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back to article You paid €20m for UN mobe-fear - and that's just the start

The Interphone study has spent 10 years failing to find any evidence that mobile phones cause cancer, but there's no end in sight for the gravy train powered by the public's paranoia. The Interphone study cost €19.5m, €1.75m of which came (with suitable blinding) from the GSMA, which draws revenue from member companies, and …

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Oh, for heaven's sake

1. The money has to come from somewhere, which means that no matter the route, eventually it would be us paying it anyway (either via tax or by increased charges from one or more private companies funding the research by increasing prices).

2. Personally, I'd rather they continue the research if the findings are thus far inconclusive. It's not the sort of thing that can be answered in five minutes for the price of a pint. But don't let that stop you, eh?

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FAIL

Those findings aren't inconcusive

They are absent. There is no statistically significant effect. i.e. anything they see is noise.

The issue here is that the research was not required in the first place. Anyone with a reasonable understanding of the laws of physics would be able to point out hat there is no reasonable mechanism by which phones can cause brain cancer. The whole thing has been whipped up by the tabloid press in order to sell bits of pulped tree to the gullible. (I'm looking at you, Murdoch).

If folk want to waste money on researching the obviously false, then they can waste their own money, not mine thank you very much.

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Wrong bastard

In this case, it's a public fear story about a technology favoured by the young, so the likely culprit is Lord Rothermere (prop. Daily Mail).

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RE: Wrong Bastard

Apparently it was the Sunday Times that ran with the headline 'Heavy Mobile Users Risk Cancer'. AFAIK, they are owned by NewsCorp, as is the Sun (and I should think that they've been responsible for pushing links between phones and the big C in the past). It might be a case of 'both bastards' rather than 'wrong bastard' perhaps...

Either way it would seem that irersponsible journalism is still alive and well in good ole Blighty...

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Stop

History

is littered with examples of the "there's no possible way this could harm anyone" mantra.

Asbestos

Spent uranium shells (apart from the intial intended impact of course)

Lead paint

RSI from keyboards and mice

Side effects from the cocktail of drugs given to soldiers

CFC's

Adding lead to petrol

Burning fossil fuels

etc, etc, etc.

Let's get one thing straight: I _don't_ believe there's much of a risk and I _do_ think the papers love to hype up things like this to play on public fear in order to increase circulation. But the point is, just because current thinking says there's no risk, doesn't mean there isn't.

People can't even agree on what makes a siphon work which is a pretty fundamental principle, so understanding how small doses of radiation emitted close to your brain are going to affect you over a 70 year life span without doing a proper study is a pretty tall order.

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Boffin

"Reasonable understanding of physics"? How about Frohlich

The physicist who literally wrote the book on dielectric phenomenon would undoubtedly question who lacks the reasonable understanding of physics:

H. Frohlich, "The extraordinary dielectric properties of biological materials and the action of enzymes" Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA, 72, 4211 (1975).

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Grenade

Re: History

When did people say there was no mechanism for any of those things to harm people?

ISTR it was more the case that no one cared to look into it and when they did, the evidence appeared very, very quickly.

The Mobile Phone Fear is barking mad, but hey, keep throwing money at science and I am sure some good things will come as side effects of the research.

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Happy

Wots wrong with lead in petrol?

When I purchased my AJS Springtwin motorcycle in 1951 , part of the regular servicing was scraping out the deposits of lead lead from the carburettor .

Just one of those things we did then like spraying everything with DDT, using Nicotine Sulphate for green fly on Roses etc. also Lead Arsenate was a popular spray.

My father added red lead to the roof paint that got brushed onto our house.

He only lived to 87, and may have been longer if his stay on Gallipoli (WW1 and all that) hadn't caused him to get Dysentery

and then getting a bit of Gas from the Hun in France, while avoiding shells and bullets.

I have only managed to reach 80 so far, and if I don't get frightened to death by all the horror stories about cell phones, I expect to last a bit longrer.

Nearly forgot about using a grinding wheel to cut up Asbestos Cement pipes when I worked for a City Council.

I think we need a prolonged investigation into the vast number of people who have been frightened to death by these never ending cell phone

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"and eating space dust..."

"... while drinking Coca Cola still won't make your head explode."

