism, which is bad.

Let’s take a look at some background, and then on to the study.

A little background: The science of the cell phones-cancer link

I can predict right now that someone will object to my starting this post by comparing the belief that cell phones cause cancer to the quack belief that vaccines cause autism, but I’m going to go one further. The idea that vaccines cause autism is actually more plausible than the idea that cell phones cause cancer—a lot more plausible. (Look for that sentence to be quote mined someday.) Moreover, I say this as someone who has criticized a physicist and famous skeptic for using a what I view as a simplistic “Cancer Biology 101” understanding of carcinogenesis to state that radio waves of the frequency used in cell phones cannot possibly cause cancer because of their low energy, which is very much insufficient to break chemical bonds in DNA, which is how many carcinogens cause cancer. I’ve even been criticized for perhaps being a little too open to the idea that radio waves can have significant biological effects that might even include causing cancer, and in one case I probably was.

Still, from the standpoint of basic science, specifically basic physics and biology, the likelihood that radio waves can cause cancer is incredibly unlikely, or, as I like to put it, not quite homeopathy-level implausible but damned implausible nonetheless. Indeed, from a biological standpoint, a strong link between cell phone use and brain cancer (or any other cancer) is not very plausible at all; in fact, it’s highly implausible. Cell phones do not emit ionizing radiation; they emit electromagnetic radiation in the microwave spectrum whose energy is far too low to cause the DNA damage that leads to mutations that lead to cancer. While it is possible that perhaps heating effects might contribute somehow to cancer, most cell phones, at least ones manufactured in the last decade or so, are low power radio transmitters. It is also necessary to acknowledge the possibility that there might be an as-yet-undiscovered biological mechanism by which low power radio waves can cause cancer, perhaps epigenetic or other, but the evidence there is very weak to nonexistent as well. Basically, based on what we know about carcinogenesis, a postulated link between cell phones and cancer is highly implausible.

In the absence of better basic science that nails down a heretofore-undiscovered potential biological mechanism by which exposure to radio waves could cause cancer, I have a hard time managing to muster any enthusiasm about recommending more studies than the ones that are already going on, particularly in light of various recent studies that I’ve examined that purport to find a link between cell phones and cancer but really do not. In other words, as a skeptic who’s probably the most open-minded (perhaps almost to the point of my brains falling out) to the claim that cell phones cause cancer, I still consider the claim, on basic science considerations alone, so incredibly implausible as to be an incredible, albeit not quite physically impossible, claim. I base this opinion on a preponderance of evidence that shows that brain cancer incidence is not increasing, inconsistent cell culture and animal studies that suffer from publication bias and when considered in the context of Bayesian prior plausibility are in fact negative, several epidemiological studies that failed to find a cell-phone cancer link, and the fact that the only epidemiological studies that claim to find a cell phone-cancer link have come from one group in Sweden whose principal investigator is known for being an expert witness in lawsuits against mobile phone companies.

Against that background, the background that journalists should have taken into account in writing about this study, let’s take a look at its results.

The National Toxicology Program study: Design

You will notice two points in nearly every story about this study, which was published at First is that the study was an expensive one. It cost $25 million. Second, it is frequently described with language like “one of the biggest and most comprehensive experiments into health effects from cellphones” and as “reigniting the debate” over cell phones and cancer. Personally, what I noticed about this study boiled down to two questions: How on earth can you spend $25 million on rat and mouse experiments? No, seriously. I do mouse and rat experiments myself in my lab, and, yes, they are expensive, but even with 90 rats per group, breeding rats, and repetitions I have a hard time figuring out how a study like this could cost $25 million. Hell, I could do a respectable multicenter clinical trial for that much money. Indeed, I have a grant application in that proposes a reasonably sized pilot clinical trial for less than $2 million. I’m not saying that science isn’t expensive, but what’s going on here? My second question is this: Why was this release to the public instead of going through peer review first and being published in a decent journal? Basically, this is a report of a partial finding of a study not published in the peer-reviewed medical literature, with the report noting, “The findings in this report were reviewed by expert peer reviewers selected by the NTP and National Institutes of Health.” Something odd is going on here. As Matt Herper noted:

This paper was different. It was published on something called bioRxiv, a server for scientific papers run by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. It’s modeled on similar servers used by economists and physicists to share papers quickly, without the cumbersome process of going through peer review at medical journals. This is already par for the course for economists and physicists, but news in those fields tends to dribble out to the public. For medical studies, news can come in a giant, crushing wave.

After Microwave News released a story about the preliminary results of this study, according to Science the NTP investigators “decided to release the rat data before completing their analysis and writeup of the entire study, which isn’t scheduled to be finished until 2017, because of high public interest and the intriguing results.” See where that got them. This is one good reason why great care should be taken releasing preliminary results. What the NTP did borders on science by press release.

Now let’s look at the design of this study. One thing I found odd about it was that exposure to cell phone radiofrequency radiation (RFR) began in utero. Pregnant rats were exposed to 900 MHz GSM– or CDMA-modulated RFR beginning at on Gestation Day (GD) 5 and continuing through gestation. After birth, pups were exposed to the same RFR until weaning on postnatal day (PND) 21, at which point the mothers were removed and the exposure of 90 pups per sex per group was continued for up to 106 weeks. Pups remained group-housed from PND 21 until 24 they were individually housed on PND 35. All RFR exposures were “conducted over a period of approximately 18 hours using a continuous cycle of 10 minutes on (exposed) and 10 minutes off (not exposed), for a total daily exposure time of approximately 9 hours a day, 7 days/week.” Control rats were treated identically, except that they were not exposed to RFR.

Before doing this study with 90 rats per group, the NTP investigators did some pilot studies in order to establish that the RFR field strengths used didn’t raise the body temperatures of the rats, which could affect the results. They also did 28 day toxicology pilot studies before doing the massive experiment, which ended up with seven experimental groups:

  1. Control (no RFR)
  2. GSM 1.5 W/kg
  3. GSM 3.0 W/kg
  4. GSM 6.0 W/kg
  5. CDMA 1.5 W/kg
  6. CDMA 3.0 W/kg
  7. CDMA 6.0 W/kg

At 90 rats per group, that’s 630 rats, but the rats were actually divided by sex, and 90 rats were used for each sex, which means that there were actually 1,260 rats. That’s a lot of rats.

The NTP study: Brain tumor results

The first thing that jumps out at me as I read the NTP report is this result:

At the end of the 2-year study, survival was lower in the control group of males than in all groups of male rats exposed to GSM-modulated RFR. Survival was also slightly lower in control females than in females exposed to 1.5 or 6 W/kg GSM-modulated RFR. In rats exposed to CDMA-modulated RFR, survival was higher in all groups of exposed males and in the 6 W/kg females compared to controls.

