Mr. Dad: Scrutinize cancer claims

Dear Readers: A few weeks ago I devoted a column to the issue of electromagnetic fields generated by cell phones and other electronic devices that many people worry are causing an increase in a variety of cancers as well as a host of other health risks.

That column generated a huge response from readers. Some of you were thrilled to see your fears validated in print. Many others, though, took issue with the claims of the two book authors I’d quoted. Being a big believer in intellectual honesty, I decided to dig a little deeper into the “other side” of the story. Here’s what I found:

A number of studies – including ones done by the National Institutes of Health, several European countries, and the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancers – have found no correlation between cell phone use and increased incidence of cancers.

A study by the Cancer Institute found “no increase in the age-adjusted incidence of brain and other nervous system cancers between 1987 and 2007, despite the dramatic increase in the use of cell phones.”

Earlier studies found no difference in brain tumor risk between people who used cell phones and those who didn’t. And the risk didn’t change with increased usage (number of minutes per day, years of use, etc.).

There’s also plenty of research that indicates that fears about power lines, Wi-Fi, and big-screen TVs are completely unfounded.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for a civil debate on the issue. Those who claim that EMFs are a problem are sometimes incredibly shrill in presenting their case.

On the other hand, people on the EMFs-are-harmless side can be just as shrill.

And their knee-jerk dismissing of any opposing views, and nasty personal insults makes it hard to take them completely seriously. If researchers had been content to go with the prevailing views of tobacco in the 1960s, we’d still have doctors recommending that their patients smoke. And if no one had looked into trans fats, people everywhere would still be looking at “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” as a healthy alternative to butter.

So who’s right? Well, as far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out. If you look hard enough, you can always find a piece of research that will support just about any position you could ever want to take on anything.

I strongly recommend that you do some research of your own. Look for reputable sources from organizations you trust.

And wherever possible, try to get hold of the actual research.

Find resources for fathers at www.mrdad.com.

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