More Anti-Science Blather from 'The Atlantic'

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Something really weird is happening at The Atlantic. A couple weeks ago, they published what could charitably be described as a pseudoscientific rant against genetically modified food. The article was so bad, that Scientific American and Slate ran rebuttals against it.

Now, they've done it again. An article titled "Cell Phones Are More Annoying than They Are Dangerous" starts off sensibly enough. The author correctly indicates that there is no scientific link between cell phones and cancer, and she also properly decries the hysteria surrounding "sexting" and talking-while-driving. So far, so good.

However, the author concludes:

Although the risks may not be as great as once imagined, cell phones

could theoretically pose dangers both physical and psychological -- in

the radiation they put off... The World Health Organization (WHO) still lists cell phones as "possibly carcinogenic to humans,"... (Emphasis added)

Cell phones do not cause cancer. They do not even theoretically cause cancer. Why? Because they simply do not produce the type of electromagnetic radiation that is capable of causing cancer. Michael Shermer explains, using basic physics:

...known carcinogens such as x-rays, gamma rays and UV rays have energies

greater than 480 kilojoules per mole (kJ/mole), which is enough to break

chemical bonds... A cell phone

generates radiation of less than 0.001 kJ/mole. That is 480,000 times

weaker than UV rays...

If the radiation from cell phones cannot break chemical bonds, then it is not possible for cell phones to cause cancer, no matter what the World Health Organization thinks. And just to put the "possible carcinogen" terminology into perspective, the WHO also considers coffee to be a possible carcinogen. Additionally, it appears that politics and ideology may have trumped science in the WHO's controversial decision.

Science writers need to stop giving credence to the "precautionary principle," which basically excuses wild speculation about the alleged dangers of everyday experiences. Not only is that bad policy, it is bad science.

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