What I found particularly irritating about how this was reported was how difficult it was to find convenient, easy comparisons of the survival results for each group. Some Kaplan-Meier survival curves would have been really nice here, as we do in pretty much every medical paper in which survival is noted, including preclinical studies using rodents. If this paper were to have been submitted to a journal and I was asked to review it, I would insist on this because it takes way more effort to figure out what the authors found than it should. That being said, I can’t resist noting that some skeptics have been joking that in reality this study should have been reported with headlines like, “Cell phone radiation makes rats live longer.” True, saying that is just as misleading as many of the headlines about the study, but, then, that’s rather the point.

But what about cancer? What’s problematic about this study is that, even though there were 90 rats in each group, that’s actually a small number to detect meaningful differences in low frequency events. Here’s what I mean. The study reports increased incidences of tumors in the brains and hearts of the male rats. Specifically, there were noted to be increased incidences of malignant glioma and cardiac schwannomas in some of the groups exposed to GSM or CDMA RFR. Now here’s where the problem of small numbers comes in. The highest number of any single lesion in any single experimental group reported was 6, or 6.6% of the group. All numbers were in the single digits, and most were less than 3. Comparing such low frequency events between groups can be very problematic, particularly in the case low plausibility associations with multiple comparisons.

Let’s dive in a bit. In the male rats the number of gliomas detected for GSM RFR among 90 rats in each group was 3 (3.3%), 3 (3.3%), and 2 (2.2%) for 1.5 W/kg, 3 W/kg, and 6 W/kg, respectively, while for CDMA RFR the same numbers were 0 (0%), 0 (0%), and 3 (3.3%) for the same doses. Compare this to zero gliomas in the control group, and on the surface this looks alarming. There are a couple of problems. First, for GSM RFR, there doesn’t appear to be a dose-response, unless there is a threshold level that is, for example, below 1.5 W/kg. In fact, it’s a problem that the number of gliomas observed in the control group is zero, because according to historical controls in previous studies, that number should be around 2% (11/550 (2.0%), with a range from 0-8%), as is noted under Table 1. Examining the study that way, I have to be very concerned that there was something off about the control group, particularly given the lack of a clear dose-response effect and comparing to historical controls. Given that, color me very skeptical that this is a “real” result, particularly given that there was no statistically significant difference among the female rats, that there is no clear biological mechanism that would explain why GSM radiation would be more “carcinogenic” at the same exposure levels, and adding the very low prior plausibility that RFR causes cancer.

Bottom line: I believe that this result is almost certainly spurious and not indicative that cell phone RFR causes malignant gliomas in rats.

NTP Results: Schwannomas

In humans schwannomas are benign nerve sheath tumors (only 1% ever become malignant) composed of Schwann cells, the cell type that normally produces the insulating myelin sheath covering peripheral nerves. As noted in the introduction of the NTP study, there have been studies (that I consider unconvincing) linking cell phone RFR to acoustic neuromas, which are also known as vestibular schwannomas, thanks, presumably, to the proximity to the ear of the RFR source (the cell phone) when being used for a conversation. Why schwannomas would occur in nerves in the hearts of rats whose whole bodies were exposed to whole body cell phone RFR is puzzling and would be unexpected; that is, if these results are to be believed.

What the NTP investigators found in terms of the incidence of schwannomas was similar to what was found with respect to gliomas. There was no difference in incidence in females. In males, there was a statistically significant difference in schwannomas of the heart, but when the investigator looked for schwannomas elsewhere, they found:

In contrast to the significant increase in the incidence of schwannomas in the heart of exposed males, the incidence of schwannomas observed in other tissue sites of exposed males (GSM and CDMA modulations) was not significantly different than in controls (Table 5). Additionally, Schwann cell hyperplasia was not observed in any tissues other than the heart. The combined incidence of schwannomas from all sites was generally higher in GSM- and CDMA-modulated RFR exposed males, but not significantly different than in controls. The Schwann cell response to RFR appears to be specific to the heart of male rats.

In other words, the only significant result was an increase in schwannoma incidence in the hearts of male Sprague-Dawley rats exposed to cell phone RFR, while there was no difference between the control group and the exposed groups for total incidence of schwannoma at all sites. Another way of looking at this (at least from my point of view) is that, because the incidence of schwannoma at all sites did not differ between controls and the RFR-exposed groups of male rats, in the RFR-exposed group there was a redistribution of schwannoma to the heart. Considering that there is no known plausible biological mechanism to explain how RFR might somehow sensitize the heart to schwannoma formation only in males and given that high level of biological implausibility that RFR even causes schwannoma in the first place, again the most likely explanation is that this, too, is a spurious result.

The problems with this study

To its credit, the NTP included the peer reviews that it did ask for. One reviewer, a veterinarian named Diana Haines, commented mainly on the pathology and, although she agreed that the results should be considered “likely the result of exposures to GSM—and CDMA—modulated RFR,” she did have some caveats, particularly how well the scheme of exposing the rats beginning in utero represented actual human exposure (my assessment: not very well). Another reviewer, Maxwell Lee of the National Cancer Institute Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Genetics, analyzed the data and concluded that the association with glioma was significant for schwannomas but probably not for glioma. Of course, my retort is whether it’s biologically significant, something I sincerely doubt.

A third reviewer, Aleksandra M. Michalowski, also of the NCI Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Genetics echoed my complaint about the presentation of the overall survival of each group and actually did what the authors should have done and constructed a table of the median survival of each group, which showed that the median survival in the males receiving 6 W/kg CDMA RFR was 8% longer, which makes me want to change my sarcastic headline to “Cell phone radiation makes male rats live 8% longer on average.” In any case, she was concerned about the potential for bias and agreed that the glioma data were marginal, although she thought the schwannoma data were likely indicative of carcinogenesis. Multiple reviewers also noted that the survival of the control group of male rats was poorer than most historical controls (only 28% were still alive at two years, compared to a mean of 47%, range 24% to 72%), which might have skewed the results.

Perhaps the most comprehensive critique came from Michael S. Lauer of the Office of Extramural Research at the NIH, who noted potential problems with blinding, use of the intent-to-treat principle, and the like. He even did some simulations and power analyses and concluded that:

Based on these inputs, the recommendations in Table 13 of the FDA guidance document, and a sample size of 90 rats in each group, I find very low power (<5%, see Appendix 2). Even allowing for a risk ratio of 5.0 (a level that is clinically unlikely), the power for 2-sided alpha=0.005, k=3 and low lethality is only ~14% (see Appendix 2).


The low power implies that there is a high risk of false positive findings2, especially since the epidemiological literature questions the purported association between cell phone exposure and cancer.

