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The Disconnect in Disconnect

“The question is do you want to play Russian roulette with your brain? I don’t know that cell phones are dangerous. But I don’t know that they are safe.” --Devra Davis*

"I cannot tell this committee that cell phones are definitely dangerous. But I certainly cannot tell you that they're safe." --Dr. Ronald B. Herberman

7 October 2010. Amazon.com now lets you read the first chapter of a book just by clicking on a button. That's how I came to read ch. 1 of Devra Davis's Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family. The disconnect that Davis, an epidemiologist and writer, highlights in her opening salvo against the cell phone industry is rather telling. She tells the story of a woman who gets a headache in a meeting and suspects that somebody in the room has left his cell phone on. She's right. He turns it off. We're not told whether her headache went away. We are told that the woman is a physician and used to be the prime minister of Norway. She also served as director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) and while there banned the use of cell phones in her office. The disconnect in the title of the book is revealed when the author notes that after many years of study and work the WHO's report on cell phones was released and concluded that further study was needed. Why? Because the data didn't support the beliefs of Gro Harlem Brundtland and Devra Davis. As reported in Skeptimedia last month, the study concluded:

Overall, no increase in risk of glioma [malignant brain tumor] or meningioma [benign brain tumor] was observed with use of mobile phones. There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation. The possible effects of long-term heavy use of mobile phones require further investigation."

In other words, the disconnect that concerns Davis is that the scientific data does not support beliefs based on anecdotes.

I suspect, however, that sales of her book will be brisk. Her appeal to fear, especially the fear that children's brains will be harmed by cell phone use, will find much sympathy with the general public. I share her concern about brain damage to children from using cell phones, but not because of the electromagnetic radiation affecting their developing brains. The children will get more exposure to radiation from their mother's hair dryer, their TV sets, and computer monitors than they will from cell phones. Kids should be interacting with people and reading books, not fiddling with gadgets.

Davis's book is just one of several appealing to fear and anecdotes combined with the can't-miss appeal to an industry cover-up and conspiracy to hide the real data. Last year, Carleigh Cooper came out with Cell Phones and The Dark Deception: Find Out What You're Not Being Told...And Why. Christopher Ketcham also unfolded a fable in GQ last year about a government/industry conspiracy and cover-up, which I critiqued. You shouldn't judge a book by its reviews, but here is what one reviewer (published on Amazon) had to say about Cooper's exposé:

If I could hug this author, I would. Just the preface of her book alone had me in tears as I could relate to her story about her late husband's toxic encephalopathy, as I believe this is what has been plaguing me, especially since the mid-90's. A SPECT scan of my brain back in 2006 showed reduced blood flow to various areas of my brain, and even the SPECT machine seemed to trigger symptoms in me - as soon as the technician flipped the switch to perform the scan, I was hit with an instantaneous agitation and an urge to urinate which took every bone in my body to control.

My pets have been dropping like flies since the mid-90's - fatty liver disease, FIP, renal failure, bladder stones, tumors, heart attacks, chronic infections - the list goes on - many of them young pets. One of the cats that died began spraying the corners of my home one year prior to his death, almost as if to warn me of the dangers.

My sister lost two young cats over the summer to some mysterious illness causing weakness in the hind legs. The onset of their very first symptoms coincided perfectly with the installation of a cell phone mast behind her home.

My ex-husband had a glioma removed back in 2007 - he was a heavy cell phone user (and still is) and spent 6 years in the Navy working on radar, of all things.

I never used a cell phone myself, but I did use a cordless phone heavily (every bit as bad). I now suffer with Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity which I now believe is related to underlying toxic encephalopathy (perhaps even an impending tumor), just as the author's late husband had. Basically, I can feel cell phone and Wi-Fi towers' signals in the form of the most bizarre symptoms that no doctor yet has even tried to explain. I've tried discussing my concerns with doctors, but they just don't seem to hear me over all the radio waves.

I worry now about some 'insignificant findings' over the years with me - blood in my left ear, a sore deep inside my left nostril (I used to hold the phone to my left ear), elevated eosinophils [?], and this conspicuous grey-brown staining along the backs of my front teeth that tastes like metallic chemicals.

I also battle chronic Lyme - a bug that has this 'amazing' ability to cross the blood-brain barrier (or did we give it some help?) Microorganisms of all kinds have been proven to respond to EMR.

The honey bees are dying of Colony Collapse Disorder. The bats in the northeastern U.S. are all dying of White Nose Syndrome. I applaud the author for her selflessness in writing this well-documented, no-nonsense book on the deception, right up there with the best. You will not be disappointed.

No, I don't suspect that these kinds of books will disappoint a certain kind of reader. I would suggest, however, that the reader consider the possibility that all these disparate problems and ailments might be due to the increased use of energy medicines. It is a known fact that the brain is vulnerable to chi attacks. Misguided missiles of energy packets could be destroying your brain or your child's brain as you read this. These energy jolts could be caused by modulations of unknown variety resulting from cross-currents of excess energy released by reiki and therapeutic touch practitioners.

This is just a suggestion that there might be other things involved in these brain diseases, bee colony destructions, bat deaths, dog tumors, etc.

I've written about anecdotal concerns with EMFs in other places, so I won't repeat them here. See:

The Paralyzing Precautionary Principle (On July 23, 2008, Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, warned his faculty and staff to limit cell phone use because of the possible risk of cancer.* Devra Davis was the one behind this warning.  Both are impatient with science and believe action should be taken, despite the lack of evidence warranting it.)

