As Jonathan Samet — the dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, who advised the World Health Organization on cellphone radiation and cancer — told me, you can argue anything based on the science we currently have “because there’s not enough evidence to start with.” Actually, there’s not enough high-quality evidence. Before we get into why, and what we know, we need a quick primer on cellphone radiation.
Participation bias, which can happen when people who are diagnosed with brain tumors are more likely than healthy people (known as controls) to enroll in a research study. Also, controls who did not or rarely used cell phones were less likely to participate in the Interphone study than controls who used cell phones regularly. For example, the Interphone study reported participation rates of 78% for meningioma patients (range among the individual studies 56–92%), 64% for glioma patients (range 36–92%), and 53% for control subjects (range 42–74%) (6).
Generally speaking, the near-field refers to the RF field close to the antenna and the far-field is the RF field further away from the antenna. Often times when you use your cell phone, your body is often located in the near-field (one wavelength or less) of the cell phone antenna. It is especially concerning when you hold your phone next to your head or wear it on your body as you can be exposed to very intense near-field radiation from the phone.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). Its major goal is to identify causes of cancer. The IARC has classified RF fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” based on limited evidence of a possible increase in risk for brain tumors among cell phone users, and inadequate evidence for other types of cancer. (For more information on the IARC classification system, see Known and Probable Human Carcinogens.)
"For example," Johnson said, "what does a fractal like pattern have to do with a hologram? The answer is, of course, nothing that is apparent. Then there is a truly convoluted assertion that cell phones can be instrumental in ‘psychoemotional' effects on humans because of their lower-frequency outputs. This too, is gibberish. In short, this is technobabble that will potentially snow someone who has no science background."
The U.S. government doesn’t seem very troubled, either. The Food and Drug Administration says on its website that research generally doesn’t link cell phones to any health problem. And although the Federal Communications Commission requires manufacturers to include information in user manuals about cell-phone handling, that’s often buried deep in the fine print.
The program began, but Dr. Carlo soon discovered that everyone involved had underlying motives.“The industry wanted an insurance policy and to have the government come out and say everything was fine. The FDA, which looked bad because it didn’t require pre-market testing, could be seen as taking steps to remedy that. By ordering the study, law makers appeared to be doing something. Everyone had a chance to wear a white hat.”
Wearable tech such as the Apple Watch might as well be called a wearable EMF device. These watches are even worse than mobile phones in that they remain in constant, direct contact with your skin. New York Times columnist Nick Bilton covered this issue in March 2015, noting that constant, low-level radiation from such devices can trigger the formation of cancerous tumors, blood abnormalities, and more.
But there is also some ambiguity about cellphone radiation’s health effects. As Dr. John Bucher, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and a co-author of the NIH studies, told me, “[Our results] go against the notion that non-ionizing radiation is completely harmless.” In other words, he’s found that the type of radiation cellphones give off could cause biological changes, like promoting tumors, at least in animals.
In 2011, the American Cancer Society (ACS) stated that the IARC classification means that there could be some cancer risk associated with radiofrequency radiation, but the evidence is not strong enough to be considered causal and needs to be investigated further. Individuals who are concerned about radiofrequency radiation exposure can limit their exposure, including using an ear piece and limiting cell phone use, particularly among children.
Because of inconsistent findings from epidemiologic studies in humans and the lack of clear data from previous experimental studies in animals, in 1999 the Food and Drug Administration nominated radiofrequency radiation exposure associated with cell phone exposures for study in animal models by the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP), an interagency program that coordinates toxicology research and testing across the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is headquartered at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of NIH.
While an increased risk of brain tumours from the use of mobile phones is not established, the increasing use of mobile phones and the lack of data for mobile phone use over time periods longer than 15 years warrant further research of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk. In particular, with the recent popularity of mobile phone use among younger people, potentially longer lifetime of exposure, WHO has promoted further research on this group and is currently assessing the health impact of RF fields on all studied endpoints. A cohort study in Denmark linked billing information from more than 358,000 cell phone subscribers with brain tumour incidence data from the Danish Cancer Registry. The analyses found no association between cell phone use and the incidence of glioma, meningioma, or acoustic neuroma, even among people who had been cell phone subscribers for 13 or more years. (4)
We did not simply measure energy coming from the front of the case which is the area of the case where the phone would be "shielded" from radiation. If we had taken readings with a directional meter, specifically measuring energy coming from only the front or flap cover where the shielding material is, we assume as the manufacturers claim, that we would have seen a drop in the radiation readings.
Parents and consumer advocacy groups occasionally capture attention for voicing concerns about cellphones and other types of non-ionizing radio-frequency radiation exposure, such as the energy emitted from wifi routers in schools. In some cases, they have exaggerated what we know about the risks to kids, and rarely note that cellphones are also just one of many radiation sources we all live with. (Even the Earth itself, the air we breathe, and the sun and stars in our galaxy constantly give off radiation.)
W. Kim Johnson, a retired physicist and past president of the New Mexico Academy of Science, reviewed the Aires web site for Discovery News and described the material as gibberish, saying that the authors "of the technical description of the ‘Aires' device reads like a random selection of technical terminology. The working description for this device is made up of jargon that, in the end, really says nothing."
When we think of harmful radiation, things like X-rays or gamma rays usually come to mind, but these types of radiation are different from mobile phone radiation in important ways. Radiation on the ultraviolet side of visible light, like those types just mentioned, has a wavelength that is short enough to alter some of the chemical properties of the objects it interacts with. It is referred to as ionizing radiation, for this reason. Non-ionizing radiation, which includes visible light, microwaves and radio waves, is typically regarded as harmless. Large amounts of it can produce a heating effect, like in a microwave oven, but no short-term damage has been linked to exposure to non-ionizing radiation.
(Some common flaws in these studies: The summaries of the evidence weren’t comprehensive, the researchers often didn’t look at the quality of the studies they found, and they failed to do other simple things that would limit bias from creeping in. They also relied on case-control studies, a poor method to determine causality — more on that soon.) So we didn’t include these eight reviews in our analysis.