Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Phone home if you dare

Chances are that once in a while your cell phone cannot project its tiny radio signal to the nearest relay tower.

So, it's not like you're holding a 50,000-watt transmitter against your head. You're holding a thing the size of a pack of gum.

Yet researchers in Australia have concluded that using a cell phone (against the ear) for 10 years doubles the risk of brain cancer (for you, not them). Aside from the fact that dozens of studies of the same hypothesis have found absolutely no link, 60 Minutes, the Australian version, apparently, decided that a man with brain cancer must have developed it because he used a cell phone.

This guy is a farmer. Who was he talking to? Anyway, the report, by a hyperventilating Aussie, would be enough to make you throw away your LG unless you think about it for a fraction of a second.

First off, we are constantly bombarded through and through with FM, AM, shortwave, emergency band, and other sources of radio waves. If you could see radio waves, your room's walls would be glowing furiously. Not to mention television, computers, and everything else that creates electromagnetic radiation.

Remember: 20 years before cell phones there were cordless phones. Now almost everyone has a cordless phone, even though it seems to old fashioned. Cordless phones work by -- you guessed it -- radio waves, from your phone to your base station.

So we should have seen the doubling of brain cancer by now. And yet we haven't. Just to get to the heart of this, some electromagnetic radiation is sufficiently energetic that it can knock apart atoms and molecules. This is called ionizing radiation, x-rays for example, and they are not good for you.

Radio waves, on the other hand, have far longer wavelengths, and consequently, they are way less powerful. Radio waves do not ionize. Microwave ovens do not ionize. Gamma rays ionize. Cells phones, no.

This business with cell phones is worse than Paul Brodeur and his fantasy about carcinogenic electromagnetic fields around power cables. There may actually be something to that. Probably not, and if there is, it is so rare that it is impossible to pick out from the epidemiological noise.

The opposite of, say, working in a coal mine and developing black lung disease.

Just to be on the safe side, hold the cell phone at arm's length and yell into it. Especially while on public transportation.