He was lead to conclude that he was “unable to accept the authors’ conclusions,” adding:

I suspect that this experiment is substantially underpowered and that the few positive results found reflect false positive findings. The higher survival with RFR, along with the prior epidemiological literature, leaves me even more skeptical of the authors’ claims.

So do I. So does Aaron Carroll, a.k.a. The Incidental Economist, who notes:

Where to begin? I didn’t see any sample size calculation, nor any discussion of what they expected to see. One of the reviewers did a power calculation for them (page 37) and found that based on 90 rats per group, the power was about 14%. This means that false positives are very likely. The cancer difference was only seen in females, not males. The incidence of brain cancer in the exposed groups was well within the historical range. There’s no clear dose response. Why schwannomas? Schwannomas in other locations than the heart were not significantly different. These are rats. I don’t know how this compares to real world exposure. And one more thing – the survival of male rats in the control group was relatively low, and if these tumors developed later in life, this could be the whole reason for the difference.


I become even more skeptical by taking a Bayesian approach to the analysis and considering the very low prior probability of a positive result based on what we know about biology coupled with the multiple outcomes examined. Taking these issues into account, I agree with Lauer that the results reported are almost certainly due to chance and are not indicative of a real biological effect. There are just so many red flags in the study that should have told journalists that there’s a lot less there than meets the eye. I could tell this, and I’m not even a statistician.

Lessons to be learned

I had considered not blogging this, given how much digital ink had been spilled on the study within 24 hours after its being announced, but sometimes there is an advantage to having to wait three days before writing about a science story. It provides time to see how the reporting develops. To their credit, at least Scientific American, STAT, and Mother Jones altered their articles after criticism and noted that they had done so, with the results being much less alarmist stories. The same can’t be said about Consumer Reports or The WSJ.

I realize that news of the preliminary results of this NTP study had been reported by Microwave News (and in a very alarmist manner, I might add), and that that was likely the impetus for the NTP to rush to publish a preliminary report in a non-peer-reviewed source. I can even understand why the NTP might have done it. After all, imagine the conspiracy mongering that would have gone on after this report if the NTP had said that it wasn’t going to publish the results until it had been accepted to a peer-reviewed journal. I can picture the headlines: “Government hides evidence of cell-phone cancer link.” Still, I wish the investigators had waited, rather than to publish an incomplete study that was not peer-reviewed. Given that this is only a partial result, I anticipate a lot more seemingly-positive results that will likely be no more convincing than this publication was.

Matthew Herper, in criticizing how the press handled this story, noted that it scared him, correctly noting this about how all the caveats and red flags about this study were lost in the shuffle:

Those caveats should have come with the study when it came out. Instead, readers were told why they should be scared before they found out the reasons they should calm down.

I fear that this is not the last set of results from the NTP study that will be released to the public in this manner. In fact, given that the investigators are looking at many tumors and Sprague-Dawley rats suffer a high incidence of cancer in their two year lifespans, I’m sure there will be more spurious results reported as real.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

68 replies on “How is the cell phone-cancer myth like Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th slasher flicks?”

Correct me if I am wrong, I work with bacteria not cancer, but in my line of work, we also provide sequence information on mutations, plasmids, or whole genome sequence to locate the expected mutations as another confirmation of the effect sought after, like inserting a promoter sequence, for publication. Is this not a procedure not followed for cancer research? I know the size and complexity difference in genomes, however, wouldn’t chromosomal data and gene location be available for such well known models to compare and look for the specific gene mutation? I see no genome information anywhere confirming the mutation in the sequence for those specific tumors. We did that very thing when reporting our findings on Blu Ecigs and our mouse models.

In fact, given that the investigators are looking at many tumors

And found significant differences for two of them. Hmm.

How on earth can you spend $25 million on rat and mouse experiments?

As I understood it, the research team had custom Faraday cages build in the lab, each with its own tiny RF antenna.
MadisonMD replied to this question in your friend’s other blog. She put a cool picture of one cage. here is the link to the original picture. As she put it, the rats had a better 3G reception than most of us.

Well, that’s the mechanical “how”. Now, if the question is “how do you justify spending $25 millions on a single rat-and-mouse study”, that’s a different kettle of fish…

The rats all lived longer but the males also got cancer. And the moral is…

Male rats should talk hands free until we get to the bottom of this controversy.

$25 million dollars? For a 600 rat study? Something doesn’t add up there. That has to be for facilities construction on that “reverberation chamber”.

As I understood it, the research team had custom Faraday cages build in the lab, each with its own tiny RF antenna.

Are Faraday cages really that expensive to build? I’ll grant that they had to be custom-built, to comply with rules for doing studies in live animals, but is that really an eight-figure expenditure?

I expect our friend Eric Lund will arrive and point out, with his usual perspicacity and wit, that a study with this little statistical power would provoke peals of helpless laughter in the physical science community. (Of course, protons cost less than rats.)

Ugh. For $25 M you could build a very nice 4-meter telescope and do some real science. Or keep 10 Oracs going doing something useful! Those custom Faraday cages must have been gold-plated and lined with soft Corinthian leather.

Are Faraday cages really that expensive to build?

Build them to Mil-spec, call them “TEMPEST shielding”.

Even though the NY Times reported fairly accurately on this (Aaron Carroll), and even though it was titled “Why Its Not Time To Panic…”, the comments were full of “skepticism”. It was difficult to believe most of them had read the article. There were links to Devra Davis books, multiple conspiracy theories, and a great deal of general ignorance. I can only hope that cranks are over-represented in comments because they bother to comment.

Wood for 1300 cages: $7800

Copper Mesh for 1300 cages: $20,000

Getting paid $25,000,000 to do it: priceless

Over simplified and stupid, I know.

Wouldn’t it have made much much more sense to have exposed them to RF for less time per day and left them vulnerable to all background radiation sources…like it happens out here….where people get paid 25 mil to build rat boxes.

@ Eric Lund

Are Faraday cages really that expensive to build?

@ Another Antivaxx Slayer

Copper Mesh for 1300 cages: $20,000

You forgot 1300 tiny RF radios. But I’m sure Radioshack would have given you a discount 🙂

I started ruminating on this after I posted, and then get bogged down in how many tiny cages should be build. One per rat, one per 90 rats?
Let’s add the cost of managing a thousand rats for 2+ years, plus all the autopsies searching for all forms of cancer.

I will admit that’s still a very expensive collection of rat boxes.

Wouldn’t it have made much much more sense to have exposed them to RF for less time per day and left them vulnerable to all background radiation sources

Depends on your objective.
By increasing the dose for the treated animals and reducing the background noise for the controls, you are going to get an amplified effect.
If your objective is to show that a mechanism exist for RF effects on living organisms, albeit for high doses, that’s a good approach (I guess).
If your objective is to show that current exposure to smartphone radiation is harmful, then it’s indeed error-inducing. The dose is all wrong, the effect of the environment is all wrong.
To be fair, I can think of a good reason to isolate controls: I would guess the background radiation is neither homogeneous nor constant. Placing controls – and treated animals – in a stable, controlled environment should reduce variability.

