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« Bombed in Karachi (Omar) | Main | Gnashing White Teeth And Looking Down A Pretty Nose. »

November 14, 2010


in kerala, the cell phone is not the disease of the affluent alone. the BPL is equally dependent on the 'mobile'.

it's confusing - the conflicting views about the health hazard of cell phone. a recent talk show in asianet tried to establish that it is only 1/100th times as dangerous as the microwave!

whom do we believe?

Omar Ali is an epigeneticist. I wonder if he will weigh in.

Going by what Davis chronicled in her earlier book, about the gung-ho attitude of 'it's good for you' that was strongly pushed with regard to tobacco, it took years for the evidence to come out that it was bad for you. She makes a persuasive case that unless an advance is proven safe, it should be treated as potentially harmful.
Speaking in genetic terms, it's always possible that the next generation will have perhaps evolved a set of tissues near the areas of stress (thicker epidermis, extra thick skulls, etc.) that could shield the brain better against the radiation).
I have a cherry tree that was attacked by a fungus, black blobs of which punctuate every branch at intervals. The cherry tree next to it was showing signs of the attack, and I thought it was a goner. But last spring, it survived the attack and showed no signs of going the way of its unfortunate neighbor. What signalled this tree to fight the attack, when its neighbor succumbed. Trees have their protective mechanisms, just as humans do.
Maybe the best way to handle these situations would be partly behavioral, partly letting nature take its course. We can believe whichever party suits us and keep on with what we were doing, until/unless (remember,there is still a probability that our bodies can handle this) we are afflicted.

I do hope Omar will weigh in, it would be wonderful to have analysis from an expert standpoint on the subject.

I am not an expert on the effects of cell phone radiation (I once wrote part of a grant application intending to look at cell phone effects on reproductive hormones in mice, it was not funded). As far as I know, epidemiological evidence of a link between cancer and cell phone usage is controversial and inconclusive, but some risk may indeed exist ( At the same time, the overall risk is not in the range of risks from smoking and is orders of magnitude LESS than the risk from drinking water from a handpump in any Indian village. Also, the "radiation" from cell phones is not ionizing radiation, so its effect on DNA may be real, but its mechanism cannot be the same as the well known effects of ionizing radiation ( In other words, it has to be an as-yet unknown mechanism of causing cancer.
I am not saying that cell phones are definitely safe. We cannot say that yet because widespread use is a new phenomenon and some late effects take decades to become visible. Also, children do have thinner skulls and developing brains, so their risk may be different than adults. But it does seem that the fear is not based on clear evidence YET.
Also (and this is a favorite bugbear for me, and yes, I am about to stereotype, exaggerate and malign, so please mentally edit the following comments, where i am no longer wearing my objective scientist hat), I am wary of " elitist liberal bias" in such matters. "Elitist liberal bias" is the notion (found mostly among upper middle class highly educated large carbon footprint modern liberals) that modern society must be worse than the organic, wholesome goodness that preceded it. It includes a tendency to jump up and cheer every time there is even the slightest evidence (and frequently, no real evidence at all) that some modern invention or institution is in fact bad for our health. Like most biases, it is invisible to its practitioners. Like SOME biases, it may occasionally turn out to be correct. In this case, I hope not, because i do use my cell phone a lot. Though i tend to do so with a bluetooth earbud, which reduces the radiation level at the skull by orders of magnitude (the same radiation is still present around the cell phone antenna, so exposure depends on where your cell phone is kept).
Also, the risk of having a traffic accident while on the phone is FAR greater than the risk of getting cancer. If you are trying to reduce your risk, dont talk on the phone while driving. Radiation exposure is a much smaller risk than that.

I'm not surprised at why the research you wrote for wasn't funded: another of one of Davis's pet theories is that the industry/associated 'independent' bodies (which really aren't) tend to fund those questions which will have only inconclusive/non-damaging answers.Maybe the questions you were asking were too specific to be twisted one way or another in the conclusion.
Regarding 'elitist liberal bias', it's too easy to dismiss fearmongering headlines as something to cause everyone to throw out their cellphones in horror. Valid points are lost as we toss out the babies with the bathwater. Just as 'middle class comfortarians' shrug and dismiss the rants of a similarly (in economic terms) situated Arundhati Roy as Marxist posturing;)
I hope your reliance on the cell-phone doesn't lead to any issues ( statistically, it shouldn't), but do pay heed to any warning signs with regards to usage. I speak from personal experience.

