Senate hearings were held asking whether cell phones cause brain cancer. Brian Walsh, writing for Time, described the outcome as "inconclusive." A collective groan rose from the nation’s physicists.A groan? Whence groanage?
Bob reminds us that, 17 years ago, a fellow named David Reynard appeared on Larry King Live, explaining that he was suing the cell phone industry for causing his wife’s fatal brain cancer. Naturally, Larry found Reynard’s complaint compelling.
Larry, albeit likable and a snappy dresser, is a knucklehead. Reynard was plainly committing a fallacy, an old chestnut called “post hoc ergo propter hoc.” In Reynard’s unmicrowaved mind, his wife held that phone against her head and then got cancer. So there you go.
Bob points out, however, that
all known cancer agents act by breaking chemical bonds, producing mutant strands of DNA. It would be like suing me for hitting someone with a rock thrown across the Potomac River. …[M]icrowave photons can't break chemical bonds. Not until you get up to the near ultraviolet, about 10,000 times more energetic than microwaves, are photons capable of causing cancer.Bob links us to an old editorial of his (Cellular Telephones and Cancer (2001)) in which he reported that
A beautifully designed, nationwide, epidemiologic study of cell phone use and cancer has been carried out in Denmark. … The study included all of the nearly half a million users of cellular telephones in Denmark during the period from 1982 through 1995. .... The results "do not support the hypothesis of an association between use of these telephones and tumors of the brain or salivary gland, leukemia, or other cancers." Other recent epidemiologic studies of cellular telephone use and cancer … although less powerful, report similar findings.
But there’s no reason whatsoever to think they cause brain cancer. There is no mechanism to explain why they would cause cancer. Heck, there isn’t even any epidemiological evidence that they cause cancer.
Nevertheless, last week, there were Senate hearings about cell phones and cancer.