Friday, October 23, 2009

Cell phones, cancer, and press release abuse

The Daily Express reports

LONG-term mobile phone users could face a higher risk of developing cancer in later life, according to a decade-long study.

The report, to be published later this year, has reportedly found that heavy mobile use is linked to brain tumours.

The survey of 12,800 people in 13 countries has been overseen by the World Health Organisation.

Preliminary results of the inquiry, which is looking at whether mobile phone exposure is linked to three types of brain tumour and a tumour of the salivary gland, have been sent to a scientific journal.

As I write, a google search could locate no news or science source more detailed than this Daily Express article. Note that:
  1. This is not peer-reviewed study. The results are only "preliminary" and have merely been "sent to a [unspecified] scientific journal."
  2. It is said that the study was done for the World Health Organization but no specific authors/scientists are mentioned.
  3. It is not specified what statistical standards were used or which cancers they claim correlations for.
In sum, this is not even information to begin to evaluate the results. News reports like this should never be published.

It is normal for statistical-medical studies to produce the occasional false result. So, statistical studies generally should not be believed until they are confirmed by independent studies. For such cell-phones-cause-cancer claims, despite all the scare headlines in newspapers, there has been no confirmation.

The UN uses a similar press-release technique for hyping global warming. First, they release a press summary with no supporting data. The press accepts the frightening conclusions uncritically. The full report is not released until many months later and, by the time it can be evaluated, the press has moved on to the next scare story.

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