Steve Connor: Time to call it a day for all the unfounded hang-ups about the dangers of mobiles

Share
Related Topics

Before Professor Anthony Swerdlow began to explain the results of the Interphone study yesterday, he prefaced his remarks with something of an understatement. "This is a long-running and complicated issue," he warned.

Indeed it is, because what in effect scientists are trying to do in studying mobile phones and ill health is to prove a negative. They would like to reassure the public, if they can, that mobile phones pose no health risks, but they also know that it is scientifically impossible to say there are no risks attached to any one aspect of our daily lives.

By the time Professor Swerdlow began his explanation of the findings, a leak of the report had already resulted in newspaper headlines suggesting that half an hour a day on a mobile phone could increase the risk of brain cancer.

Professor Swerdlow explained why this was not true and why one statistical aberration within the study – the biggest of its kind – might lead some people to believe there was a risk of getting a brain tumour if you used your mobile phone regularly each day.

Over the past decade, there have been a couple of dozen studies looking at the health risk of mobile phones, in particular the risk of brain tumours. The vast majority have failed to establish an increased cancer risk, but one Swedish study did find a statistical association, which fell far short of linking cause and effect.

Establishing the risk of something, especially when the risk is very small, can be exceptionally difficult. Brain tumours are very rare and even if mobile phones increased the risk significantly, the total number would increase by only a few cases nationally.

Yet there is no evidence that mobiles do increase the risk, there is no evidence that the total number of brain tumours is increasing, and there is no evidence that an increasing use of mobile phones leads to a raised risk of brain cancer – a "dose response" seen in all other causes of cancer.

In short, there is nothing in this study showing that using mobile phones can lead to brain tumours. But, of course, this does not mean that science has answered the question we all want to know the answer to because this absence of evidence cannot yet be taken as evidence of absence.

Unfortunately, for us to get the sort of near-definitive answer we require in a risk-averse world, there need to be further studies over longer periods of time, with children as well as adults.

However, there must come a time when politicians – not scientists – decide that enough is enough, for the doubts over mobile phones to be put aside, and for money to be spent on more important matters.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

No menu! Dining doesn't get posher than this

Dom Joly
 

Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Ellen E Jones
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution