Monday, May 17, 2010

Mobile phone defence to go into overdrive

The long awaited Interphone study into the health effects of mobile phones is to be released next week.

Initial press coverage has focussed on the result that indicates a potentially increased incidence of one kind of brain tumour amongst the top 10% of phone users. This sort of ignores the rest of the study, that such a widfe ranging enquiry has found very little else.

The correlation itself is not necessarily causal, and the underlying data is incredibly unreliable. High phones usage people are also likely to be high computer users, and may share other behavioura characteristics. The suggestion by one doctor that the phone companies hand over details of usage to enable a better correlation is naive in the extreme. Firstly, customers move between servicer providers and we don't have a unique identifier (heck they haven't even got one for health records yet). Secondly the owner of the phone is not necessarily the user. Thirdly the usage data gives no information about whether a handsfree kit is being used.

More worrying is the assertion that we still mightn't see much results because we've only had mobile phones for a decade. Well actually we've had them for nearly thirty years (AMPS launch in 1981), we've had GSM for nearly twenty years (launched in Oz in 1992, in Europe in 1991). Finally, it is interesting that it is only the mobile phone that is studied and not the simple household cordless phone. Given that it is extended use that seems to be the issue the cordless phone is likely to be a higher source of EME. Additionally mobiles operate over quite a wide frequency range. Unless the issue is simple heating a biological effect is likely to be frequency dependent.

Anyhow, the seriously good news seems to be that the EME issues are only at the user end and not due to base stations. That's not surprising given that 80% of ambient EME is AM radio, signals that have been there for eighty years.

PS Rather than a phone study trying to find an effect, maybe a brain cancer study trying to find a cause may be better? There is an increasing incidence of brain cancer. However, there is also an increase in obesity, in consumption of trans-fats, of hours spent in pressurised airlplane cabins, each of which could have plausible biological connections to an increased incidence. (As could the generational effect of keping people alive longer - hypothesis, the gene for brain cancer development is the same gene as some other cancer that hit particularly young, treatment of the other cancer has improved increasing the ability of the gene to propogate hence increasing its proportion in the population hence increasing the incidence of brain cancers. I don't thik the medical profession would like that hypothesis but it is as reasonable to inestigate as any other).

PPS I work in the industry, and have a distinct aversion to holding anything to my head for more than about ten minutes - thre is a heating effect even if you just hold a book there.

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