Are Faraday cages really that expensive to build?

An anechoic chamber (“an-echoic” meaning non-reflective, non-echoing or echo-free) is a room designed to completely absorb reflections of either sound or electromagnetic waves. They are also insulated from exterior sources of noise. The combination of both aspects means they simulate a quiet open-space of infinite dimension, which is useful when exterior influences would otherwise give false results.

The communal rat cages were probably designed that way to give even exposure throughout — for preventing ‘hot spots’. What’s that word for equal power?

Why schwannomas would occur in nerves in the hearts of rats whose whole bodies were exposed to whole body cell phone RFR is puzzling and would be unexpected

At 2.5 GHz, this ranges from about 5 for adipose tissue to about 56 for the cardiac muscle. As the speed of electromagnetic waves is proportional to the reciprocial value of the square root of the dielectric constant, the resulting wavelength in the tissue can drop to a fraction of the wavelength in air; e.g. at 10 GHz the wavelength can drop from 3 cm to about 3.4 mm.

That wavelength is getting pretty short such that any small, discontinuous structures (RNA) within a dielectric may begin to resonate and *possibly* interfere with protein folding and what not.

I suspect that part of the reason this particular myth is so persistent is because the belief that cell phones are biologically harmful parallels the belief (some might say fact) that they’ve had a negative effect on society. If you’re already bewailing the infiltration of text-speak into spoken language or the increasingly common issue of texting someone else instead of interacting with the person you’re actually having lunch with, naturally you’re going to be more receptive (no pun intended) to the idea that cell phones are also bad for you physically.

Let’s add the cost of managing a thousand rats for 2+ years, plus all the autopsies searching for all forms of cancer.

$200k per FTE-year (including benefits and F&A costs) would be a ballpark number for labor costs–a PI would be closer to $300k, while a postdoc would come in at or a little above $100k. So the labor line item is going to be in the millions, but it’s not going to be a majority of the costs. I don’t know how much autopsies cost, but if Orac can do a rat study for $2M, it can’t be that much either.

I looked up the Wikipedia article on the subject. It mentions that there are standards of 1.6 W/kg in the US and 2.0 W/kg in Europe as maximum emission rates, so yes, the doses in this experiment are unrealistically high. Interestingly, Wikipedia has a note that the section on cell phones and cancer (which already includes a mention of this study and Dr. Lauer’s critique thereof) as “need[ing] more medical references for verification or rel[ying] too heavily on primary sources”–the latter sounds like a strange complaint to me.

Maybe these Faraday cages are made of really expensive high mu metal. If so, they could sell them (when they’re done with them) to preppers on eBay. Actually, as a college student I worked at Motorola one summer doing digital signal testing (for the first digital cell phones) and spent a lot of time in a true Faraday cage (heavy copper sides, doors, lots of mesh on top of that). I see those are selling for 20 K on ebay.

I can’t rouse too much indignation about this topic. Unlike anti-vaxers, though, people who honestly believe in the dangers of cell phones aren’t a danger to other people if they simply stop using cellphones. And unlike the misinformation campaign being waged against GMOs, these dire warnings of the dangers of cell phones will have exactly zero effect on cell phone usage.

The reason is that, unlike vaccines and GMOs, cellphones are actually useful to people in a direct, observable, personal way.

Vaccines result in a lack of disease; GMOs result in lower prices and the continued availability of crops that were already available. (And of course less hunger in other parts of the world, but that’s even less likely to be noticed.) You have to actually think about it in order to understand the positive benefits of both, and people in general are not great at thinking about things that aren’t right in front of their faces — and not terribly great even at thinking about those things.

Heck we know that people will ignore real consequences if it means giving up even modest conveniences. There’s a reason a disgustingly large percentage of people deny global warming, and it isn’t because they’ve read through the science, it’s because doing anything about it would mean giving up the slightest bit of their affluence. Why would they buy into fake consequences for something as intimately useful as cellphones?

@Eric Lund #17, “Wikipedia has a note … “need[ing] more medical references for verification or rel[ying] too heavily on primary sources”–the latter sounds like a strange complaint to me.”

Eric, this is Wikipedia’s general philosophy: they want article references to be secondary, not primary sources, because synthesis of primary source material is, essentially, original research. Compiling a consensus of already done and publish research (i.e., secondary sources) is more compatible with the “encyclopedic” nature of Wikipedia.

First, pardon my disjointed, incoherent ramblings today. These last two weeks have been beyond hectic with cleaning up tornado damage in my hometown and then being stranded in said hometown by nearly 3 feet of ensuing rain. I got back home last night with full physical and emotional exhaustion.

I understand all the complaints about the study itself, my silliness aside, how is this even still a question? Even at the full dosage listed in the study, there is simply not enough energy transmitted to do anything to any electrons, hence why it is not ionizing radiation. On the off chance that an electron is struck in exactly the right spot to dislodge it from it orbit, there is not enough of this going on within a cell to cause damage. All discussion and jokes about costs and shoddy analysis (although my wife offered this: perhaps the authors are hoping everyone out here will do their data analysis and graph design for them.) aside how can anyone be even joking about this? To me, this is a stab at trying to get fame with a certain grouping of people, i.e. the conspiracy nuts. There is apparently a large enough supply of money available to make it worthwhile to sacrifice their years and years spent getting to this point.

Whining done. I think I am curling back up on the couch to complain about life right now.

@Chris Hickie

You just gave me an idea. We should start self funding phase one studies finding things that have increased in usage or are new that coincide with the increase in Autism and just start publishing them by the hundreds. We will start with your post that gave me the idea….cell phones stored in pockets in the pelvic area linked to autism….. We will flood them with their own hyperbole until they surrender to their own stupidity with which they have been training us for so long.

Wait, never mind… I just found a comment elsewhere where someone has now linked big pharma and cell phone companies into the same conspiracy to cause autism….

I had trouble getting past the idea that the modulation matters. Really? Perhaps rather than GSM or CDMA coding (not to mention what payload they may have used) they should have used AM of political advertisements in a continuous loop. Do rats suicide?

So, two questions:

1) Were the veterinary pathologists doing the postmortem exams blinded as to whether they were working with control or “radiation”-exposed rats? The diagnosis of a low-grade glioma in particular (in humans at any rate) can be very difficult, and unless you are using precise criteria, have multiple pathologists agreeing on the diagnosis _and_ are blinded to the source of the rats, I see a high potential for error and bias.

2) How common are cardiac schwannomas in rats? I’ve never seen one in a human being.

