September 30th, 2009 at 7:49 am
Recently on the British Web site Spiked, Geoffrey Kabat, author of Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology, takes a closer look at recent reports linking cell phone use and brain cancer.
Kabat argues that these reports fail to prove an association between cell phones and cancer. He writes,
What the reports have in common, and what is most striking to someone who is moderately conversant with the scientific evidence concerning the health effects of cell phone use, is the astoundingly selective and slanted presentation they give of the relevant evidence. In reading them one feels oneself in the world of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
In the article Kabat shows the ways in which some researchers and activists seize on a few results that appear to indicate a risk.
These alarmist reports by activist groups represent a parallel narrative to the much less satisfying narrative of scientific inquiry. Activist ‘science’ focuses on results that appear to fit with one’s thesis and ignores information and comprehensive assessments of the evidence which do not. The authors can count on the appearances—references to the scientific literature, higher degrees and affiliations of the authors and ‘endorsers’, and conclusions that sound reasonable—to arouse concern in the public and to galvanize politicians eager to respond to the latest threat to the public’s health.