Romm Echoes Groundless Cell Phone/Cancer Fears?

Keith Kloor is having fun being kwuooeeeel to poor Joe Romm, simply because Romm is being an anti-scientific bozo pushing groundless fears of cancer-from-mobile-phones. Keith has a nice collection of links to sane people pointing out that there is no evidence of a problem. One of whom is Orac, in a post entertainingly entitled The bride of the son of the revenge of cell phones and cancer rises from the grave…again. And the key quote is Still, despite my trying to keep an open mind on the matter, I also don’t want my mind to be so open that my brains fall out, so to speak. Alas, Romm has failed to heed that wise advice, so his brains have indeed fallen out.

I can’t be bothered to take Romm and his argument apart, and anyway there is no point, because Kloor has, and Orac has, and so have any number of people. What I found quite entertaining, though, is: what does this remind you of? “This” being the desperate never-ending search for a link between mobiles (apparently called “cell phones” by our colonial cousins) and cancer, which continues despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary? Yes that’s right: it is just like the denialists’ eternal search for something, anything, that they can blame for global warming other than CO2.

Meanwhile, in related news, the squareheads are also anti-scientific bozos. But I don’t seem to be able to dredge up enough venom for an entire post. Well, its been a long day and I went running at lunchtime and sculling at night (can’t even see the game or the Sugar Ray fight).

Oh… I nearly forgot. Romm’s point 3 is an excellent one:

3. Use a Bluetooth earpiece. A Bluetooth earpiece still has radiation, but it’s at least 100 times less than the radiation you get when you hold a cell phone to your head…. [And don’t keep it on your ear all the time since,] “when you’re not talking; it still sends out a signal.”

or at least, its an excellent point if you happen to be an employee and shareholder of a company that makes bluetooth chips (did you know we now have a blog?). The bit about emitting radiation when you’re not talking is mostly twaddle, though. If its not supporting an audio link, it will either get turned off or at worst drop into sniff, which has something like a hundredth of the radiation of an audio link.


* Why I’m (still) not worried about my cell phone hurting my brain (Bad Astronomy)
* Deaths per unit of electricity generated
* Rabbits needn’t worry about cell phones’ effects on their sperm count, say three retractions

36 thoughts on “Romm Echoes Groundless Cell Phone/Cancer Fears?”

  1. To answer your question: “what does this remind you of?”, Romm’s view of mobile phone dangers reminds me precisely of Romm’s view on climate change. i.e. He is entirely consistent in looking for reasons the results of human progress will turn out badly for us.

    {Ah, don’t be a spoilsport. Romm goes over the top on climate change as I think I’ve said before. But he is at least on the correct side there, errm, at least insofar as the sides are “GW is happening and its our fault” and the denialists -W]


  2. When Eli sees Keith attacking the RP team for going over the top, he might pay some attention. In the meantime all your fair and balanced does is provide ammunition for the Morano’s of the world. They would never have been able to take Al Gore down without your types incessant tutt tutting.

    However, to the real point. Eli needs an excellent blue tooth microphone that can be clipped on for using with voice recognition software. Any recommendations? Also as far as software anything besides Dragon??

    [I can thoroughly recommend you asking for one with a CSR chip in it. However, the BT accessories world doesn’t work like that, and you’re very unlikely to even know whose chip you have. As for your talk of “microphones”, to me these are just things that transmit packets that may look like audio streams… -W]


  3. Oh… I nearly forgot. Romm’s point 3 is an excellent one

    Note that it’s not *his* point, he’s quoting a CNN medical correspondent …

    Apparently he agrees with it, but unlike Wegman, he’s cited his quote 🙂


  4. You actually read what Romm wrote, or you just took Keith the Klueless’ word for it. Yes, Joe is maybe less cavalier than you, but he is not “OMG Cell Phones Cause Cancer”

    As I wrote three years ago, “You can choose to ignore the risks, of course, but from my perspective, I think the science is more than strong enough to raise concerns, and the measures needed to minimize risk are trivial.”


  5. There is published research that clouds the issue to some degree … presumably that’s why WHO has made the classification it has made.

    Along with Eli’s quote of Romm, Joe also said this:

    A year ago, I published, “Are cell phones safe? The verdict is still out.” It still is out.

