Cell Phones Still Don't Cause Cancer

Wednesday June 01, 2016

I was recently explaining to someone that cell phones do not cause cancer. Of course, then this study comes out last week saying otherwise. There’s a number of flaws with this study, starting with the fact it is not a study. Ars Technica has a great discussion of its problems here:

One of the more interesting lines in the Ars response is,

One of the reasons people have been reluctant to believe that cellphone radiation can cause cancer is that it hasn’t been adequately demonstrated in animal studies

That simply is not true. The reason nobody believes cell phones cause cancer is because in 1905, Albert Einstein wrote a paper called “Über einen die Erzeugung und Verwandlung des Lichtes betreffenden heuristischen Gesichtspunkt.” In English, Wikisource has a translation, “On a Heuristic Point of View about the Creation and Conversion of Light.” This paper explains how, below a certain energy level, electromagnetic radiation does not ionize matter it strikes. If the radiation is nonionizing, it does not cause cancer. It turns out the threshold level is about the boundary between violet on the rainbow and ultraviolet light. This is why we wear sunscreen outside.

This 1905 paper was a big deal in a year of big deals. Einstein also published three other papers on Brownian motion, special relativity, and mass-energy equivalence. Each of these four papers was a really big deal. Mass-energy equivalence is the source of the famous equation, [latex]E = mc^2[/latex]…that’s how big a deal it was. And each of these four papers would have made a physicist’s career. But Einstein wrote them all in one year and the four papers are collectively known as the Annus Mirabilis papers.

But despite the importance of each of these papers, it was the photoelectric effect that got Einstein the Nobel Prize in 1921. Now, there’s a bit of politics that went into this, but the citation on the award read,

…for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.”

If you want to show cell phones cause cancer, that’s your hurdle to overcome. Not only do you have show the effect, you need a coherent theory of light that continues to describe reality.

Image by Jenbird14 / Pixabay.