Cell Phones, Cancer, and Certainty

cell phone-2

CNN reports: “Last summer, Dr. Ronald Herberman, then director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, issued a warning to about 3,000 faculty and staff, listing steps to avoid harmful electromagnetic radiation from cell phones.”

“Electromagnetic radiation” is a fancy way of saying light waves.

Herberman has been on his cell phone crusade for a while now; I diagnosed him with a severe case of The Certainty last year.

Still, let’s assume he’s right that cell phones cause tumors. What actions should be taken? I present the following CDC data on leading causes of death as a way to guide our priorities:

Heart disease: 631,636
Cancer: 559,888
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 137,119
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 124,583
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 121,599
Diabetes: 72,449
Alzheimer’s disease: 72,432
Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,326
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 45,344
Septicemia: 34,234

Deaths from cancer attributable to cell phone use? Zero. There is an important lesson to be learned here.

Think of it like this: every dollar and every hour of researchers’ time spent investigating cancer risks from cell phones is money and time not spent curing heart disease. Or cancer itself. Or stroke. These “big three” combine to end more than a million lives each and every year.

Which is a better use of limited research resources? Herberman, by bringing funding and attention to a non-issue, is quite possibly costing lives that could otherwise be saved.

The Certainty has very high costs. In Herberman’s case,  measurable in lives.

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2 responses to “Cell Phones, Cancer, and Certainty

  1. There are real reasons to be concerned with the impacts of cell phones and towers on the environment, but unfortunately, not the ones you usually hear about in the media.

    http://www.selfdestructivebastards.com/2009/11/cell-phones-and-towers.html

  2. Pingback: Sagan on Certainty | Inertia Wins!

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