Would Mad Cows Use Mobile Phones?
IT Director
July 24, 2000

It’s niggling doubt time. Do mobile phones push out harmful radiation or not? Let’s ask the scientists. Trouble is, can we trust them? It isn’t a case of corruption, but contradictory evidence that is then used by our own, dear politicians to promote their own agendas. In the UK, the starkest example of this was the unfortunate case of ‘la vache folle’, as they say over the channel. British beef was so, so safe to eat that the then Minister of Agriculture even went on television with his daughter, who was ‘encouraged’ to eat a beefburger on film. We know politicians are manipulative, but to see them stooping so low in public still comes as a shock, especially as pockets of the human form of the disease – CJD – have now been traced to production methods of baby food and school dinners. The overriding conclusion that we have to reach (apart from the dubious nature of politicians) is that science cannot necessarily be trusted. The adage that ‘there is no evidence to prove a link’ does not mean that there isn’t a link, just that we are too primitive to find one.

And so to mobile phones. To coin a phrase, there is no evidence to prove a link between microwave emissions from mobile phones, and brain cancer. Sure, the frequency used is that used by ovens as it coincides with the frequency of boiling water. Sure, heat scans of phone users show the area of the head around the phone is warmer than its surroundings. But – no evidence to prove a link.

It does not matter if the risk is small. While uncertainly reigns (and it always will, until a link is found), it is essential that any potential risk is seen to be minimised. We saw this with the BSE tragedy that followed the world-wide ban on British beef, in that thousands of cows were slaughtered. What we have not seen so far is mobile manufacturers working to minimise the risk of microwave emissions. Not, that is, until now.

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) in the US has gained agreement from mobile manufacturers to publish the emission levels of mobile phones. So far the only company to agree to the August 1 deadline is Ericsson, but Nokia and Motorola are said to be following suit. In itself, this may not sound like much but this step is a major one. In publishing this information, companies are opening a door to scrutiny. It is inevitable that an emissions league table will be published, and equally inevitable that phones with higher emissions will be rejected in favour of lower emission phones. Over the years, phone manufacturers have been producing mobile phones with decreasing emission levels. Market forces will give added impetus to further improvements, such as the integration of additional shielding.

The mobile phone issue may or may not be a red herring, but following the BSE calamity we should have learned that trusting science at face value was not an option. Even if the risk is small, it is worth encouraging any move to reduce that risk still lower.