Cell phones, brain tumors, and other cheery thoughts

Warning: Your Magazine May Be Hazardous to Your Health

WHO Says Cell Phones May Not Cause Cancer by R. T. Carroll

Woo Even Oprah Couldn't Sell: Shocking news about electrohypersensitivity

Stupid politicians and cops

electromagnetic field (EMF), electromagnetic radiation


See also:

Cell phones and cancer again, or: Oh, no! My cell phone’s going to give me cancer! by David Gorski

Do Cell Phones Cause Brain Tumors? by Steven Novella

Doctors Urge Research On Cell Phone-Cancer Issue

update: 09 Dec 2010. Michael Kruse has posted Lorne Trottier's two-part review of Devra Davis's Disconnect at Skeptic North, the first Canada-wide blog for skeptics. Part 1. Part 2. Some highlights:

"Early in Disconnect, Davis gets some facts on basic physics wrong. On P. 17 she states: “Electromagnetic waves ability to travel depends on how long they are. The faster a wave oscillates and the smaller it is, the shorter the distance it can reach.”... A first year physics student could tell her that all electromagnetic waves follow the inverse square law. The frequency has no effect on distance."

"She devotes a whole chapter of the book to defending Dr. Hugo Rüdiger, who was found guilty of scientific fraud...."

"She ignores the fact that all of the studies [on cell phones and male fertility] she cites have been criticized for poor methodology, and some have failed attempts at replication...."

She distorts data to imply that researchers don't take into account the different size of a child's head when doing their studies on a model.

Davis falsely implies that cell phone companies include “fine print” warnings as a potential defense in liability lawsuits from brain cancer patients.

"Davis only discusses a handful of the thousands of studies that find no harm from either EMF or cell phones. She gets some critical facts about these studies completely wrong."

Kruse's conclusion: "Davis and other EMF alarmists are attempting to do an end run around the mainstream scientists responsible for public health standards."

The alarmists are an active lot. Michael Shermer and Dr. Bernard Leikind have written an article responding to many of those who criticized their arguments regarding cell phones and cancer. In their response, they review the main concerns of critics and dismiss most of those concerns as unfounded. Leikind's response is posted in the aforementioned article. Shermer says that his response will appear in the next issue of Scientific American.

Steven Novella has posted comments on a recent observational study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. This is a weird study: it compares children of mothers who haven't used a cell phone for the past 7 years with children of mothers who use cell phones. The authors found a slight difference in "behavioral problems" among the children in the two groups and suggest the difference is due to cell phone use. How did science degenerate to this kind of slumming? Dr. Novella is kinder; he writes:

At best this study suggests questions for future research. But the results are within the predictable noise of preliminary epidemiological data that is best ignored by the public. Most such correlations do not hold up with future research and the ultimate interpretation of such correlations is often different from the most direct cause and effect that grabs headlines and public attention. Basing decisions on preliminary epidemiological evidence such as this is likely to be unnecessarily disruptive and inconvenient and is unlikely to provide any health benefit. [/update]

Bob Park comments: "At this point we can expect wilder and wilder claims of effects from cell phone radiation."

update: 14 Nov 2010. Randall Stross has jumped on the Devra Davis scarewagon with an op-ed piece in The New York Times: "Should You Be Snuggling With Your Cellphone?" Stross is the author of numerous critically acclaimed books, according to Wikipdedia, including eBoys, The Microsoft Way, Planet Google, and Steve Jobs and the NeXT Big Thing. Stross writes:

I had assumed that radiation specialists had long ago established that worries about low-energy radiation were unfounded. [Devra Davis's] book, however, surveys the scientific investigations and concludes that the question is not yet settled.

What Stross doesn't mention is that no scientific question will ever be settled in the sense Davis means it: proof that nobody anywhere can ever be harmed by low-energy radiation or no future study will ever find that low-energy radiation from cellphones is hazardous to our health. Radiation specialists known as physicists have established that the amount and kind of radiation being emitted by our cellphones is theoretically unlikely to cause cell damage. More important is the fact that many studies on the issue have not found evidence of harmful effects from cellphone usage.

In addition to Davis, Stross brings up the work of Henry Lai. In my response to another journalist on the cellphone radiation fearwagon, Christopher Ketcham, I wrote of Lai:

Ketcham did make some effort to find some scientists who believe the data support being very cautious about cell phone use. One of those scientists is Henry Lai, whose own work has found "that modulated EM radiation could cause breaks in DNA strands—breaks that could then lead to genetic damage and mutations that would be passed on for generations" in rats (emphasis added). Lai admits that the science doesn't prove cell phones cause cancer but, like the EEA, he follows the precautionary principle.

Stross does note that the Interphone study, the largest study of cellphone use and brain cancer, found no compelling evidence of a connection. Stross also notes:

The authors [of the Interphone study] included some disturbing data in an appendix available only online. These showed that subjects who used a cellphone 10 or more years doubled the risk of developing brain gliomas, a type of tumor.

What Stross doesn't mention is that there is a good reason this data is in an appendix and not in the complete study: "Analyses of the INTERPHONE non-response questionnaire suggest the presence of participation bias: less participation of non-users of mobile phones than users. In addition, controls were less likely to participate than cases....Thus biases and error prevent a causal interpretation of these results (emphasis added)."

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