Cell phone scare

Becky Fenger Fenger PointingHere's a statistic for you: Nearly one in three Americans over the age of 20 have high blood pressure. Well, it's no wonder, what with road rage, looters after tornadoes, the E. coli superbug and organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) to up our stress levels.

When scientists at the WHO declared that cell phones are a "possible" cause of brain cancer, it set off a flurry of headlines. I have long ago learned to take WHO proclamations with a grain of salt, however, if not the whole shaker. That's why I was pleased to see a great article in the L.A. Times by Chris Woolston packed with hard facts and soft humor.

This bunch of scientists declared cell phones are a level 2B carcinogen, a label given to many, many things that may or may not cause cancer. "Coffee is in the same category," Woolston writes, "but you don't see people fleeing Starbucks." Then he tells us the WHO has given an even stronger label of 2A carcinogen to shift work. "By that measure, anyone afraid to pick up their Droid should be even more worried about being the closer at Chili's," he warns.

The report by the WHO was not spawned with new data. The researchers simply gathered the studies done by others over the years, looked at it and decided to issue a report that cell phones maybe, possibly, could, cause a type of brain cancer. The main thing for consumers to remember is brain cancer is still extremely rare and is not increasing despite the explosion of cell phone use. Researchers have yet to provide consistent evidence that cell phones cause brain cancer. There's nothing new here.

Woolston points out that in Scandinavia, a country with one of the highest rates of cell phone use, the rates of brain cancer have hardly budged since the mid-1970s. He cites the INTERPHONE study that included data from 13 countries. The cell phone habits of more than 5,000 brain cancer patients were compared to a matched group of people without brain cancer. Again, the conclusion was: a solid "maybe, maybe not."

How could cell phone radiation case cancer in the first place? Woolston points out scientists don't know. What they do know is stronger forms of radiation, such as X-rays, set cancer in motion by breaking apart strands of DNA. He questions how the microwaves from a cell phone could even rattle DNA, since they don't have nearly enough energy to do that, let alone tear it to pieces. I am comforted by the fact many radiation specialists scoff at the notion cell phones can cause any long-term harm. Scoffing is good. We need more scoffers.

Some folks on the outside of the scientific community suspect the real reason for the national headlines is the same as that for a global warming calamity: a basis for a plea for continued billions of government dollars for research. Not an unlikely supposition, I fear.
If you want something to really worry about, worry that Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis believes crime will increase across the country if there is no football this coming season. His exact words: "Do this research. If we don't have a season, watch how much evil, which we call it crime, watch how much crime picks up when you take away our game." God save us!

Worse, a number of bloggers agreed with Lewis. Bored blogger William Cooper posted this comment: "Without entertainment people get board (sic) and do stupid things." (And you people wonder why I say we need a war on our soil to straighten out our priorities.)
If you want something to worry about, worry there were riots across the nation on Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day weekend, for god's sake! Get a flag. Show respect. Watch "Saving Private Ryan."

If you want something to worry about, worry we live in a culture that has incidents of people stealing wheelchairs from disabled people and even disabled dogs. Worry that there are folks out there who believe if we spend more taxpayer money we can save our sorry behinds from financial ruin. Worry that a rogue and feral Environmental Protection Agency can ruin our way of life for no apparent payoff.

Worry the WHO is keeping DDT out of Africa, condemning millions, especially children, to death. Just don't panic when you call home for Father's Day.