Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hold the Phone?

This summer Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, head of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, caused a stir when he cautioned that cell phones may cause brain tumors. He sent a memo to Pittsburgh faculty and staff with his warning, targeted especially toward children using cell phones. It became a big story.

Do cell phones cause brain tumors? It is a question that everyone with a cell phone has given at least a moment's thought. No study has yet demonstrated serious risks attributed to cell phones, but studies haven't been going on for very long either. The international Interphone study, initiated in 2000, was to be a great help in assessing the hazards of cell phone use. But now, as the Economist details, the study is plagued by questions of statistical bias and internal inconsistency (Herberman's warning, it should be noted, is thought to be based on parts of the Interphone study).

It would be nice to have some guidance on this issue pretty soon as mobile phones have quickly taken over the world. The U.S. mobile phone penetration rate (% of users in a population) is over 80%. Luxembourg's rate is 158%. I guess, in the meantime, you can stick to the handset. And for godsake Luxembourgers, put down one of your phones.

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