Cell Phone Study Flaws

September 30th, 2008 | Sources: Economist

No one knows whether cell phones cause brain cancer, and it may be awhile before anyone does.

Many had hoped the Interphone Study would answer the question. Interphone enrolled 14,000 people from 13 countries. It began in 2000, involved 50 scientists and cost $30 million.

Unfortunately, Interphone scientists are now struggling to interpret its data, which has been badly compromised by flaws in study design. The acrimony has pushed back the release date for the final paper from this month to next year.

It hasn’t helped that some Interphone scientists have already published preliminary studies that are based on samples of the Interphone data. Some of these studies contain bizarre conclusions such as a protective effect against certain brain cancers for mobile cell phone users.

The study design flaws are gaping. For example “regular mobile-phone use” was defined to include people who use a phone once each week as well as heavy users. This assures that any moderate adverse effect of regular mobile phone use will be masked.  As well, its retrospective design forces participants to recall specifics of their cell phone 10 years earlier. Do you recall how much you used your phone in 1998?

It remains to be seen whether the data scrubbers can make sense of it all. Meanwhile in the absence of clarity, Interphone scientists have staked out every conceivable position on the matter.


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