The fallacy about mobile phones and cancer

  • Looking at the numbers: incidences of cancer in the US plotted alongside the rise of mobile phone subscriptions (Graph data sources: SEER.cancer.gov; Worldbank.org)

    Looking at the numbers: incidences of cancer in the US plotted alongside the rise of mobile phone subscriptions (Graph data sources: SEER.cancer.gov; Worldbank.org)

  • Low level: mobile phone radiation is on the far left of the spectrum. Harmful radiation starts on the right, at ultraviolet and then into X-rays and gamma rays, which are certainly harmful (Graph supplied)

    Low level: mobile phone radiation is on the far left of the spectrum. Harmful radiation starts on the right, at ultraviolet and then into X-rays and gamma rays, which are certainly harmful (Graph supplied)

  • Gilbert A. Darrell

    Gilbert A. Darrell


“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

— Daniel Patrick Moynihan

In a world where information is at our fingertips, we battle against false claims nearly as much as we work to educate ourselves.

I’m not — nor do I claim to be — a doctor, scientist or researcher. However, I’ve been fortunate to be exposed in life and in my education to learn and trust the scientific process. If a theory doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, repeatable double-blind testing and rigour from peers in the scientific field, then it’s not something anyone should hang their hat on.

As another measles outbreak hits the news and airwaves, many people in medicine hang their heads in disbelief. Where did we go wrong, they ask, in our education of the public where people willingly believe charlatans that vaccines cause some horrible disease instead of preventing death or causing lifelong disability?

Last week was a trial of my patience and willingness. I received a phone call from a very pleasant person; someone who was really not interested in a debate or education, but who wanted to make their point known: mobile phones are dangerous and cause cancer.

First, 5G doesn’t really exist yet. It is a marketing term used for an upcoming standard in wireless technology, but as a real “standard” it still has time to be fleshed out. 5G will likely mean smaller, localised towers closer to the home, so that you and I can get much faster speeds than cellular networks typically do now. We’re talking 500 megabits per second and even today there is equipment being trialled that delivers twice that speed and more.

Back to a 20-minute engagement with someone who was adamant that decades of research doesn’t hold up to their own opinion that 5G “radiation” causes deadly diseases.

I never enjoyed being “right” to win an argument, which via various logical fallacies you can do in many ways to debate, not to mention “ad hominem” attacks, to deflection to half-truths.

I want to be factual because winning an argument today may mean losing something much more important down the road.

So in this lengthy conversation, I tried many analogies, scientific examples, to lead them down a path to maybe begin to change their opinion. Cellphone towers, as I described to this person, transmit non-ionising radiation, which does not lead to damage of one’s cellular make-up, although other forms of radiation can.

To be clear, “radiation” is an extremely broad term. It mostly exists in the common lexicon as a bad, harmful “thing” that people find trouble with relating to their everyday life. But I promise, without “radiation” you would have a pretty bleak existence. The sun warms the earth via radiation. You can see in your house with a lightbulb, from radiation. And, yes, you cook your food via radiation in a microwave.

The energy from a lightbulb will not cause you cancer because the wavelength and energy are not strong enough, or of the right “type”, to do harm.

Cellphone 5G towers have radiation from their antennae, no denying that, but the power output is very low, the wavelength is a magnitude below even a lightbulb and the overall energy isn’t enough to warm your hand if you were right next to it.

In a study involving rodents who were exposed to the dosage equivalent of about 10,000 watts of radio energy for a 200lb human — imagine a ten kilowatt lightbulb — for two years, they had slightly increased rates of tumours but actually outlived the rodents who had no exposure. The saying “correlation does not mean causation” comes to mind. Does this mean cellular radiation is harmful or is it actually helpful?

If you wanted to, you could then say that radio-wave “radiation” is actually beneficial! The purpose, however, is to demonstrate that time and time again, studies have proven that radio frequencies are not harmful.

The sun, which is the reason you and I exist, can damage your skin through ultraviolet radiation, but it is also a massive ball of thermonuclear (fusion) gas, so let’s give the “big guy” a bit of a break. To forgo the sun would mean you would not be alive today. There is a balance to be had.

In fact, flying is one of the leading sources of everyday radiation, since you are closer to the edge of space and you have thousands of feet of protective atmosphere above. However, the dosage is minimal, even for pilots who are flying all the time.

Radiation is all around us. There is good radiation such as the sun, your television screen to watch your favourite show, a warm fire to keep you warm, and bad radiation — in high dosages — such as X-rays.

Like everything, dosage — and in this case, type — of exposure matters. No one thinks water is dangerous, unless you have the wrong dosage.

Gilbert A. Darrell is the founder of Horizon Communications. He has 18 years’ experience in information technology and telecom solutions, is a veteran in fire and EMS services, a member of the Bermuda Fire Service Advisory Board, a crypto-enthusiast and a member of the Bermuda Government’s Cryptocurrency Taskforce

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Published Feb 13, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 13, 2019 at 8:05 am)

The fallacy about mobile phones and cancer

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