Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

More on Cell Phones

I’m catching up on the news I missed during the week, and there are a couple more articles about cell phone radiation in the glut of news and “news” that has gathered in my Google Reader account.

The excellent ShortFormBlog presents a video from MC Paul Barman, a nerdy rapper advising folks that cell phones may in fact give them cancer. Barman advises that to avoid (what he assumes to be) the harmful effects of radio-frequency radiation, people use bluetooth headsets with their phones. I’ll skip the cheap joke about a radio-free bluetooth headset, and acknowledge that bluetooth headsets use much, much smaller transmitters than the phone does.

However, in order to use the bluetooth headset, you need to have a cell phone. And you need it near enough to your precious meatspace body that your phone can communicate with your bluetooth headset. If you’re not locked inside a Farraday Cage, all you’ve done is increased the total amount of radiation you’re exposed to. (And if you are locked inside a Farraday Cage, your headset is little more than a blinky blue paperweight.)

The New York Times also has a wishy-washy article, doing what most of the press seems to do whenever they have to contemplate whether cell phones are dangerous: posing more questions than answering any, and pointing out that some things may be true and also may not be true. Specifically:

  • Holding a cell phone may be hazardous.
  • So might having a cell phone in your pocket.
  • Why would cell phone companies warn you not to hold their products up against your head if it weren’t dangerous?
  • Not everyone agrees that cell phones are perfectly safe.
  • Did you know children are more vulnerable to radiation than adults?  Just saying.
  • Someone who wrote a book about how she thinks cell phones are dangerous thinks cell phones are dangerous.

Um, gee. Thanks for that hard-hitting journalism, guys. Thank you for pointing out that some people have pointed out things that may or may not be true. And also that some people have some questions about things. This is like half a step up from reading tweets on CNN.

The high point of the article is the mention that one scientific study in the 1980s showed that radio waves can damage brain DNA in rats. Not for the study itself, but because the next (and only other) study mentioned in the article purports to show that radio waves from cell phones actually decrease the risk of brain tumors.

The Times in brief: ‘Science shows cell phones will give you cancer, except for when it shows that they will cure your cancer. But hey, what do I know? I’m just another example of a media more concerned with narrating a controversy than informing anyone.’

For the record, the FCC has a web site devoted to frequently asked questions about radio waves and their possible health effects. It mentions the difference between ionizing radiation (the kind the TSA uses to measure your penis) and non-ionizing/thermal radiation (the kind your cell phone uses to text photos of your penis). Ionizing radiation is bad; it will make your DNA all funky. Thermal radiation will reheat your leftovers; that’s why your chicken vindaloo is hot, and not glowing green when it comes out of your microwave.