That there title is what is known as “click bait” and I would normally ignore such an obvious of an attempt to steal some of my precious time.
Except . . . well, gosh, I don’t even know how to say this without shaking my head, thus making it difficult to type these words.
I’ll just come out and say it . . . the California Department of Public Health is releasing guidelines about harmful cellphone radiation and how you can avoid it.
I have to admit a slight bias; I think California is . . . how should I say this . . .
OK, that comes across as a little harsh . . . let me try to say it nicer.
Look, most individual people are fine. Things change when people gather in groups. Groups tend to degrade to the lowest common denominator.
Here how it works:
1) the level of critical thinking ability in the general population is pretty low.
2) the average person fears critical thinking (I theorize it has something to do with having been told they’ll go to hell if they engage areas of their brains associated with critical thinking).
3) when someone says something stupid but in a way that sounds like they know what they are talking about, it’s easier for most people to just nod than to think.
4) California becomes a state.
As for the news, it’s worth reading the short article announcing the guidelines and watching the associated video.
Before I go into it, let me say that controversy about radio waves and their effects on the health of human beings is not new. What is new is that we are now bravely marching into the era where facts don’t matter. What now matters is what you think and how that makes you feel. I mean, it’s always been like that, but it used to be that people at least paid lip service to facts even if they privately discounted them as inconvenient.
If you own a cell phone (you probably do) you might right now be confused about what to think about all this. You might be holding the phone at arm’s length and wondering if you can still use it. After all, a state with an above average number of movie stars and holistic healers, and with a higher colonic coffee enemas per capita rate than any other state has just issued guidelines that say you should not carry your phone in your pocket or even keep it near you. Can you still use it to make a phone call?
OK, I can see you are skeptical about my qualifications when it comes to radiation. Well, I live in Hawaiʻi, and we get more radiation than most places. In fact, I hardly ever go out and often yell at people to seek shelter whenever I see them walking outside.
Seriously . . . I first came across articles about cell-phone use in the late 90s. Even back then, people were concerned about walking around with a radio receiver and transmitter. Why they ignored all other manners of other radio signals flying around all around them, I don’t know. Somehow, somewhere, some person got the idea that radio signals from phones were deadly and rather than laugh at them, people just nodded.
No matter that experts painstakingly explain all about the different types of radiation and how radiation harms human cells, and why radio signals do not produce the kind of radiation that harms cells. In those pre-Internet days, I had to hunt down articles written on actual paper. I would then make copies and provide them to people as I summarized the reasons why they should worry about other stuff.
I noticed something . . . people would glance at the facts and then look back at me and mouth the mantra of every conspiracist I’ve ever met.
“They’re lying about it because if they told the truth, everyone would panic or they would get sued or insert other stupid — but unfalsifiable — reason here.”
In 2008, I threw away all my clippings because by then Skeptoid had done a show on that very topic and I could point people to it. Not that it made any difference. They — the “true” skeptics — accuse Brian Dunning of promoting reason instead of falling prey to flawed thinking; you see, he’s a big proponent of dealing with facts and hard data. The nerves of the guy! Doesn’t he know facts only obfuscate what we feel we know?
Anyway, back to the article . . .
There are interesting things in there (aside basically telling people to ditch their phones). One of the reasons that the guidelines were released now — according to the spokesperson — is that they have seen a huge increase in the numbers of cell phone users (currently, about 95% of the US population) and said users are concerned about the safety of the phones. That begs the question: wouldn’t a better time to issue a warning have been when usage was low? Are we just trying to save the remaining 5%?
Dr. Karen Smith with the California Department Of Public Health said, “We recognize that there are a lot of people in the general public that have some concerns about their cellphones and whether using a cellphone is safe.”
Let’s think about that for a moment. Note the exact language — “a lot of people” and “some concerns” — gives you exactly zero amount of information.
Also, can it possibly be true that a lot of people concerned with something nonetheless embrace it and demand even more of it? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I was concerned about the safety of eating broccoli. It would then be
kind of stupid of me to consume great quantities of broccoli. Why, I would probably avoid broccoli and substitute malasadas in their stead. Much healthier, I tell you.
