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An independent consultancy based in UK and operating internationally, providing advice and measurements on public and occupational exposure to electromagnetic fields and  RF radiation.

Where are all the bodies?

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You will often see a claim on the internet that “cancers of the head and neck are increasing in Sweden”, with the implication that mobile phones are to blame. This is really a misinterpretation of statistics. The headline is only possible by including cancers in regions not exposed to phone signals, such as the thyroid and pituitary, and for which other risk factors in the target demographic are known other than RF, such as smoking and alcohol. If one avoids the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy then the claimed association vanishes. When we dive down into the glioma data, we uncover another problem. There is no overall increased risk of brain cancer but instead some temporal differences in rates of gliomal subtype classification. Now, this could be an effect of RF changing the ferocity of gliomas, but if it were we should expect to see temporal bunching associated with the introduction of phones, i.e a spike as slower growing cancers are accelerated and then a dip as those cancers drop out of the statistics. And we don't. The more likely explanation is better diagnosis, tighter classification and more careful recording with time. Of course one can never be certain, but Occam's Razor applies, and p-mining to find minutiae of data to support an a priori hypothesis, as this is, is always a big warning sign.

One must also note that the Swedish Radiation Protection Foundation is not an official body, and not to be confused with the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, which is. The Foundation is an anti-RF campaign, and not an independent expert scientific body. Its claims should be read in that context.

Two recent analyses bring more to bear on this issue. The first is from Australia:

Main findings:

  • The overall brain tumour rates remained stable throughout this period and showed no increase when compared with the increase of mobile phone use in Australia.
  • There was an increase of glioblastoma during 1993 and 2002 which was attributed to better diagnostic techniques with advances made in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology.
  • Although mobile phone use has risen rapidly since 2003 there has been no increase in any brain tumour types since then.
  • Since 2003 there has also been no increase in brain tumours of the temporal lobe, which is the location most exposed when using a mobile phone.

The second is a detailed analysis by Frank de Vocht of his own published work on brain cancer rates, which has been claimed by Microwave News as being evidence that phones cause brain cancer. Frank's own analysis draws rather different conclusions

He says:

I think the main points from these analyses are clear, and indicate that mobile phones use is increasingly unlikely as an important risk factor for the observed trends in glioblastoma multiforme while they further are suggestive of improvements in medical procedures over the last 30 years being a plausible cause for the observed effects, at least in part.

So it seems that neither in Sweden nor Australia nor UK nor anywhere else we look are we seeing the bodies piling up from phone use. We can conclude that it's at most a risk that is too small to show up after 20-30 years of half the planet being used as guinea pigs, and in fact appears indistinguishable from zero. Given that there is no plausible biophysical mechanism for RF to cause cancer this should not be a great surprise, but it's interesting that we really are reaching (in fact are arguably now well past) the point where any risk should definitely have shown up by now. As the data come in that risk continues to fail to materialise.