Cell Phones and Fear: Let’s Get Scientific

by Jordan Richardson on July 22, 2010

Throughout human history, new advances in industry and technology have been greeted with purposeful curiosity. There are many great reasons to explore new advances in industry and technology, too, and many great reasons to oppose the influx of some of these “advances” in our societies. I think of cigarette smoking, for instance, as it was once thought to be perfectly healthy by many in the medical industry. The secret was the outdated nature of the science.

And so it stands to reason that many would be sufficiently wary about cell phones and radiation. Cell phone towers are objects of suspicion, too, as they loom over us menacingly obstructing our skylines. They are absolute eyesores. You’ll find no argument here.

But what does the science say about cell phones and our health? What do the verifiable, testable, peer-reviewed studies have to offer us by way of comfort or support?

The first thing to realize is that the science on the subject of radiation has changed, just as radiation itself has changed.

One of the most overlooked points here is that of the “radiation” itself as pertains to cellular phones. The radiation emitting from cell phones is at an incredibly low frequency. It is non-ionizing radiation, meaning that it does not pack enough energy per quantum to remove an electron from an atom or molecule. Albert Einstein’s research on the photoelectric effect is especially helpful here, as it draws out an explanation of how radiation (specifically but not limited to light) behaves on the electromagnetic spectrum.

With cell phones, the use of the word “radiation” is designed to alarm. It is accurate to a point, but the frequency of the radiation is really what is at issue here. The concern is that the “radiation” in cell phones causes “stress” to cells in the human body and subsequently leads to various health issues. It is true that the radiation from cell phones leads to stress on the cells, but it is also true that heat causes stress on cells. It is irresponsible to draw conclusions from this link alone, as stress on cells occurs millions of times throughout an average day and does not lead to illness or health issues.

So what we’re dealing with here is incredibly low radiation from cell phones. Cell phone towers emit much lower frequency radiation than even cell phones, something Health Canada is certainly most aware of.

Large scale scientific studies have reached the same conclusions. Several smaller studies and review articles have nosed around the generalities of linking cell phones to health issues and state that we should be cautious. There is some truth to this, but the scientific proof is lacking to make any broad scale decisions.

Instead, the science appears to back not only the fundamentals that I discussed above but the realities of living in a mobile world. Consider the British Medical Journal’s broad study or the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Copenhagen study. There’s the cautious research and guidelines from Health Canada, too. Or the massive multi-national case-control studies through Interphone as published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Opponents of cell phones and cell towers tout myths and junk science, citing inconclusive and incomplete studies and drawing hard conclusions. This is nothing short of fear-mongering.

I personally can understand the reluctance and the fear. New technology can be scary and it may feel as though our culture is changing rapidly in this mobile age. In my own life, I rarely use a cell phone. But there’s no excuse when it comes to ignoring large bodies of collected and verified scientific evidence on the subject of cell phone dangers. And there’s no excuse for using incomplete, unsatisfying studies and review articles for personal or political gain.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

david July 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm

by the way, it is not low frequency radiation but high frequency radiation that cell phones use. recent studies confirm that non ionizing radiation causes similar cell damage that ionizing radiation does. google: bioinitiative report 2007

Jordan Richardson July 22, 2010 at 10:15 pm

That’s erroneous, especially with phones made now. The standards for radiation, both with radio waves and other forms of radiation, are governed by the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.

When CNET published their article on the worst-and-best cell phone radiation offenders, they noted “For a phone to pass F.C.C. certification, that phone’s maximum SAR (specific absorption rate) level must be less than 1.6 W/kg (watts per kilogram). In Europe, the level is capped at 2 W/kg, while Canada allows a maximum of 1.6 W/kg.”

Here’s the complete study:


There are countless handsets with extremely low SAR rates. In the issue of cell phone towers, the SAR is much lower than that of handsets. The “radiation” exposure, thus, is extraordinarily minimal and not harmful.

The bio-initiative review you cite was published online WITHOUT peer review. It has been criticized soundly by everyone from the Health Council of the Netherlands to the Australian Centre for Radiofrequency Bioeffects Research. The latter said of the review that it does not “progress science.” So no, studies that are not peer-reviewed and receive large amounts of criticism, both in fundamentals and in findings, from a significant mass of the scientific community do not “confirm” anything.

And David, I’m not including your other comment as it is identical entirely to your comment found on this thread and was caught in our spam filter. This site is not your forum for advertising your website of pseudo-science and conjecture. If you wish to argue the points made in any of the articles, fine, but don’t shill your wares here and expect reasonable conversation.

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