    I’d say that’s not an unreasonable position to take, though I happen to personally believe that when the verdict’s in, any risk will be negligible. Some people’s risk thresholds are lower than some other folks …

    Note he never states that cell phones are *proven* to be dangerous.

    It’s pretty obvious that the fact that he’s a cousin of Louis Slesin has influenced his point of view on the subject.


  6. I’m not sure what the link to the “squareheads” was supposed to mean? The Germans are anti-science because they are shutting down nuclear plants over safety concerns?

    [Yes -W]


  7. The urban dictionary explains it all:

    Kid: “Mommy, did you see how weird that Norwegian’s head looked?”

    Mother: “Yes dear, the fucking Squareheads do have unusually shaped skulls. The Swedish have even more box-like heads… don’t even get me started on the Danes or Germans…”


  8. Careful, Eli, some of German derivation (e.g, oh, I don’t know, the Angles and the Saxons) might take offense at that sort of thing. 🙂


  9. Eli (3),
    How is my post an “attack”? Also, I don’t get this notion that one should practice self-censorship in order to not give “ammunition” to the “Moranos of the world.” It’s the twisted logic of someone with a zero sum mentality.

    Walt’s Garage (8),
    Safety concerns? More like crass politics giving way to irrational fears. For those of you who can’t get enough of me (Eli, here’s looking at you), I posted on this as well today:


  10. [How many deaths so far, by your count? Zero? -W]

    Yes but how many $s lost in property values. People are easy to replace, but they’re not making anymore land.


  11. > How many deaths so far, by your count?

    As my old friend Joe Vissarionovich used to say (but it’s been a while): “what matters is not who dies, but who counts the dead”.

    …and ‘so far’ isn’t finished yet…

    [You may be in the wrong argument :-). I’m not claiming that Chernobyl killed no-one. I’m not even arguing that in the end, Fukushima may end up killing no-one. I’m responding to being told that my credibility is in trouble for reasons that are rather unclear; as usual with that sort of attack, the attacker hasn’t bothered to cite anything. If he means pop pop pop then he is talking twaddle.

    How about a question for you: including and since the accident, which do you think has killed more people: radiation from F, or solar-voltaic installers falling from ladders?



  12. People: the wrong lessons are being learned by Germany re: Fukushima. In the last few months, much evidence of poor regulation, faulty design, and cozy ties between Japan’s govt and the country’s nuclear industry has come to light. These are human-related problems that can be addressed by Germany and other countries.

    [Yes, I agree entirely with that, and had I been writing a post just about that, it would have been one of my major points: the cosy / corrupt relations between the nuclear industry and the regulators. However, I’d also say that this is a problem that recurs in almost every country – certainly we have such problems here. So saying that it can be fixed is all very well, but it would require some serious effort. Mostly, it would require much more transparency, which would be an excellent thing in itself, but perhaps a precedent that the politicians don’t want to set. But yes: fixing the regulation is the sane response -W]

    Instead Germany throws the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. It’s crazy.

    Anyway, Monbiot called this one right early on, when he said that what happened at Fukushima is the best advertisement for nuclear power. At least it would be in a sane world, where rationality prevailed.


  13. Anyway, Monbiot called this one right early on, when he said that what happened at Fukushima is the best advertisement for nuclear power.

    For investors?

    F’s turned into quite a financial loss, seems to me … looks like the evacuation zone is going to stay evacuated for quite some time, too.

    And, of course, more and more information is coming out regarding regulatory slackness in Japan, underestimation of tsunami risk, failure to upgrade poorly-designed vents despite US regulatory bodies requiring those running similar plants here in the US to do so, etc etc etc.

    [Regulatory: fully agree. See the comments from KK, and my replies. Evac? Less sure. How much of that is real, and how much due to the traditional “Radiation!?! ZOMG! Run away in feer!!!” kind of stuff? -W]


  14. William writes (inline comment to #15):

    “I’d also say that this is a problem that recurs in almost every country – certainly we have such problems here. So saying that it can be fixed is all very well, but it would require some serious effort.”

