BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY MEDIA COMPANY
Companies
Sectors

The WHO is rotting our brains

Yes, it's true, says the WHO: the alarmism about cellphones and cancer was right after all. Lies! The truth is that cellphones cure cancer.

Read time 6min 20sec

When she heard I was a journalist, with a background in technology, she was all over me. And not in a good way.

The next hour of my life was wasted trying to remain polite to the woman, who asked for advice on patenting and marketing a “technical device”. She had a prototype with her, which appeared to be a paper sticker printed on a home laser printer, to be sold as a radio emissions shield for a mobile phone. It'll cost you R30, and when you stick it on the back, voila, your phone becomes safe, holistic and organic.

Using a cellphone really does reduce your risk of getting brain cancer.

Ivo Vegter, ITWeb contributor

The woman was unable to explain how a mobile phone might continue to work as advertised if her invention also worked as advertised. She didn't know where in her handset the radio transmitter was actually located, nor what frequencies it emitted, and at what power level. She'd never heard of the inverse square law of radiation. She was unable to explain why handset manufacturers did not inoculate themselves against massive class action lawsuits by cancer patients by simply building such a wonderful device into their products.

Despite all this, she berated me for asking such questions, saying my ill-disguised scepticism was not only insulting, but evidence of a professional failure to have an open mind. Admittedly, an earlier conversation, about the ancient crystalline properties that gave liquid water its memory, had not disposed me kindly to her theories.

When I recommended the good people at Spoor & Fisher, a well-known firm of patent attorneys, who would for an immodest fee register her invention and verify that nothing similar existed, her own faith in the commercial success of the cancer-busting magic seemed to waver. Even the observation that R30 times 1% of the global mobile phone market would put her revenue around R1 billion, which would make an attorney relatively affordable, didn't convince her that it was worthwhile to make such an investment to ward off potential commercial rivals.

I dread the next time I see her. Without a shadow of a doubt, she'll have read one of the nearly 3 000 news articles that appeared yesterday. “Study links cellphones to possible cancer risk,” read the headline in the LA Times, where I first noticed it.

The article was based on a a press release (PDF) issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in which it said the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

It took me all of four tweets to debunk the story on Twitter:

* More cellphone cancer rubbish. 1. Background. @WHOnews press release: http://bit.ly/kXDu5r (PDF). @LATimes hypes it: http://lat.ms/ieD3cV

* 2. Analysis. Note: NO quantitative data. NO published study. NO absolute risk factor. Definition of "limited evidence" hidden in footnote

* 3. Analysis. Actual risk (from data in WHO footnote): 0.0023%. "40% increased risk" lifted from unnamed study. If true, new risk: 0.0032%

* 4. Ergo, the WHO's International Agency on Research on Cancer is yelling FIRE! Are they fishing for funding? #140isenough #myworkhereisdone

Why is the WHO spreading such fear? Why write such a headline, when it misrepresents the actual findings, and precedes even their full publication?

The story is based on a review of the literature, not a new study. It found that evidence for a cellphone-cancer link was “limited”. This, a footnote ponderously informs us, means: “A positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer for which a causal interpretation is considered by the Working Group to be credible, but chance, bias or confounding could not be ruled out with reasonable confidence.”

Having since unearthed the “Interphone” study (PDF) that is the source for the “40% increased risk” of a certain kind of brain cancer among very heavy mobile phone users, it is worth noting its utterly useless findings.

You see, what neither the WHO headline, nor the thousands of media articles, scream, is this: Cellphones cure cancer!

Yes, sir, they do! For all but one category of use, and all cancers under investigation, it found cancer risk to be lower - in some cases by as much as 32%. No, really. Read that again. Using a cellphone really does reduce your risk of getting brain cancer.

The sole exception was the category of highest “recalled call time”, where the risk appeared to be 40% higher. The study cleverly avoids any mention of the baseline risk of the cancers in question: between two and three per 100 000 population.

One ought to note that in the first case (lower risk), it notes that the result “possibly [reflects] participation bias or other methodological limitations”. In the second (higher risk), it says “but there are implausible values of reported use in this group”.

So here's what the WHO actually found: the study cannot conclude that there is no correlation between unreliable data about cellphone use and inconclusive data about cancer incidence.

In short, it knows nothing.

Can the WHO defend such flagrant fear-mongering, and the media frenzy it sparked? Read this interview Dr Christopher Wild, director of the IARC, gave to New Delhi Television. Slithery evasion doesn't begin to describe it.

Why would an organisation with the perceived authority of WHO be trying to scare people? Surely scaring people silly with inconclusive nonsense will cause far more deaths of hypertension and heart attacks than any possible precautions involving cellphone use might save?

Could it be because it is employed at taxpayers' expense, and it needs money? What about its industry sponsors, who made, for example, millions of doses of swine flu vaccine that were bought by governments the world over, but have since expired and have been destroyed?

Let's not speculate about the WHO's nefarious motives. Let's just quote them.

“To date, the overall funding assigned to the Interphone study amounts to approximately EUR19.2 million.”

But that's not enough money down the drain, you see.

“Professor Elisabeth Cardis [IARC principle investigator, now with the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL) in Barcelona, Spain] said that, 'the Interphone study will continue with additional analyses of mobile phone use and tumours of the acoustic nerve and parotid gland'. She added: 'Because of concerns about the rapid increase in mobile phone use in young people ? who were not covered by Interphone ? CREAL is co-ordinating a new project, MobiKids, funded by the European Union, to investigate the risk of brain tumours from mobile phone use in childhood and adolescence.'"

Without scaring ordinary consumers witless, people like Cardis would have to find real work, instead of living luxuriously on the taxpayer's dime.

Might I propose a lucrative sideline as patent advisor to stir crazy inventors of stickers that save you from killer cellphones? If this kind of callous fear-mongering is all we get from the UN's premier health agency, I'd vote to disband it. Oh wait, we don't get to vote for the UN, do we?

Login with