“The risk that watching ABC News will cause your head to explode can’t be ruled out.”

Earlier today, the British Medical Journal published an update on a study of more than 350,000 people that investigated whether there’s a link between cellphones and cancer. The conclusion?

In this update of a large nationwide cohort study of mobile phone use, there were no increased risks of tumours of the central nervous system, providing little evidence for a causal association.

That’s how many news outlets played the story. The headline on Tara Parker-Pope’s blog post for New York Times, for instance, reads “No Cellphone-Cancer Link in Large Study.”

ABC News’s website took a slightly different approach. “A new study casts doubt on the possible link between cell phones and brain cancer,” its piece began, “but experts say the risk can’t be ruled out.”

That, my friends, is how you scare-monger. The “risk” of a cellphone-cancer link will never be “ruled out” — because it’s impossible to prove a negative.

Here’s ABC’s effort to justify their portentous lead (emphasis added): “One exception [to the many studies showing no correlation] is a 2010 study that found a slight, statistically insignificant increase in risk in a rare form of brain cancer called glioma among cell phone users.”


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3 Responses to “The risk that watching ABC News will cause your head to explode can’t be ruled out.”

  1. shaam says:

    Athough the issue of using mobile phone frequently having harmful effect on our brain hasn’t proved yet, it can’t be denied that has no negative impact on our health. So it would be better to avoid using mobile phones when it is unnesessary.

  2. Mara says:

    I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility that using a cell phone while *driving* will cause one’s untimely end.

    In fact, considering the vast data confirming the effects of distraction on driving, I’m sure the odds of dying due to driving while texting/phoning/whatever are a bazillion times higher than the odds of getting cancer from your phone!

  3. jre says:

    I just finished reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies. It covers, among many other things, the glioma – cell phone study that kicked off the whole scare. Results were published showing a significant increase of glioma incidence among cell phone users on the side the cell phone was used. After publication, it was noticed that the incidence of glioma on the other side was reduced by the same amount, as if cell phones protected against glioma, but only on the opposite side. As it turned out, the study was flawed by recall bias: someone already diagnosed with glioma would be asked whether he usually held the cell phone to his right or left ear, and would unconsciously tilt toward the side with the glioma. When the study was adjusted to correct for this effect, the correlation went away.

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