    Absolutely. The same fundamental problems (weak regulatory oversight, bad practices, etc) occur in all countries and with all industry, especially energy, such as oil and gas drilling. I spent chunks of my time during the 2000s chronicling the industry abuses of coalbed methane and natural gas in the Western U.S. The Bush Administration gave carte blanche to gas industry and the federal agencies in charge practically ceded their offices to drillers.

    Without strong regulatory oversight and a corporate culture that emphasizes best industry practices (and this requires a vigilant press, as well), companies will always cut corners.


  15. My own hypothesis is that perhaps brand new telephones emit nice friendly carcinogens from the plastics and mold releases and hot electrical insulating polymers.

    Surely the manufacturers are quite careful to ensure this not occur, however, making the hypothesis doubtful. Surely.


  16. “How many deaths so far, by your count? Zero?”
    I don’t know, and you don’t either. TEPCO and the Japanese Govt have not been reliable sources of info. Not to mention that the effects could take years to develop in those exposed.

    “If he means pop pop pop then he is talking twaddle.”
    You titled your post “Pop, pop, pop” and then feign ignorance that you were downplaying the situation, quite a trick.

    “How about a question for you: including and since the accident, which do you think has killed more people: radiation from F, or solar-voltaic installers falling from ladders?”

    Apples and oranges. A more logical comparison would be between ALL people who build (“install”) nuclear plants and people who install solar panels. Even better would be a comparison of the mining, manufacturing, installation, and generating risks of both. Generating risks of solar (i.e after installation) are virtually nil. For nuclear, there are risks at every step. And when things go very wrong, they can take years of clean up/mitigation, with health effects that can last decades.

    [No, the correct comparison is deaths per unit of electricity generated. And MV ha, happily, found a source that discusses that: Nuclear comes out very very safe. Better than solar, which it itself far better than coal -W]

    Now tell me, can a solar panel melt down? Explode a la “pop pop pop.”? Spew radiation on helpless children? (I’m quite sure most solar panel installers are consenting adults)

    [Yep, I think you’re proving my point for me. You’re not concerned about the actual deaths, its the fear-and-uncertainty you don’t like. A bit like Romm -W]

    Finally, as we’ve seen in Japan, there are huge incentives to cover up/lie about the seriousness of these incidents. The rational response is to view government/utility pronouncements in these situations with skepticism, even if they prove unfounded later.

    [You think they are hiding significant numbers of deaths? I very much doubt they are hiding even one. Yes, I don’t trust their regulators, as I’ve said elsewhere. No, I don’t think black helicopters are carrying away piles of bodies -W]


  17. > which do you think has killed more people: radiation from F, or solar-voltaic installers falling from ladders?”

    Actually somebody did that sum…

    His conclusion, based on the fake-official number of 4000 victims for Chernobyl: more people killed falling from ladders. Now that fake-official number was low: correcting it upward brings it in the same ballpark.

    OTOH F is not C. Divide by 10 if you believe TEPCO, or by some other number if not 😉

    [Thanks. I’ve done a post on those numbers, since they are clearly rather relevant -W]


  18. > I’m not even arguing that in the end, Fukushima may end up killing no-one.

    You could have fooled me…

    [I didn’t mean to. What did you read that I wrote that made you think so? Was it “It is too early to tell -W]

    Yes, I’m probably in the wrong argument, but surely a better one than defending an energy technology by pointing out it’s ‘less bad’ than another one… that bar is a little low, isn’t it William?

    [I don’t think there is any way to judge these technologies in an absolute sense. If you do that, you end up saying silly things like “even one death is too many”. The only way to compare the safety of different energy production methods is relatively. Can you think of a better one?And anyway, proponents of solar are always fond of pointing out that it is “better” than other methods -W]


  19. > The only way to compare the safety of different energy production methods is relatively.

    Yep. But such a comparison should be complete. You can actually collect statistics on folks falling off roofs installing solar panels — but do you have any clear statistics on the probability of any of the bad things that happened at F? Do those even exist? How about weapons proliferation risks?

    The point I’m trying to make is that also hard-to-quantify risks are real and should be considered. I don’t know when the next bad nuclear accident is going to happen (but I can guess the place: China). I can predict with confidence that nothing remotely comparable will happen with any wind, or Solar, or OTEC, or, heck, even powersat installations (that should make you prick your ears if microwave exposure interests you!)