3) (over the question limit, but bear with me) _Were_ there any other tumors detected in these tumor-prone rats, and if so, how did incidence differ between the groups?

4) (just one more) Wouldn’t it have been more realistic to fasten teeny-tiny cellphones to the ears of the rats, rather than doing whole-body exposure? (side benefit – the rats could’ve shared observations on cage life, gone on the Internet, played rodent video games etc.).

The only bad thing about over-hype of this study in my view (apart from the premature leaping on its conclusions and intimations of bad design) is that the cellphone industry will surely pass on to everyone the costs of litigation which are sure to spring from this report. As for tumor risk, I make relatively few cellphone calls and am more concerned about the single, unnecessary head CT I had years ago.

Srah A @16: Or maybe it’s like the fear of microwave ovens. It’s new, it’s amazing, you really don’t want to live without it, you don’t understand why it works – FEAR IT!

(These are the two subjects I hear the dumbest things about on a regular basis. “Microwaves rip molecules apart!” “All radiation is ionizing!” Uh, no.)

The fear of broadcast radiation goes back to at least 1942 in Robert Heinlein’s novela Waldo. It is also a very woo story for any who haven’t read it. The term for remote control arms (like the ones used in high radiation areas) comes from this story.

Rich @27: It has been a long time since I read that story. All I remember was the cat who had grown up in microgravity and had a really hard time when it was brought back to Earth.

Heinlein really had a thing for cats (which is better than some of the other things he seemed to have a thing for).


I forgot all about the cat. Are you thinking of LL and his mother and his daughters?

Rich: No, not LL. I mean, there are a lot of cats in the assorted LL stories, but I thought there was a cat in Waldo. Maybe it was a monkey? Or a parrot?

(There are so many cats! Pixel, the Cat Who Walked Though Walls, the cat from The Door into Summer. I’m pretty sure there’s one in Friday too.)

The moral is: it doesn’t stack up. There is no known reason why non-ionising radiation could extend life and/or cause cancer. Even less extend life or cause cancer in one sex only.

But if in some wacky world it be true for humans, then some might wish to take the cancer hit in exchange for more living time. You’re a long time sans cancer, sans everything, when you are dead.

Post above me .. “smoking gun that I thought it was ” ….. idiot

They bought all of their metal for the cages from Apple. Got a discount for volume otherwise would have been a $35 million study.

The Male control rats, only, had poor survival, living a median of 7 weeks less than the other groups. Only 28% lived to the end of the study vs at least 48% in the other groups. I feel this dominates the result. Potentially those control rats that would have got Gliomas or Schwannomas died first. None of the Gliomas and only 5 of the Schwannomas occurred prior to 90 weeks, by which time 1/3 of the control rats had died. Of course there is also the selective reporting problem – we are getting selectively reported data with this pre-release giving only four of many possible comparisons.

They do not state whether the animal technicians and other handlers of the animals were blinded to whether they were dealing with control or test rats, a potential source of bias. Evidently the initial pathology looking for tumors was not blinded, only the reviewing Pathology Working Group.

On the survival time they say “We generally do observe lower survival rates in studies such as the RFR studies in which animals are singly- rather than group housed” so why did they compromise the result in detecting a slow developing cancer by using a housing approach that limits life span? None of the Gliomas and only 5 of the Schwannomas occurred prior to 90 weeks, by which time 1/3 of the control rats had died.

Perhaps the conclusion is that lonely males live longer if they have a mobile phone?

A few other things jumped out at me when I read that tripe several days ago.
6 W/kg, WTF is up with that? Cell phones maximum wattage output is 6 W. Period, adding wattage beyond the capabilities of a cell phone, while studying the effects of cell phone emissions isn’t realistic.
What form of modulation was used also makes no sense.
It’s as bad as ignoring the inverse square law!

Hell, I got a much higher microwave exposure each afternoon, as I walked four miles to work and old Sol puts out quite a broad spectrum of electromagnetic energy!

So, let’s headline the study properly, “Infamously cancer prone strain of rats develops cancer at around the expected rate”.
Especially when we’re speaking of wavelengths in centimeters, leaving no possible pathophysiological pathway to cause any kind of mutation.

It’s as bad as the brilliant claim that “the microwaves stay in the food after it comes out of the microwave oven”, to which I replied, “Microwaves are electromagnetic radiation, just like radio waves and light, how long does the light stay in the room when you turn of a light switch?”.
High power microwave energy has been linked to leukemia, but we’re talking DEW line high power radar and FARR radar, which is a far cry from a cellular telephone, a very far cry, the difference between a search light and birthday candle. In that, heating was thought to be the cause of mutations, with living areas being bombarded by radar sets being calibrated and tested for FARR radar and service members keeping themselves warm by standing in front of the DEW line radar antenna.
A cell phone has a maximum wattage of 6 watts, period. That isn’t enough to warm up anything whatsoever (microwave ovens operate at a different frequency (2.4 GHZ) and power ranges between 800 W and 1600 W for home microwave ovens).

@Eric#17 Wikipedia editors essentially don’t trust themselves to interpret research papers – they prefer to work from reviews and meta-analyses published in high-impact journals instead, where possible.

I’ve said this before, I’ve always been perplexed by the dismissal of the cancer-phone connection on the basis of first principles. RF waves consist of electric and magnetic fields, and our bodies contain many charged particles, after all. I’d be surprised if RF waves *didn’t* influence protein folding and reaction kinetics, though I have no idea if this would be detectable at human-relevant exposure levels. I find it completely plausible (in a data vacuum) that certain frequency/intensity combination might impact some aspect of our biology in a deleterious fashion.

Much more reasonable is to simply go straight to rejecting the connection on epidemiological grounds, namely the complete absence of a massive cancer spike after cell phones went from non-existent to ubiquitous, as our esteemed Orac and many others make sure to mention.

Indeed, in all the literature I can find on the health effects of extreme exposure to non-ionizing radiation (>10x beyond FCC regulations), it appears that all observed symptoms could be tied back to induction currents and heating.

Oh, a bit of fun trivia, the quantum energy of a microwave oven photon is 1 x 10-5 eV.
Needless to say, the quantum energy from a cell phone would be a *lot* less. As in less than 1 x 10-7 eV.
Yep, I received a much higher full body burden from old Sol this afternoon, when I walked four miles to work. Plus, the added bonus of UV and plain old heat (88 degrees with high humidity, but at least there was a breeze).

Just to clarify a little on RF exposure limits, and to mirror some comments over at the ‘other blog’:

For FCC and other regulatory testing of smartphones and similar devices, Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) measurements are used for RF exposure assessment. The limits here are measured in W/kg averaged over a specified mass of tissue.

