September 27th, 2011 at 6:48 am
Geoffrey Kabat, author of Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology, recently published Behind The World Health Organization’s “Cancerous” Pronouncement On Cell Phones in Forbes.
In the article Kabat critiques a recent report on cell phone use and radiofrequency radiation (RF) from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization. Kabat challenges their finding that RF from cell phones is “possibly carcinogenic, which does not square with his reading of the scientific data.
Kabat also discusses the controversial composition of the working group, and the process behind the report. Kabat writes:
By any set of criteria for evaluating evidence, the conclusion should have been that – although we have not monitored the effects of cell phone use for long enough – the substantial evidence currently available provides no suggestion that cell phone use contributes to the risk of brain tumors. The ambiguous label “possible carcinogen” is unfortunate because it means one thing to scientists working for IARC and something quite different to the general public when trumpeted in the headlines.
In classifying RF as a “possible carcinogen,” IARC has aligned itself with the “precautionary principle,” which sounds perfectly reasonable, except that it is often used to conjure up the existence of a possible hazard in the face of extensive and solid evidence suggesting the non-existence of a hazard. Of course, we need to spell out the limits of current knowledge, but we also need to rely on scientists and health agencies to use logic, analytic rigor, and clear language to assess what things are worth worrying about.
Geoffrey Kabat also recently co-authored a piece with Robert K. Adair for Spiked, which calls into question the failure to acknowledge some of the uncertainties in the science regarding climate change.
Kabat and Adair conclude their piece writing:
We propose a new litmus test: as a step toward dialing back inflammatory rhetoric, both politicians and pundits who address the issue of global warming should be challenged to define their terms, to make crucial distinctions, and to acknowledge the substantial complexities and uncertainties that exist. In other words, they should be challenged to show that they know something about the actual facts, rather than be allowed to get away with making uninformed assertions.