    When risks are hard to quantify, worst-case considerations gain legitimacy — think Murphy and human nature. Note also that none of these renewable energy technologies are dual-use — the only thing coming to my mind is that perhaps there are similarities between the aerodynamics of turbine blades and fighter jet wings…

    Happy to be a spoilsport 😉

    [OK, I agree. Hard-to-quantify risks should be included, somehow. But that nuclear figure already includes Chernobyl, and most people seem to agree that its unlikely to recur. The level of nuclear deaths is lower by a factor of hundreds than coal deaths; it would be very unlikely to shift much, barring – well – very hard to quantify risks.

    But if you want to include hard-to-quantify risks, you have to actually do that. Suppose, for example, there was a Chernobyl every year. How would that shift things? -W]


  20. Some of the workers in Japan got big doses, so the number almost certainly won’t be zero. A fair number of the firefighters and emergency response personnel died from Chernobyl.

    [Yes, that seems quite likely. But without some kind of quantification, that doesn’t help much -W]


  21. I am bemused at the WHO’s capitulation to the fearmongers on this. There is extremely strong evidence from numerous studies that the risk of cancer from cell phone use is either zero or at worst some number so close to zero that creating widespread anxiety about it engenders a larger risk.

    And incidentally due to the WHO’s stupidity we have no prospect of stopping wasting research resources on this non-risk, which might then be used to better advantage. The opportunity cost of worrying about the wrong things.

    Eli @25, no-one involved in Fukushima got, or will get, a radiation-sickness dose such as killed 30-odd immediate responders at Chernobyl. Some of the workers at Fukushima (maybe a dozen so far) got doses that may raise their long-term cancer risk.


  22. The report from the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer (PDF).

    Cancer Research UK say:

    “Over the last week, they convened a panel of 31 experts to look at the available evidence. Their verdict: “radiofrequency electromagnetic fields” – the sort given off by mobile phones – belong to “Group 2B”, which means that they “possibly” cause cancer in humans.

    What does that mean?

    It means that there is some evidence linking mobile phones to cancer, but it is too weak to make any strong conclusions. Specifically, IARC’s panel said that the evidence that mobile phones pose a health risk was “limited” for two types of brain tumours – glioma and acoustic neuroma – and “inadequate” when it comes to other types of cancer.”

    Not exactly a scaremongering report, just something to keep a close eye on, and more will be published in the Lancet, July issue.


  23. Geez, you really are playing the cool kidz card here. As far as the immediate deaths from Chernobyl

    The accident destroyed the Chernobyl 4 reactor, killing 30 operators and firemen within three months and several further deaths later. One person was killed immediately and a second died in hospital soon after as a result of injuries received. Another person is reported to have died at the time from a coronary thrombosis. Acute radiation syndrome (ARS) was originally diagnosed in 237 people on-site and involved with the clean-up and it was later confirmed in 134 cases. Of these, 28 people died as a result of ARS within a few weeks of the accident. Nineteen more subsequently died between 1987 and 2004 but their deaths cannot necessarily be attributed to radiation exposure. Nobody off-site suffered from acute radiation effects although a large proportion of childhood thyroid cancers diagnosed since the accident is likely to be due to intake of radioactive iodine falloutd. Furthermore, large areas of Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and beyond were contaminated in varying degrees. See also sections below and Chernobyl Accident Appendix 2: Health Impacts.

    Of course long term estimates of excess cancer and deaths therefrom are all over the place except zero and below.

    [Hmm, not sure who you’re talking to there. Certainly, O(100) direct deaths from Chernobyl would not be surprising -W]


  24. Didn’t a group of scientists from the IARC come out with a list of execs that were previously long term employees of Motorola? The government is obviously putting pressure on the IARC and other research groups. The study may seem like there’s a weak correlation between cell phone use and brain tumors, and you could easily use the “correlation doesn’t equal causation argument,” but after all the reports I’ve read about pressure from lobbyists, scientists getting fired for admitting that there was a direct link between cancer and heavy usage, it really seems like the conspiracy theorists might be right on this one. Besides, my neighbor was recently diagnosed with a malignant glioma and he got from a satellite dish that he got from that he was using for 10 years right next to his bed on his balcony.


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