For example, FCC limits for devices used at the ear, or worn on the body are set at a maximum of 1.6 W/kg averaged over 1g of tissue. In Europe, the limits are 2.0 W/kg but averaged over 10g of tissue. This is a measurement of very localised exposure, which is typically the case with a handheld device – 1g of tissue is about 1 cubic centimeter.

There are also limits for use at the extremities (e.g. your hands), which are set at 4.0 W/kg over 10g of tissue

Finally there is a limit for whole-body exposure set at 0.08 W/kg averaged over the whole (human) body, but this limit is not so relevant for mobile phones.

All the above are the limits for devices intended for use by the general public. It is not uncommon for devices on the market to come quite close to these limits – manufacturers may have to modify the device during development to bring the SAR under these limits. Even the 4.0 W/kg (10g) limit for extremities is quite easy to exceed. You can find the SAR figure for your own phone in the accompanying leaflets, or online if you are interested.

In the study, they are measuring whole-body exposure, and they are adjusting the transmitter to give various levels of exposure based on the mass of the rats.

While I have some experience in the testing of mobile phones based on existing standards, I am not qualified to comment on biological effects etc. That said, what is not clear to me is how one ‘translates’ these results from rats to humans. As the rat is rather smaller than a human, my guess is that comparing the ‘whole-body’ exposure is probably a bit apples-oranges.

On the other hand, it would not have been feasible to set up a fixed ‘localised’ exposure without affixing the antenna to the rats body and presumably this might have caused other effects. SAR levels drop off very rapidly with distance inside the body and the highest levels are typically within a couple of centimeters of the outer surface of the skin. Again, this is a relevant difference between rats and humans as I assume a significant part of the rats internal organs must be within this region, but much less so for humans.

Indeed, EvilTwinSelf, hence, my reference to the inverse square law. It is a law of physics, not a theory.
For those unfamiliar, I’ll risk a wikipedia link:
Shorthand: Signal strength and hence, effects, fall off incredibly rapidly, with a mathematical formula that is trivial to a junior high school student’s math level knowledge relationship.
The reason is simple enough, the source is small, space is big. See “The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy” for amusing reference to that statement. 😉

Add to that, the specific breed of rat is cancer prone adds to problems in the equation.

Add in some weird consideration of modulation. The carrier wave, that which is central to sending a signal, the main frequency of the band of communication, remains fixed in power, modulation simply changes levels, pulses or time constants within that main carrier frequency or amplitude in AM transmissions, which cellular carriers don’t use.
In short, there is amplitude modulation and pretty much everything else. Amplitude modulation is old AM radio, modulate the carrier with a signal, low tones or silence with no carrier signal, loud at the top of the signal strength allowed.
FM, CDMA, GSM, ad absurdium all use a fixed signal strength, like FM radio does, but changes phase, pulse width, etc, all at the same frequency. Simplifies signal sending, complicates signal processing at both ends. Adds a lot of range though, due to a text book full of technical reasons.
But, the short of it is, this simply, more reliable transmission, more faithful transmission. Rather than, hope you get this fading signal and actually figure out what was sent, as we go from zero signal to whatever we transmitted and you received.
Actually, it’s more complicated, but it’s a lot of math, tightly focused and yeah, tightly focused.
Hell, today, I can still troubleshoot and repair both circuits, digital circuits and more, plus be a grizzled old SF veteran. 😉

As for the inverse square law, some months ago, I was being diagnosed for hyperthyroidism and hence, had an Iodine-131 scan performed. Hence, my thyroid was emitting a significant amount of gamma radiation. We had adopted a Russian Blue cat, who is especially fond of me. Out of minor concern for his health, I avoided contact with him where my throat near my neck-chest region meet, for a few weeks. It’s an irrational concern, due to the exposure level, but I did so with my wife of 34+ years as well.
Besides, I didn’t want Boy-Boy or wife to turn into Hulk-Cat or She-Hulk. 😉
Or add to their cancer risk.
It’s an irrational risk assessment, but then, for home, I get highly irrational. Where my family is concerned, logic and irrationality collide, one picks one’s battles.
Still, I was highly tempted to visit Barksdale AFB, just for craps and giggles, to see the scampering over radiation readings. I successfully fought that temptation by simply figuring out the wasted monetary resources that’d be consumed by such a childish venture.
Still, I’ll eventually have to get my ID card renewed…

@Wzrd1 #40 & #36

I guess my point was that 6W/kg SAR is attainable with a mobile phone, at least for localised SAR (averaged over 1g or 10g with the phone very close to the user). I will concede that 6W/kg may well be very high for whole-rat-body exposure.

It would be interesting to hear their reasoning behind the exposure levels chosen.

I am way out of my field of expertise here, but maybe they were trying to create a situation in the whole rat that mimics the exposure of the part of a human that is immediately next to a mobile phone. But then, the idea of looking at internal organs doesn’t seem to make so much sense then.

Anyone more ‘in the know’ about these kind of experiments who thinks they can shed any light on this?

Maybe someone can also chime in with the approximate body mass for a typical rat of the type used here. this must be somewhere between the 1g or 10g of tissue for localized SAR and a human ‘whole-body’ mass.

I’ve said this before, I’ve always been perplexed by the dismissal of the cancer-phone connection on the basis of first principles. RF waves consist of electric and magnetic fields, and our bodies contain many charged particles, after all. I’d be surprised if RF waves *didn’t* influence protein folding and reaction kinetics, though I have no idea if this would be detectable at human-relevant exposure levels. I find it completely plausible (in a data vacuum) that certain frequency/intensity combination might impact some aspect of our biology in a deleterious fashion.

Except that it is not very plausible at all based on what we know about both physics and the biology of cancer. I don’t completely rule out an as yet undiscovered mechanism of carcinogenesis that such low energy electromagnetic waves might impact, but, as I like to say, although the cell phone-cancer link might not quite reach homeopathy levels of implausibility, it comes close.

It’s as bad as ignoring the inverse square law!

Bad, Wzrd1#36? Your head is in the phones’ near field; The inverse square law need not apply.

the very complex near field falls off faster than the far but

In other regions, the power density is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the antenna. In the vicinity very close to the antenna, however, the energy level can rise dramatically with only a small decrease in distance toward the antenna. This energy can adversely affect both humans and measurement equipment because of the high powers involved…

Depending on antenna characteristics and frequencies, such coupling may be far more efficient than simple antenna reception in the yet-more-distant far field, so far more power may be transferred to the secondary “antenna” in this region than would be the case with a more distant antenna.

Of course, I’m considering that RNA *might* serve as an ‘antenna’ as it is an antenna-dimensioned discontinuity within a dielectric.

“Your head is in the phones’ near field; The inverse square law need not apply.”

