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The No Nonsense Stance on Science (N2S3)

by Archives April 8, 2008

Another month, another study on the risks associated with using cell phones. It seems the prospect of brain damage from using the ubiquitous communication device is a myth that won’t die off.
This time, independent neurosurgeon Dr. Vini Khurana announced that portable devices could claim more lives than asbestos and smoking. It’s not the first time someone has come up with such a conclusion and it most likely won’t be the last. But here’s the scoop: for every piece of research saying cell phones will bring about the end of civilization, there are dozens of studies stating just the opposite.
What’s more troubling is that Khurana’s conclusion doesn’t come from his own research – he hasn’t done any – but from his review of about a 100 sources ranging from medical and scientific literature, to the press and the Internet. He cites “at least eight comprehensive clinical studies internationally and one long-term meta-analysis” as significant evidence to support his conclusion. Does this mean more than 90 per cent of what he studied was not conclusive enough?
Cell phones emit low-levels of electromagnetic waves (EMR) at frequencies that are comparable to microwaves, albeit with much less power. These waves are about 500 times weaker than an average microwave.
At this frequency, the EMR from cell phones are said to be non-ionizing, meaning non-damaging to your DNA as opposed to X-rays, which can destroy the molecules of your body upon exposure. Since cell phone waves don’t affect molecules in this fashion they are considered to be safe by most experts.
However, as the radiation penetrates tissue, it causes heating and sends signal pulses to the brain’s temporal lobe, located near the ears. The combination of the two is thought to deregulate the normal electrical signals of the brain and ultimately lead to tumors.
There is little controversy over the fact EMRs stimulates the brain. Still, it’s almost a confirmation there is no danger in the short term and no one has convincingly shown it’s harmful in the long term.
Most researchers agree to say so far, there is no concrete evidence cell phone usage causes brain damage. There is concern, however, that heavy usage over a long period of time (10 to 15 years) may pose a risk.
What needs to be answered is what qualifies as “heavy usage” and whether or not the effects of EMR are cumulative.
This column marks the beginning of a new series by Ruben Bastien on scientific advances you might actually care about. Look for more in next semester’s Concordian.

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