Didn't a certain American television show's pilot from about seven years ago put that idea to rest? In an extreme worst case (not possible with the aforesaid combination), you'd die from gastric rupture, not cranial explosion.

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Re : proof?

Rather difficult or even impossible to prove a negative. So when do you give up?. Anyone with a prejudice will tend to eternity.

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Surely

Potential long-term issues require long-term testing, no? 10 years exposure may not be long-term enough. What will the affect be on a 12-year old by the time they reach middle-age? Prolonged exposure is a contributing factor in a lot of things - how prolonged is no doubt what is being researched.

Euro 20m is fuck-all in the scheme of things when you're talking about cancer research. New Labour's old quangos probably tore through that amount in no time flat and I reckon Mandelson would use it as an entrée. Don't even get onto bankers - the BBC forums will be afire.

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I postulate...

...that wearing shell suits causes cancer of the toe, although there is no plausible mechanism to suggest that this may be the case, and no evidence to show that this type of cancer is on the rise. Shell suits have only been around since the 80s, so I am looking for effects over 40+ years. There could be a sudden sharp rise of toe cancer in 2015, and then you'll be sorry if you don't fund my research. Please send me €20M now, and I'll get right on with spending it on, errrm... research...

Still think you're not talking scaremongering nonsense?

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If you can persuade some laypeople that there may be a connection there...

... say, by pointing out how shellsuits emit electromagnetic radiation at frequencies that have been conclusively linked to bioelectrical effects in other contexts, then - yes, I'm sure you can get your €20M for that. But if you can't convince them, just shut up already. The reason we have committees to give out this kind of funding is so that we, personally, don't have to spend our entire lives listening to every crackpot with a brain-dead theory - we only have to hear a subset of them.

The "no plausible mechanism" line is ridiculously spun. Nobody even tries to deny that strong doses of microwave radiation have dramatic health effects in the short term - that's why microwave ovens are well shielded. What exactly is "implausible" about the idea that much lower doses may have different effects over the longer term?

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Tawkon are clearly geniuses

Have a look at their 'technology' page: http://www.tawkon.com/technology

They've already determined the safe level or 'radiation' so I don't know why we're wasting money on this study.

Like the first poster, I don't see the problem of the study, and it seems perfectly fair enough that it's paid for by a mix of phone users and taxpayers. It's not as if £20m is that much money in the great scheme of things, and if (by some remote chance) mobiles do cause cancer, then it would be nice to know. It would also be nice to know if we can't find a link: It's not proof, but would go a good way to calming some people down.

I think the best way to continue would be to study the number of superheroes who've been created since the invention of the mobile phone - and draw up a list of the accidents which gave them their super-powers. If it's still all nuclear accidents and radiation from going into space, then I think we can conclude that this isn't 'proper' radiation anyway, so there's nothing to worry about. However, if there have been lots of incidents of people being bitten by radioactive mobile phones, or gaining special powers in mobile phone research accidents, then we'll know we've got a problem.

Answers on a postcard as to what Nokia Man's super-power would be...

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Go

When to stop?

"It's not as if £20m is that much money in the great scheme of things, and if (by some remote chance) mobiles do cause cancer, then it would be nice to know. It would also be nice to know if we can't find a link: It's not proof, but would go a good way to calming some people down."

When do you stop looking? You cant prove a negative all you can do is say you havent found any proof yet.

The fear of cancer leads to situations where a never ending supply of money is thrown away chasing something that has no basis in reality simply because people want to be re-assured.

The irony is that no amount of "its safe" results will make anyone happy, they will demand more money is spent and people keep looking until the spurious "its dangerous" report appears....

That said, I want EU funding for my study into the effects of long term, worldwide holiday travel with my family. I believe that being able to afford 52 weeks a year on holidays, including visits to theme parks and safaris, a well as winter sports etc, causes brain cancer.

I look forward to my EU funding for the research and it needs to be long term so I can check the effects on myself and my children. I believe that about £5m a year for the next 50 years will be enought. Peanuts in the great scheme of things. And wouldnt it be nice to know if it really does cause cancer or not? Just think of all the people whose minds it would put at rest.

Where do I get the application forms from?