I’m agreeing with Gilbert? Yes, but just this once. RF emitters next to the body requires a near field analysis, which can be far more difficult than a far field analysis, especially within a Faraday cage and adjacent to jiggling, moving sacs of mostly water. At 1 GHZ the wavelength is 30 cm (1 foot). Even in the far field the inverse square “law” is an approximation, although it is often a very very good approximation.

Yes, the head would be in the near field, however the head is well under one wave length of the carrier frequency.
That also speaks to coupling, plus there is the additional difficulty in explaining how a pitiful 6 watts worth of energy is going to cause any form of mutation and how we managed to survive higher levels of EM energy at quite a wide bandwidth from Sol.

I’ve said this before, I’ve always been perplexed by the dismissal of the cancer-phone connection on the basis of first principles. RF waves consist of electric and magnetic fields, and our bodies contain many charged particles, after all.

The nonthermal mechanisms don’t hold up well (PDF; I didn’t have time to dig up a newer review).

@Bob #37

It is not dismissive in the least. Let’s just drop the science of it completely.

The most recent numbers indicate that there are over 6 billion cell phone users currently using 8 billion cell phones by 2020 (source: Currently, over half of the world’s population (about 3.6 billion) is using cell phones (source: As the previous links show, there has been a 0% to unmeasurably low % increase in these cancers in the population. There is no ratio, either direct or through a model, that shows a rise or dip in the number of cell phones in use corresponding to any rise or dips in cell phone use.
No 1 in 1000
No 1 in 100000
No 1 in 10000000
No increases in those cancer rates shown at all that increase with cell phone use.

This information exhaustively gathered, along with the pure science of biology and physics, is why this myth is “dismissed.” It is not dismissed,mint is disproven, unwillingness to accept a disproof doesn’t make you right, it just makes you unteachable.

Seriously Siri??? Changing sentence tense from future to present?? My first sentence was typed as such:

The most recent numbers indicate that ere will be over 6 billion cell phone users using 8 billion cell phones by 2020.

@Slayer #47 is that whole comment actually aimed at me? Weird if so, since it reads like you only read a part of my own comment and ignored the rest. @Orac as well, I agree with all of you! Srsly, I’m already converted. There’s a reason I specifically said the theory sounds reasonable “in a data vacuum”.

The difference between phone-cancer and homeopathy is that homeopathy relies on fantasy to work. Phone-cancer could be hypothesized using a string of implausible but completely possible physical/chemical/electromagnetic interactions.

I also made it clear I am not accusing Orac of dismissing the theory out of hand – he dismisses it based on sound evidence on top of attacking plausibility. That’s the way it should be done. My beef is kind of generally with the commentators and bloggers who essentially scream, “RF waves can’t break DNA!” and leave it at that. Sometimes they add that heating doesn’t cause cancer either. I hear them on the radio, I see them quoted in news articles, and I wish they spent more time pointing out that we should dismiss this theory not simply because it is implausible, but because a huge amount of data says it’s not true.

Don’t leave people with the impression that this is something we’re not bothering to study. Make it clear the hypothesis has been studied, exhaustively, and found unsupportable. Just like Orac did here. Also thanks @Narad for pointing out that article to me.


Yep, it is aimed at you, the entirety of it because of your middle paragraph here, specifically the last sentence. There is zero data that says it is possible. You are wanting there to be because you don’t understand that the energy carried by these waves is incapable of creating the ionization needed to cause a mutation. This one is disproven on multiple facets, the data proves the physics, the physics supports the data. Simply wanting a connection does not a connection make. This connection doesn’t exist. It’s beyond implausible as you put it. They can’t interact. Can’t. This isn’t even a “under normal circumstances” or a “data can indicate in certain situations” thing. I have not even begun to touch on your protein folding and protein kinematics statements. I am still too dumbfounded that you think that an energy wave, that can’t dislodge an electron, is going to effect reaction rates at the active site of an enzyme, or how protein folding mechanics could even be in the same solar system as this question.

Tell you what. Come back for your rebuttal with physics. Describe how a wave carrying less energy than the required amount to move an electron, can move an electron. Bring data from physics journals and the equations to support it. Until then, you feel like you are Harry Potter too. It will matter the same.

@Slayer #50

Thank you for confirming you’re the kind of person I complain about, who dismisses things they have no understanding of.

I can send you about a couple million more papers if you want on the effects that non-ionizing RF waves have on chemical reactions.

It is not controversial to state that in chemistry and physics, RF waves can influence reaction kinetics. The controversy is only in stating that the RF fields that humans experience could produce measurable effects, or that non-heating non-current-based effects could be felt before the human is simply cooked by the radiation (for comparison, in the paper I referenced, the RF generating coil is about 100 times stronger than a typical smartphone, and the reaction volume is INSIDE the coil).

Physics equations and articles supporting your claim that the radiation emitted by cell phones carries enough energy to have any of he effects you claim.

I know this study, other than they looked at a biological molecule, it has no bearing here. Either find the information supporting your claims or stop claiming them. I may be someone you complain about but you are way worse.

Equations about the strength of the waves from cell phones, the amount of energy required to move electrons, or shut up. You have been defeated without these things. Your entire group of postings is slightly more than incoherent babbling. Show me, with your data, how a wave that CAN’T carry the energy needed can carry the energy needed to do this. It’s a simple request. I took quantum mechanics. I know it can’t be done. But I am not a physicist nor do I read much research beyond optics, so something could have changed, but probably not. Prove it. Stop dodging everything and prove it. Find one paper or equation that says those waves can carry the energy to do it, not nearly 20 year old papers that uses radiation to denature and anneal. This is KNOWN. Your statement is false. Remember, you can’t come back and play with the scientists until you have the data.

I can send you about a couple million more papers if you want on the effects that non-ionizing RF waves have on chemical reactions.

Yah. Perhaps you could stifle the hyperbole, look at the review that I provided or find a more recent one, and formulate a more reasoned response.

If you are concerned about EM (RF is only part of the EM spectrum) energy harming you, I would suggest a full faraday cage suit that you wear 24/7.

Count how many different EM energy sources are around us everyday not only manmade but natural? The sun emits large amount of EM (not only visible) energy that strikes us, cosmic radiation, other radiation (such as radon), coal flyash piles, local radio/tv broadcast stations. The list goes on.

People will say we hold the cell phone to our head so it is closer. If cell phone EM energy is causing cancer, why is it only brain cancer? One would think that cells closest to the energy transmitter would be most affected (and yes the inverse square law applies but because the distance is small the energy change is small).

^ Oh, OK, I hadn’t read far enough back to see that Bob had indeed seen the review, sorry. The quarrel per se I’m not interested in.

The paper he provided discusses a 200W RF field generated in a confined area, way outside any of this discussion. He still has yet to present anything relating to the topic.


