Mobile phones & brain cancer: teh expertz are at it again
Tuesday January 05th 2010, 5:51 am

Modern news reporters have some very strange ideas about incorporating ‘balance’ in their stories. Seems that when writing on any given topic, reporters scurry off to teh internetz to look for dissenting views to include in the story. Doesn’t actually matter whether the dissenting view has any validity- but by gum, that dissent has gotta be there or some estoot reader will hold their feet to the coals for supporting some conspiracy to suppress teh troof.

We won’t consider News Ltd, simply because their reportage is so absolutely predictably bent to jerk the knees of the lowest common denominator at roughly Mach III into the underside of the nearest table- a lost cause if there ever was one. However, we might expect better of The Sydney Morning Herald.

Or at least we once did.

The SMH ran two stories on mobile phones yesterday; Dial-a-parent: kids get mobile and Push for cigarette-like warnings on mobiles. Both stories address ‘safety issues’ involved with using mobiles. Nevermind that no credible study anywhere on earth has ever found any actual health hazard related to the use of mobiles- in fact, quite the opposite, even in decades-long studies of mobile phone users.

In ‘kids get mobile,’ Dr Charlie Teo is consulted by the SMH for a dissenting opinion.

Sydney brain surgeon Dr Charles Teo said children’s thinner skulls might be an additional risk factor. ”Whatever the cause, surely the fact that the phone is closer to the brain is disturbing,” he said.

Never you mind that there’s no epidemics of brain cancer in children or adults, despite about 30 years of commercial sale of modern mobile phones. Strangely, no-one, not even Teo, has ever tried to implicate handheld ‘walkie talkies’ in brain cancers, despite their common use by police, fire, amateur radio and other services since the 1940s. So why is Teo concerned about radio transmitters that are used ‘close to the brain?’

But that’s not all- Teo is also concerned about the hazards presented by clock-radios and electric blankets, too:

“Even though the jury’s not in, just to err on the side of safety I would try and limit the amount of electromagnetic radiation that you’re exposed to,” he said.

“The American government, for example, recommend that all electrical appliances should be put at the foot of the bed and not the head of the bed.

“Electric blankets should be turned off before you get in bed and definitely wait for those five beeps before you open the microwave.

“With the mobile phone I encourage you to put it on loudspeaker and step outside rather than sticking it up to your brain.”

Dr Teo, who tackles tumours other surgeons deem inoperable, said some hair dyes, particularly red, could also cause brain cancer in people with a predisposition.

“The body needs some genetic predisposition. The hair dye, the mobile phone, they’re just catalysts but you probably need some sort of genetic aberration to get the cancer in the first place,” he said.

The jury’s not in on leopards hiding in public toilet stalls, either. By Teo’s logic, we should immediately place signage on public toilet stalls, warning users to ‘beware of the leopard.’ You never know, one of these days, some innocent looking to relieve themself is going to be attacked by a leopard… I have yet to find any reference whatsoever from ‘the American Government’ which makes any recommendation that electrical appliances be placed at the foot of one’s bed.  And by the way, the ‘hair dye’ link to cancer is oh-so-busted and has been since around 1980. And what exactly does Dr Teo think happens when mains power is disconnected from the magnetron (RF signal generator) in a microwave oven, either by the built-in timer or by the interlock switches connected to the door? Perhaps those sneaky microwaves are just bouncing around in there, like a leopard, ready to pounce on the unsuspecting? Rubbish!

The SMH further consults Dr Vini Khurana about the supposed hazards of mobile phones:

”This danger has far broader public health ramifications than asbestos and smoking, and directly concerns all of us, particularly the younger generation, including very young children,” he wrote in a paper, Mobile Phones and Brain Tumours.

Khurana’s ‘Mobile Phones’ paper is not peer reviewed and is not supported by any reliable medical research or evidence. It has no more validity than any claim damning vaccines made by pseudoscience-espousing anti-vaccination nutjob Meryl Dorey.

On to Maine Rep Andrea Boland’s concerns, as covered by the SMH. Boland is a reseller of vitamin supplements for an outfit called ‘Reliv International.’ Boland is convinced both of the efficacy of vitamins to relieve depression as well as the horrible harms of mobile phones, to the extent that she has previously introduced (fortunately failed) legislation to mandate state funding for vitamin supplements. No conflict of interest here, hey? There’s as just much evidence to support the use of vitamins to alleviate the things Boland thinks they alleviate as there is to support the warning labels Boland wants put on mobile phones- which is, of course, exactly zero. Which of course, merits the SMH running a frightening story about mobile phones.

Dear SMH, if you’re going to print scary stories, the very least you could do is research the ‘experts’ who you’re quoting- and be honest with your readers about just how reliable their ‘evidence’ happens to be.


5 Comments so far
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Come on Weez, its wel known that Esso has ‘put a tiger in your tank.’

Comment by Melchior 01.05.10 @ 10:41 am

Hey, how about another question for the experts: “could you briefly explain the difference between ionising and non-ionising radiation? Just so our audience can understand this whole issue properly…”

Comment by Evan 01.05.10 @ 5:05 pm

It’s crazy how newspapers seem not to need to do basic fact-checking about their own articles. If they do it at all, they clearly don’t put a lot of effort into it. It does make me suspicious about other articles they publish — just how thoroughly do they research anything?

In the absence of actual evidence to suggest mobile phone use is harmful, I continue to use mine. And dodgy newspaper articles will not dissuade me!

Comment by Jess 01.05.10 @ 5:23 pm

Mel, does that mean Esso customers must put ‘beware of tiger’ signs on the petrol filler door? Maybe they should just bring back the old tiger tails they used to give away with a fill-up, if but for dramatic effect. 😀

Evan, there’s no question that Teo already knows the difference between ionising/non-ionising radiation- but simply has decided to ignore the science. New mgk readers who don’t know about the difference between ionising and non-ionising radiation can see my previous discussions on the topic here, here and here.

I’ve said it before- with ‘experts’ like Teo around, I’d rather get my medical advice from Tom bloody Cruise. You really have to wonder what the Prince of Wales Hospital thinks of this attention-whore of a surgeon practising in their facilities.

Comment by weez 01.06.10 @ 3:18 am

Jess, I’d like to believe it’s just laziness, but Teo has been actively making a name for himself of late with Aus journos as a ‘maverick.’ That’s fine as long as ‘maverick’ means ‘anti-intellectual, science-denying nutjob.’ Dunno about you, but I prefer my surgeons to be grounded in replicatable science, not rumourmongering to get their names in the news.

Comment by weez 01.06.10 @ 10:03 am

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