San Francisco legislators clearly have irradiated brains

This is a completely unintentional follow on of sorts from my previous post about how non-scientists and the general public are most definitely not the right people to be making decisions of a scientific nature. Now while the subject has nothing to do with synthetic biology this time round I think the underlying feeling of this story is pretty much the same.


Legislators in San Francisco are set to introduce new laws requiring all mobile phone retailers to post radiation emission level notices next to all the handsets they sell. Tony Winnicker, spokesman for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, claims that this “is a modest commonsense measure to provide greater transparency and information to consumers” and the proposal, which passed with a vote of 10-1, is likely to get its final approval next week despite the fact that there is NO EVIDENCE that mobile phones cause any harm to humans.


The idea that mobile phones can cause brain cancer is a widely held misconception that has long been shown to be false by that pesky spoiler of fun known as “peer reviewed scientific evidence”. For example a study conducted in Denmark, and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, looked at the effect of RF radiation on 420,000 mobile phone users over a 13 year period. They looked for any sign that mobile phone use caused an increase in a wide variety of different cancers and related conditions. The results were pretty conclusive:


Risk for these cancers … did not vary by duration of cellular telephone use, time since first subscription, age at first subscription, or type of cellular telephone (analogue or digital). Analysis of brain and nervous system tumors showed no statistically significant [standardized incidence ratios] for any subtype or anatomic location. The results of this investigation … do not support the hypothesis of an association between use of these telephones and tumors of the brain or salivary gland, leukemia, or other cancers.


In fact the very idea of mobile phones causing cancer makes very little sense. Mobile phones do not use ionizing radiation, nor do they use oscillating frequencies like those found in microwave ovens. As such that pretty much rules out any plausible way by which your mobile could conceivably cook your brain. But not only is there no reason to believe that there is any danger from mobile phones in the first place, there is also disagreement regarding whether the new legislation will accomplish its goal of better informing the public.


“Rather than inform, the ordinance will potentially mislead consumers with point-of-sale requirements suggesting that some phones are ‘safer’ than others, based on radio frequency emissions,” said John Walls, vice-president of public affairs for the CTIA.


By hey, why should we listen to those scientists and their “evidence” when it is much easier to put a pointless and confusing law in place to help ease our irrational misgivings regarding things we don’t really understand? The only people I see benefiting from this new law are those people selling products that claim to protect you from the radiation coming from your mobile. So well done San Francisco, you have created a law that helps the purveyors of pseudoscience. Nice one.

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