nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Another Study Of Cell Phone Use And Brain Cancer

A battle has been raging for years over whether wireless phone use is a risk for intracranial tumors.

I've written about this before (here and here).  The evidence is not compelling either way yet, and this study does nothing to settle the question.

Appearing in the Journal of Computer Assisted Tomography (Nov/Dec 2010), this study attempts to filter data from old studies by limiting analysis to long-term use, re-defining what can be called an "exposure," and modifying which tumors can be counted as occuring in the presence of a wireless phone exposure.  See Science Daily, Jan 19, for a journalistic view of the original publication.

This is a great example of fiddling with the data to support your conclusion.  Not that they don't have a rationale for modifying others research data, but there's an inherent danger to modifying end points of an experiment after the fact.  If you design an experiment to look at the occurrence of result A, then after the experiment is over you decide to look back at the data for a different result B (for which the experiment was not designed) bias and error can intrude.  Not always, though.

The whole question of whether wireless phones (expanding the definition to include both cellular and home wireless phones) are a risk for cancer is undecided because the dozens of studies can all be criticized.  If you go by raw numbers, there are just as many studies that conclude "yes there is a risk" as there are "no there's no risk."

The authors admit that their study is not definitive, but argue that the possibility of harm is sufficient to warrant economically feasible methods to reduce exposure while further studies are done.  I don't have a problem with the "precautionary principle" where concern is established, but I doubt that the recommendations the authors make will be implemented:  for instance, using "tube" type earpieces instead of wired ear plugs (the wired version radiates energy from the phone and can act as an antenna for other exposure.  I'm not sure that's been demonstrated to occur). 

This article does a couple of useful things.  It focuses more on long-term use, assuming a cumulative effect of exposure with phone use.  And, they point out that industry-funded studies have been more likely to show no hazard than independently funded studies.

This is important to know, but labeling industry evil is premature.  It's always the case that supporting funding would rather do studies that focus on safety of their product/policy.  You wouldn't expect the President to fund a study that shows Health Care Reform to have major problems, would you?  (as of today, the number of states suing the federal government over HCR is now at 28).

I don't use phones of any type very often, so this controversy won't cause me to make any changes.

But, if you're the kind of person who spends several hours on the phone every day, it's possible that you have other....uh...issues.  (Does phone addiction exist?)

Doc D

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