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WTF?

I for one,

do NOT welcome out tin hat wearing overlords.

My money is paying for those hats!

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Welcome

You mean they do the overlording for free?

That's cheap at twice the price!

I'm quite certain actually interesting stuff will prop up from the longtitudinal 230,000 person research, if we have any luck with initial data recording; if it was only name/place/phone use, then probably not.

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Re: Those findings aren't inconcusive

So "a reasonable understanding of the laws of physics" is a sufficient basis on which to dismiss any possibility whatsoever that there could be health effects?

Don't be so ridiculous.

On the available evidence, there is no risk whatsoever that mobile phones are harmful. That is excellent news. Are you then saying that because you can't think of a way harm could possibly occur, that there's no point in looking?

That attitude is both unscientific and wrong.

There is always the possibility of some hitherto unforseen/unpredicted mechanism. As a scientist , you should know that. That's why these studies are so important. It's to make sure there are no unknown unknowns. As Rumsfeld himself might put it...

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Stop

What I am suggesting...

...is that public funding should not be given (funding measured in millions) to fringe science. It should be spent on something useful.

To turn your argument around - do you think that becuase fairies have not been found at the bottom of my garden, then we should not spend money on checking, just in case?

Don't get me wrong - I am not against the science in this study; as far as I am aware, the trial has been conducted in a proper manner, and it has found the expected result - nothing.

The question is, why has a large sum of money been spent on a trial which can be reasonable expected to not find anything? Why not spend the money on something which has a higher chance of furthering the sum of human knowledge. If people want to conduct fringe science, then let them do it with private money, not public funds.

I would be just as pissed off if a large sum of money were spent on whether there is a healing effect from pretty coloured bits of quartz crystal, or homeopathy, or chiropracty. These are all things that have no basis in objective facts, but have a strong following. IMHO, this is down to human ignorance, not down to lack of funding from tax coffers.

Maybe I should remind you of the scientific method:

- Form a hypothesis from a logical basis. This hypothesis should make predictions.

- Design an experiment (or experiments) to test that hypothesis and its predictions.

- Evaluate the results of the experiment(s)

- If necessary, improve and repeat the experiment(s) to confirm no experimental bias, fluke results, etc.

Although this study does well on points 2-4, I think it falls down on 1.

The hyposthesis would appear to be along the lines of, 'I believe that there is a mechanism by which microwave radiation acts upon living matter that is unknown to the entire scientific community. I predict that this manifests itself as a causative agent of brain cancer although I cannot postulate how.'

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Anonymous Coward

Except that...

...you're talking about science. In this case statistics are more reliable than science. If statistical research shows no correlation between mobile phone use and cancer then doing more research won't show anything up. If statistics show their is a correlation then that's when the scientific research kicks in to see what mechanisms are at work and see what we can do to stop it.

Leave it a few years and we'll have a hell of a lot more data and you might (just might) be able to find a tiny correlation between some particular usage pattern, some obscure cancer and perhaps some particular pre-existing condition. You know the sort of thing; Ginger people who have previously suffered from nephritis getting cancer if they use a wired earpiece for several hours a day. However until they've got a lot more data doing more research will achieve nothing.

It's not just this issue. There are hundreds of research gravy trains that are achieving nothing. The problem being of course that you cannot conclusively prove a negative - so it's next to impossible to conclusively prove that mobile phone use does not cause cancer. You can either prove that it does cause cancer, or that you can't prove that it does.

I suspect that the largest problem with these research gravy trains is that they do not follow what might be termed the scientific method (it's not science, it's statistics but the method holds true). A scientist does not hypothesise and then keep testing that hypothesis until he has proved himself right. Surely at some point his funding would be withdrawn.

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Headmaster

"public money should not be given to fringe science"?

An 85% mobile phone using public, swept to fear by tabloids, and you're calling this "fringe" science? You lost the plot somewhere I'd say.

Let us be clear: (1) there is probably no detrimental effect, (2) there are measurable physiological effect (mostly on brain activity). Even if energy levels are too low, clearly, to cause direct dna damage, something else may be going on. Offhand: you trip a specific hormone (there's masses of rarely-tracked ones) level to an unusual value, this may cause some cascade or put some other compound at a bad value, and statistically anything from heart attacks to cancer can follow. It is very much worth studying in a longtitudinal study --- but you'll have a very very hard time to get out the lifestyle effects.

