"Anything Is a Possible Carcinogen"—More On Cell Phones


The cancer risk of mobile phones does not give you an excuse not to call your mom

Albert Einstein College of Medicine cancer epidemiologist Geoffrey Kabat has a sharp take over at The Daily on the World Health Organization's recent declaration classifying cell phones as a "possible carcinogen." Kabat writes:

Thirty years ago, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health published a study in a prestigious medical journal purporting to show that drinking coffee increased a person's risk of pancreatic cancer. When asked how his results had influenced his own habits, he responded that he had stopped drinking coffee. The following day a professor of biostatistics set up a Mr. Coffee in the departmental offices, indicating what he thought of his colleague's study.

I mention this because last week a committee of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, announced that it would classify cellphone use as a "possible carcinogen," putting it in a category with 240 other exposures, including coffee and the pesticide DDT. Despite decades of research, neither of these exposures has turned out to be a carcinogen in humans.

Kabat goes on to note that (1) as cell phone usage has increased, the brain cancer rate has not, and (2) there is no known mechanism whereby radio frequency energy can induce or promote cancer. 

Kabat concludes:

We are faced with a paradox in our increasingly health-conscious society. It is simply a fact of life that research is going to be done on topics like cellphones. But we can never prove a negative or exclude the possibility of a miniscule risk, no matter how large the study. So even when expert bodies concede that there is no convincing evidence of a threat, we get impossibly vague advisories like the current one warning us of "possible carcinogenicity."  

In an echo of the Harvard incident, Donald Berry, a professor of biostatistics at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, said "anything is a possible carcinogen." Speaking from his cellphone, he added, "This is not something I worry about and it will not in any way change how I use my cellphone."

Go here to see my Wall Street Journal review of Kabat's excellent book, Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology. Did I also mention that cancer incidence rates in the U.S. continue to decline?


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  1. Do you think Superman is at a higher risk of cancer due to repeated exposure to kryptonite?

    1. Probably in more danger from the police than Kryptonite.

      Just wait until the police figure out that he and Lois Lane are different species.

      1. They can’t actually mate, as Larry Niven went to some pains to explain.

        1. That was exactly the item I was thinking of.

          But it would be fun to see what happened if a SWAT team busted through Superman’s door (if they didn’t remember to bring kryptonite with them.)

          1. Zod help them if he, er, releases in their direction as they charge in.

            1. But at least the DNA (or whatever Kryptonians have) tests would clearly establish which er, ‘weapon’, was er, ‘discharged’ at the officers.

              1. Excuse me? All that stuff would pass right through the officers, the walls, and anything else in the way at far beyond escape velocity. No evidence to collect. . .not on Earth, anyway.

        2. Lastly, he’d blow off the top of her head.

          Ejaculation of semen is entirely involuntary in the human male, and in all other forms of terrestrial life. It would be unreasonable to assume otherwise for a kryptonian. But with kryptonian muscles behind it, Kal-El’s semen would emerge with the muzzle velocity of a machine gun bullet. (*One can imagine that the Kent home in Smallville was riddled with holes during Superboy’s puberty. And why did Lana Lang never notice that?*)

          1. One of Niven’s greatest moments, and that’s saying something.

            1. No, “something” sounds completely different than “One of Niven’s greatest moments”.

              God, you are such a little bitch to pin down on such particulars.

              1. Something” in Kryptonian roughly translates to “One of Niven’s greatest moments.”

  2. If you cannot prove the risk, then the risk is miniscule. If the risk is miniscule then it is more costly to avoid the risk than to accept it. Even if you are ultra-paranoid you can mitigate any minscule risk you want without coercing others.

    Coercion is the real risk, and it’s never minscule. Mollusks.

  3. This, coming from bona-fide credentialed smart guys who spent dozens of years and thousands of dollars to get that way, and no one ever suggested to them the phrase ‘we’re unable to identify any positive link’ instead of prove a negative backflips and shades of ass covering?

    Brilliant. Top. Men.

    1. Why do you hate cancer?

      1. Cause it eats like a pig, and never offers to pick up the check.

  4. Minor threadjack: Gingrich aides resign, leave campaign in tatters

    Basically his entire top staff quit. He’s toast.

    1. Oh, and I wonder if they did this because there were Rick Perry’s people, and he’s going to run after all?

    2. He was already stale, so now he’s stale toast.

      1. Croutons.

    3. Gingrich has long been viewed, by even his closest allies, as a fountain of policy ideas but a man who is unable to avoid speaking in ways that spark unwelcome controversy.

      Must … control … tongue … of … death …

    4. Not at all. We’re behind the mass resignations. We persuaded them to make a stand on a name change that has been suggested.

      At last, the commenters of Hit & Run have entered the halls of power.

      1. Where did your obsession with NT begin?

        1. Obsession? I’m not obsessed. I’m just trying to help the man out.

          1. A greatful nation thanks you, sir.

          2. If obsession is a sin, let me be guilty.

        2. If you choose not to accept that, well, here’s where it all started. I coined the name, but capitol l actually wrote the campaign to recommend that he change his name to Newcular Titties.

          1. According to capitol l, the canned response indicated that Gingrich’s staff would discuss the e-mail with the candidate. While I have a feeling they might filter e-mails like this, it’s an outside possibility that Gingrich has seen the Newcular Titties meme with his own beady little eyes.

