Let’s start with a homely example. If a friend comes to you claiming to have a wonderful new pudding recipe, made only from grass clippings, your first response would be “how would that work?” You know that grass is really fibrous and doesn’t have a lot of flavor.
So, if another wacky friend comes to you claiming that cell phones cause cancer, you could ask the same question: “how would that work?” Because you know that the microwaves used in cell phones are so low in energy that they cannot disrupt any chemical bonds. Prominent physicist and educator Bob Park dealt with this in 2001, in the journal article “Cell phones and cancer: how should science respond?”
As Park points out, all known cancer causing agents work by breaking chemical bonds, producing mutant strands of DNA. The energy of such elector magnetic radiation runs from low energy microwaves through the visible spectrum, up to ultraviolet and eventually to X-rays, with the energy is determined by the wavelength, with the shorter wavelengths being more energetic. Only at the ultraviolet wavelengths and beyond do the photns that make up such radiation have enough energy to break bonds. Microwaves, infrared, and visible radiation just can’t do it, and thus, cannot cause cancer.
Knowing that one simple fact makes it easy to question alarmist articles like the one in last week’s issue of The Nation, on a conspiracy theory on how Big Wireless made us think cell phones are safe. The report, by Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie details a conspiracy to shut up cell phone critics, which even if true does not establish the cell phones are dangerous. It is simply another example of The Nation reporting outside its political specialty, but ignoring established science.
But why believe Park and me? The American Cancer Society has a high readable report: Cellular Phones that comes to the same conclusion.
But what about if you are in a room full of cell phones and make hundreds of calls a day? Is that any more dangerous? What about Michael Cohen’s 16 cell phones? To answer, consider the following thought experiment, which, I think, came originally from Bob Park.
Suppose that Napoleon stands at the Strait of Dover with his soldiers and orders them to throw rocks towards England. No one can throw a rock 21 miles, so nothing much happens. So, thinking he just needs more force, Napoleon brings in several more divisions of soldiers and has them all throw rocks towards England.
What happens? A lot of rocks fall into the water, but none get to England, because none of the soldiers is strong enough to throw a rock 21 miles. The same applies to all those cell phones. None can break a bond so even the whole group can’t cause cancer.
Hertsgaard and Dowie cite a well-designed 2016 experiment by the National Toxicology Program in which rats are raised in specially designed crates where they were irradiated with 2 different levels of cell phone radiation (or none for the control group) for 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off for 9 hours a day, from birth to 2 years. Some rats got CDMA modulated radiation and some got GSM modulation. The original 2016 report was described in Scientific American, and it raised some concerns.
The final revised 2018 result, after adjusting for litter effects, was that there was no positive association between cell phones and brain neoplasms for female rats, male mice, or female mice. They found an association for male rate and only for CDMA modulation. Further, the irradiated male rates lived longer than the controls. In other words, this appeared to be a random effect of no significance. All of this is explained in detail in an article on Science Based Medicine.
While earlier 2016 preliminary analyses seemed to indicate an actual effect, it disappeared when the statistics were adjusted for litter effects (animals from the same litter would be expected to have similar responses).
So, physics is still true, and alarmism has lost out again. Your cell phones are safe.