I think our project was not funded because it was not really that great or original. I really do not think the NIH study sections are trying to protect the cell phone companies (I have never been on a study section, so I do not speak from experience). In fact, I suspect this is another elitist liberal bias (sorry, I dont mean to pick on you personally, its a general rant): the notion that research is very tightly controlled by "the powers that be". Basic research funding from the NIH and European science agency and so on is heavily influenced by current scientific fashion, but not so much by commercial bias (APPLICATION is another matter....clearly many many useful things are not being done because there is no money in it for drug companies and many more useless things are being done because companies smelled money)...
btw, I am not sure Arundhati Roy overlaps too much with Marxism. She is popular with Left-wing social groups, yes. But her views have little to do with Marxism as an ideology or a serious political movement. I can easily imagine Marxists liking her because she seems to have some of the same enemies, but I dont see her as BEING very Marxist or Marxian or whatever the current term is. Marx would probably have dismissed her as a soft-headed bourgeois dreamer (If I can be allowed to read his mind here).

Omar, I suspect Ruchira would have more insight into the way the PTB's control the direction of research, especially NIH funded research. But I find a google search of the terms 'cell phone radiation and reproductive hormones' to pull up just one reputable study of some computational biomodelling, no animal/in vitro studies. Everything else is scaremongering websites and articles. So it isn't as though there is a plethora of research in the area you were contemplating.I don't think lack of originality would have been a problem. 'Lack of interest' in the area, maybe.
It's the view of the 'comfortarians' regarding Arundhati, where they are conflating her with the Marxist-Leninists that she has tried to portray in human terms, rather than just dismiss them as violent terrorists. It's not my personal view of her politics, which is more of wherever her mind leads her to believe that an underdog is there to be highlighted and brought to the attention of her audience, irrespective of their political leanings. A slightly calculated and opportunistic empathy, is how I see her activism.

An isolated observation here: Omar's evaluation of the "how and why" of NIH funding is largely correct. It is the "fashion" within the scientific community rather than corporation driven concerns, that mostly influence it. The application part too is correct. After funding basic research to the tune of millions of dollars, the NIH sometimes gets cold feet when time comes to translate that into something that can be bottled ... and that sometimes is dictated by the drug companies. But not always. Even at that stage, the scientific fashionistas, who may have multi-million dollar funding to investigat alternative paths to the same research, often wield influence.

I retract the statement about the lack of research papers pulled up in a simple Google search- there's tons of them ( all focused on the effects of cell phone/EMF radiation on the functions of the testes, given the common storage location of the phones, but not much on that of the female variety.) all indexed at the search.

So it's the fashionistas that reign over the allocation of NIH funds, more than the corporations. I don't know whether that is better or worse: the 'favored' theory bias, or the 'profit uber alles' bias.

I should have added that my observation is second hand - gleaned from a first hand source!

As for Arundhati Roy, she sees her role as speaking truth to power and like Zadie Smith, considers her literary star power as empowering. But I think she does fulfill a role on behalf of the underdog. I find her far more persuasive than Pankaj Mishra whose passive-aggressive do goodery seems too much geared to acceptance at NYT. I think the Indian govt. should take note of what Ms Roy has to say and not call her a "traitor" and such as a knee-jerk reaction. Clearly she doesn't think that it is her role to suggest solutions. That she leaves to the state. She would do well to not fall into the trap of "warm egg" analogies in the future. She's starting to sound like Mishra.

Consider, Pankaj Mishra is coming from an (admittedly) acquired Buddhist mindset, and sees life less as an arena of which he is mostly a viewer/commentator, rather than an active participant. Arundhati takes the opposite tack, and ends up (consciously or not) making a spectacle of herself, which upsets the powers-that-be, who prefer their 'literature icons' to remain plastered to the walls, rather than fire breathing dragons.

Odd turn for the conversation, but what the heck, I'm enjoying this, nevertheless.

"Basic research funding from the NIH and European science agency and so on is heavily influenced by current scientific fashion, but not so much by commercial bias"

QFT, and I think this is broadly true of sciencey matters in general. Your average researcher isn't principally motivated by money for money's sake, though I want to immediately walk that back to some extent when it comes to grant money. But yes, I think scientific fashions, personal aesthetics, political ideology, the tenure time cycle and what the media finds "sexy" all bias scientific results more than what Acme Corporation wants to see said.

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