            1. Aw, c’mon. He know everything. Just ask him.

              1. There’s something right with the world if, for one instant, Newt heard the name “Newcular Titties” in reference to himself.

                1. Once would be cool. Unrung bells, re-tubed toothpaste, etc.

                  1. What has been heard cannot be unheard!

  5. There is no known mechanism whereby masturbation can induce or promote cancer, but why chance it?

  6. Cells phones can pop popcorn. I’ve seen it on youtube. 😉

  7. IEEE Spectrum did a piece on this too:


    1. On the other side of the fence, the wireless communications trade organization, CTIA, highlighted two innocuous-sounding members of Group 2B: coffee and pickled vegetables.

      Yes, but how many times a day do I put a pickled vegetable up to my ear and talk into it?

      1. Yes, but how many times a day do I put a pickled vegetable up to my ear and talk into it?

        I’ll bet you get odd looks when you do.

      2. Could this be Anthony Weiner’s hand. http://www.etsy.com/listing/35…..hone-charm

        Learn to yodel? http://www.shinyshiny.tv/2008/…..ing_p.html

    2. We know that if you have extremely strong radio-frequency fields, they will exert forces on molecules themselves, but that requires field strengths that are vastly higher than anything you’re going to get from a cellphone. This doesn’t mean that it’s absolutely physically impossible that cellphone radiation can do something, but it seems pretty unlikely.

      But… BEES!

  8. They may not cause cancer but we’ll see who’s laughing after you all get Nerve Attenuation Syndrome.

  9. Another threadjack: “It’s just the war and that lying son of a bitch Johnson!”. Feministing reviews, supports a book on “intimate violence in activist communities” that advocates not getting the police involved.

    Remember, if they have the right politics, it would be immoral for them to sit in jail rather than march at the rally.

    1. Win on the reference.

    2. And I can’t help but thinking that a book talking about intimate violence and picturing two dark skinned people on the front cover is vaguely racist. In a they-can’t-win kind of way.

    3. An understanding of why the criminal legal system is not the place where many of us can go for safety or security is not part of mainstream feminist or progressive politics. This divide is often a result of race or class privilege, because those whose families and communities have been targeted by the police and other state agencies understand intimately why the criminal legal system does more harm than good. This book speaks to those activists who are searching for alternatives, apart from calling the police, from simply locking up abusers and those who commit violence.

      The US incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and still we are not safe. Still, every day, the members of our communities suffer at the hands of parents, loved ones, partners, strangers. The growing criminal legal system has not made our world safer, and it has instead propagated a long cycle of violence and imprisonment for low-income people, immigrants and people of color.

      So… my takeaway is, “free David Koresh”?

  10. Question: Why is it called the Albert Einstein College of Medicine when Einstein was not a medical doctor? Couldn’t they find any smart doctors to name it after?

    1. That kind of thing makes me laugh. Einstein gave them permission, slyly neglecting to mention that he lacked an MD.

      1. I’m guessing they lost the bet. Don’t they know to never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line?

        1. I think they should’ve narrowed the pool a bit from “famous Jewish doctor.”

          1. You should see the luck I have with my “Dr. Schvartenpants” scam. Everybody trusts a doctor.

            1. Dr. Rosenpenis.

    2. Einstein was smarter than the people who put this little college together?

    3. It’s a pretty good medschool, I think.

      1. Any school that teaches general relativity as it applies to internal medicine would have to be.

        1. They cure cancer from the inside out. One quark at a time.

          1. The Dr. doesn’t play dice.

  11. Reports about possible carcinogens are also possible carcinogens.

    1. The photons emitted from your post are also potentially carcinogenic.

      1. Threaded comments are potentially carcinogenic.

        1. I thought that was clearly established.

          It is certain that they cause aggravation and stress.

          1. In-line images and videos, however, offset the evils of threaded comments. Unfortunately, the Reason Foundation is funded, in part, by the Cancer Lobby.

            1. Unfortunately, trolling is only cancerous to the recipient.

              There Ain’t No Justice.

              1. Trolls aren’t carcinogenic, they’re just a cancer.

                1. I, for one, am still amazed that the Koch Brothers allowed The Cancer Man, The Jacket’s direct control contact in the organization, to appear virtually publicly on the X-Files television series. Obviously a brazen ‘hide in plain sight’ gambit. . .

                  1. Brazen? As is in “made of brass?” They plated their gambit with brass?

  12. I’m glad someone pointed this out. I remember when this story first hit NPR, they reported that the WHO’s cancer ranking system goes from something like:

    Highest Risk: If you touch it, you’re gonna get the cancer.
    Lowest Risk: It might not give you cancer.

    I mean, what kind of ranking system is that? The lowest possible ranking still might give you cancer?

    1. Yes, what doesn’t give me cancer?

      1. Anti-oxidants?

        1. But they stop oxidation. Isn’t that bad?

          1. Yep. Very bad.

            1. Not if you’re The Man of Steel.

    2. And in nannism, might = will. So it would be wrong to do nothing.

  13. I use my cell phone more than most people. Should I sell all my shit and prepare for Saint Peter to tell to fuck off?

    1. *give away all my shit
      *to tell me to fuck off

      God, talk about fatigue

      1. “It’s only when you’ve lost everything, that you’re free to do anything.”

  14. Joe Jackson was right.

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