If 20million is what it takes to convince the majority that there's no problem, then that's acceptable. We're speaking of the whole western world paying, plus some extras for the rest.

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Anonymous Coward

@I ain't Spartacus

"Answers on a postcard as to what Nokia Man's super-power would be..."

He would have the ability to at any time, be ON A TRAIN. WHAT? NO IT'S CRAP!

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Anonymous Coward

But we KNOW mobiles cause cancer

Look everybody KNOWS that mobiles cause cancer. That MSG causes morbid obesity. That caffeine kills. That aliens visit Huddersfield regularly.That the Labour party's priority is the welfare of the working man. The fact that nobody has any hard evidence to prove any of them (and the fact that there is pretty solid evidence to discredit at least one of those) will not change public opinion.

Even if you could find good solid easilly explained scientific evidence that mobile use does not cause cancer there would still be a significant portion of the population who KNOW that it does.

There are still plenty of smokers out there who KNOW it's a myth that smoking causes cancer and other diseases.

No amount of research will change what some people KNOW.

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Boffin

'Radiation'

I've said it before and I'll say it again ... Electromagnetic Radiation != Ionising Radiation!!

Unfortunately joe public only pick up on the term 'radiation' and automatically link that with cancer.

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Before we all get carried away

Before we all get carried away, it's not as clear cut as some may paint.

Firstly, there are some proposed non-thermal non-ionising mechanisms of interaction.

Secondly, the Interphone result taking stopped in 2004 - the report authors have been fighting amongst themselves on what conclusions can be drawn.

Thirdly, the other serious epidemiological study (by the Hardell group in Sweden) found statistically significant increased occurrences of some cancers in the brain. Not massive increased in risk (roughly doubling I think for some). Twice a very small risk is still a very small risk, but it still raises more questions than it answers.

Fourthly, both Interphone and Hardell studies have many, many failings, neither is anywhere near conclusive.

Fifthly, the latency of existing studies has not necessarily been long enough for anything to show up with statistical significance. Hardell seems to have risk increasing with exposure latency.

Barring anything revelatory (of which there has been none), the conclusions of the widely approved Stewart Report should be followed. Keep exposure as low as reasonably possible, and try to minimise children's use of mobile phones (numerous scientific reasons mean if there is an effect they will experience it far worse).

In conclusion? We need to keep an eye on things, as billions of people worldwide could be affected. It's probably worth paying less than a penny per person who would be affected, to reach a stronger conclusion than "we don't know, but we aren't panicked".

There are numerous reports available from scientific journals (PubMed, sciencedirect etc) that provide detail. I'm yet to see any good coverage of these Interphone results in the media. Sorry El Reg, normal standards not adhered to here.

(Personally I'm not worried by mobile phone use, but too many people are overly dismissive without being familiar with the conclusions in the scientific reports. See comments above, and no doubt, below.)

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Headmaster

I postulate that wearing shell suits...

I postulate that wearing shell suits and baseball caps leads to increased (above-average) criminality in the offspring of the wearers. Obviously this hypothesis can only be verified with long term research requiring you to give me lots and lots of long term dosh. My Paypal account number is...

Or maybe we all know the hypothesis is true anyway, except for the minor failure to distinguish between correlation and causation? (Sky dishes cause cancer, just look at the correlation in the last three decades).

Or maybe we all should take heed of dr48's wise words above.

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Happy

Fairies?

"But there are fairies flying around my desk, and I'll continue to believe that no matter how many millions of euros are spent trying to prove otherwise."

Maybe one of these.

http://www.wowwee.com/en/products/toys/flight/flytech/fairyfly

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Alert

Careful with those tinfoil hats!

Tinfoil hat hazard: if the RADIOATION originates from below your chin, it will end up being FOCUSED in the middle of your BRANE!

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Perspective

There's a report on the same page that Vodafone made profits of 8 BILLION last year, on revenues of 40 BILLION!!!

Every single penny of that was taken out of the pockets of consumers, and you're quibbling about EUR 20 million?

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