My wife asked me to be polite to you. I apologize for my rudeness and need to explain something to you. Chemical reactions are very different from biological reactions. The conditions where fields could interact with reactions, and as you have demonstrated, do interact in chemical reactions are not possible in a way for humans to survive. This is the reason why your associations to chemical reactions are invalid, they are not biological reactions and do not apply here.

Sheesh! Why are you all acting like I’m concerned about EM waves, or that I think they can cause cancer or any other health effects?

I’m not going to prove to you that radio waves measurably influence biological reactions because I am not arguing that they do – I’m merely arguing the idea is “not totally ridiculous”, based on studies in pure chemistry. It’s totally ridiculous based on yet other studies, and I’ll get to that below.

Let me make my assumptions very clear: Epidemiological data shows that cell phones have no detectable correlation with cancer. Health effects of RF waves are probably limited to heating and induced current, and only at amplitudes far beyond what a cell phone can generate. None of this is news to me, and I challenge none of it. This was already assumed before cell phones existed – people who had reason to work near high power radio sources suffered no strange experiences unless close enough to feel the heating effect.

Again, I’m not even challenging the claim that non-ionizing waves are harmless at cellphone intensities. Only that this theory is not totally ridiculous, if and only if one has not seen the empirical data.

And thus, I think that what Orac has done, teach people what the data shows, is far more meaningful than simply declaring non-ionizing fields to be harmless and leave it at that.

The review Narad posted, which actually considers non-heating effects of EM waves, is also very meaningful. This was actually an area of controversy from the mid 90s to early aughts. It has been well established since the 50s that even RF waves can influence reaction rates in human-irrelevant conditions, but there was disagreement over whether RF waves could influence reaction rates in organic systems through means other than heating. It was seriously proposed that they could influence reactions between organic molecules ( and even influence enzyme activity in vitro despite controlling for the heating effect( Most of these results have since been dismissed as artifacts, caused by the peculiar way that different solutions heat under the effect of EM waves (

But the existence of this debate sort of proves my point: scientists took the premise that RF waves could influence biological reactions seriously enough to investigate it, publish their results, and then publish rebutals. Though at the same time it was considered so irrelevant to actual humans that even the chemists who supported the idea did not raise alarm bells over cell phones.

As for physics. Slayer, the equation you’re looking for is one you should be familiar with, the Schrodinger equation, namely the V(r,t) component, which represents a potential field. You cannot pass an EM wave over a field of charged particles without altering V. You necessarily alter the energy of everything, indeed, you induce oscillations in the energy of everything. Whether these changes are large enough to influence biology (or are even measurable) is the real problem for the phone-cancer connection, not whether these changes exist.

I completely understand that scientists who work in the field of magnetically-altered reaction kinetics work with EM waves orders of magnitude stronger than what you get out of a cell phone – that’s why I pointed it out. Since you took quantum physics, you’ll also know that these high amplitude waves are no more ionizing than cell phone transmissions, yet they have a measurable effect all the same. The knowledge that low amplitude RF waves don’t detectably influence biological reaction rates comes not from first principles, but from the chemists referenced above who looked for those influences and found only heating artifacts.

In essence, to me anyway, arguing that cell phones can have health effects is an argument about which dose makes the poison. We know that 1.7kg of aspartame a day for 90 days will kill the average adult male, same as an entire bottle of glyphosate (though that’s probably toxicity of the solvent and not the active ingredient). We reject that these chemicals are toxic at ordinary levels of consumption based on both theoretical AND empirical grounds, not simply the former. We know that a 1kw radio antenna next to the head for a minute will cause death or incapacitation. What about a 0.006kw antenna for 30 years? We know that a 200W RF source in a chemistry lab will change reaction rates, what about a 6W source in your hand? If you’re answer to that question does not include the stupidly large piles of empirical data showing such exposure to be harmless, then you’re going to annoy me. Neither you, Narad, nor Orac have annoyed me today, but plenty of doctors and commentators to tackle the recent rat study have, or maybe that was just newspaper editors and radio producers reducing their input to soundbites instead of letting them lay it all out.

All I was trying to do was voice my agreement with Orac that this idea is slightly less ridiculous than homeopathy, and it turned into this, ugh.

Anyway, deeply sorry for the wall of text.

Thanks for the analysis of this study. It reminds me a lot of the Seralini paper on the effects of Roundup Ready GM feed on rats. A lot of different pathologies analyzed, some of which turn out to be higher in some of the test groups compared to the control group, but with no overall dose-response or coherent distribution between the different test conditions. Both studies just seem to be underpowered and especially prone to detecting spurious associations, particularly since the rats used have a tendency to develop cancers with age spontaneously.
Also, in both cases there was a lot of high profile media coverage. Here in France that has translated into the popular belief, particularly within the environmental movement, that brave maverick scientists have shown that genetically modified crops cause cancer. Don’t be surprised if people are still talking years from now about the rat study that proved mobile phones cause cancer in men.

While the individual faraday cages might not be too expensive providing watts of adjustable RF power to hundreds of cages would involve a lot of RF plumbing and get expensive. I have tried to do burn ins on RF power transistors and the costs ramp up in a hurry.

Heh, burn-in took on new meaning for a buddy of mine.
He was working on high power microwave dummy loads as part of Ronnie Raygun’s SDI. They kept having a load bang every time that they hooked up a brand new dummy load to the wave guide. It was driving one and all to distraction, as they couldn’t figure out the origin of the noise.
I suggested a thorough degreasing, as residual oils from machining were likely in the pores of the metal.
Which is precisely what had happened, at the high power levels involved, the oils were flashing to vapor and igniting, leaving only a modest trace of carbon, CO2 and water.

OK, I’m as weak as a kitten and so just trying to get rid of some windows that have been open too long. Quoting Aaron Carroll:

One of the reviewers did a power calculation for them (page 37) and found that based on 90 rats per group, the power was about 14%. This means that false positives are very likely.

Low power increases the false-discovery rate, not the false-positive rate. I think I evade pedantry here because the authors, IIRC, in response to this reviewer did a bit of a bob-and-weave, saying “no, lower power increases the false negative rate.”

^ I think it might be necessary to scratch the uses of the word “rate” in that, sorry. Like I said, weak.

Dan Welch:

Unlike anti-vaxers, though, people who honestly believe in the dangers of cell phones aren’t a danger to other people if they simply stop using cellphones.

That’s true, by and large, but a women in Santa Fe, NM was sued by her neighbor Arthur Firstenberg, who insisted that she was “destroying his health” by using her cell phone and other electronic devices in her home. The trial court dismissed the case, citing “lack of sufficient supporting evidence”, and its decision was upheld on appeal, but Firstenberg was not required to pay the defendant’s court costs, “nearly all” of which had been paid by her landlord’s insurance.

One hopes the outcome deters other kooks from suing their neighbors, but the misleading news reports about the recent study won’t help 8^(.

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