She also gave this answer when asked if the release means that the state believes cellphones are dangerous.
“Not at all,” said Dr. Karen Smith. “Our position is that the science is evolving.”
Now, I have no idea what Dr. Smith actually thinks about this. It could be she thinks this is bull-droppings of the highest caliber but she wants to keep her job. Or she could be another true believer.
I say another because Dr. Joel Moskowitz is a true believer and he serves as Director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California-Berkeley School of Public Health. I can’t help but think his efforts contributed to this issuance.
Wow; a doctor . . . you might be impressed and even now considering chucking your phone and going back to using smoke signals. What, with so many people vaping, it would be the perfect alternative to harmful cellphone radiation.
Wait . . . he has a PhD. Hmm . . . so, not a doctor doctor. But, he’s the director of the Center for Family and Community Health; he must have some credentials, right?
See, to my mind, asking a psychologist about radio frequency radiation and its harm on cellular function is a bit like asking an engineer about . . . wait; bad example as engineers know pretty much everything about everything. It’s like asking a
lawyer politician about ethics; they might have a theoretical notion of what they are and how they function in everyday life, but they sure as caca won’t have any useful practical knowledge to share beyond saying they are harmful and should be avoided.
But, what about all the studies? For instance, if you read THIS article — and especially if you only skim it — you are likely to conclude that using cell phones increases your chances of getting brain cancer. The problem is that you have to read that very carefully, and then you need to realize that nearly everything is a potential carcinogen when exposed to it in sufficient quantities/levels and dosages/exposure; that’s why I tell people to stay away from sunlight. What the article doesn’t answer is whether the phone exposes you to levels of radiation that are dangerous. I mean, they make a clever analogy using a campfire, but I think it’s badly presented and possibly confusing. Frankly, I’m disappointed in Scientific American.
Let’s look at other sources to help us decide if your brain is being fried.
THIS article has a good review of what we know about the subject. That’s from the American Cancer Society. Of course, one might argue that they have an interest in the continued incidence of cancer since that keeps them in business.
Then, there’s THIS article with lots of information. That’s from the National Institute of Health. But, wait . . . that’s the government, right? How can we trust them when they are constantly lying to us?
Well, there is one recourse left to you if you are still worried. You can stop listening to others and think about stuff on your own. That’s usually where problems start, but here’s how you could do that in a useful manner.
Let’s begin with some numbers. From HERE, you get data that says the incidence of cellular usage in the US has quadrupled in the past sixteen (16) years, from roughly 100 million users in 2000 to over 400 million current users.
But wait; that’s more than the population of the US. Sorry, what I meant to say is that the number of cellular subscriptions in the US right now is over 400 million (HERE). That data is from the providers. The number is higher than the population because people have multiple devices they buy service for.
If you go back to the 80s, cellular usage was near zero. Any way you want to look at it, in the past 30 years or so the number of people using cellular phones has increased from 0% to roughly 95% of the population.
So, if phones caused brain cancers, we should see a related increase in the incidence of brain tumors in the population. Except that we don’t (HERE). There’s actually been a decrease in the number of brain cancers rates per 100,000 people. THIS study breaks down the data by age and gender.
As far as I’m concerned, that is the bottom line. It’s what I care about. It’s where I stop looking.
I could care less (but can’t bother to do so) about some psychologist in California — or even the whole state of California — telling me I’m in mortal danger. All I have to do, is to look at the data. The fact that I understand a bit of the science behind it is a bonus, but it’s not necessary. Data trump opinion. Facts trump feelings.
Now, sure as Trump has no class and lies like a cheap rug, someone is bound to tell me that they know of a friend who has an uncle who knows a woman who told them about her neighbor having a degree in pharmacology and knowing a mother of three who personally knows a guy — a very trustworthy guy — that says he taped a cell phone to his dog’s head and eventually the squirrel that the dog was chasing came down with a brain tumor.
Tell you what . . . if you are concerned, do what I do with broccoli; I don’t eat them. Meaning, stop using cell phones. Good luck with that.
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. . . my FP ward . . . chieken shit.
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