Presenting a complex scientific problem in a news media story is a difficult task. On the one hand, the presented science should be accurate but, on the other hand, it should be understood by an average reader, a layperson.

 

I have given numerous interviews for national and international news outlets and I experienced first-hand the problem of presenting a complex science in a format simplified enough for the laypersons but at the same time scientifically accurate.

 

On top of the complexity of science, there is always a problem of brevity. Journalists wish that the science story will be not only simple and easy for layperson readers but also short enough that the news media editors will accept it.

 

So, we have the problem of the complexity of science and the scarcity of space/time to present it in newspapers or TV news.

 

Then, there is a difficulty in selecting experts to be interviewed. The author of the New York Times’ story, Caroline Hopkins, selected radiation experts Gayle E. Woloschak, and Emily A. Caffrey, and brain tumor researcher Howard A. Fine.

 

From reading the NYT story, I got the impression that the interviewed experts considered that if wireless radiation doesn’t cause DNA damage and doesn’t heat tissues there is no health risk for humans. If this is all that these experts know about the biological effects of wireless radiation, then they are the wrong experts.

 

None of the research publications of Gayle Woloschak, Emily A. Caffrey, or Howard A. Fine deal with electromagnetic radiation that is used in wireless communication (later – wireless radiation). Their research deals solely with the effects of ionizing radiation. Neither of the interviewed experts is an expert in the effects of radiation used in wireless communication. By having general education in radiation, both ionizing and non-ionizing or in cancer physiology, all of the experts may provide, as they did, some very general comments on non-ionizing radiation effects. But because they are not experts in wireless radiation effects they said stuff that better fits layperson who reads newspapers. It feels that they all simply recap the misleading and oversimplified statements disseminated for years in the news media by the ICNIRP, the IEEE-ICES, and the telecommunication industry.

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Prof. Woloschak said “There’s no risk of anything hazardous or dangerous with radiation from cellphones” – This statement is very risky and puzzling at the same time, because it is coming from a very experienced researcher. Currently, there is a broad consensus among scientists, including members of ICNIRP and consultants for the industry, that the scientific studies on wireless radiation and health are of known and proven insufficient quality. When science is inadequate and of poor quality it is too hasty to claim “no risk of anything hazardous or dangerous with radiation from cellphones”. In the current situation, such claims are simply hasty and unscientific.

 

Prof. Woloschak said “There’s no DNA damage seen from cellphone use”. The same claim is echoed by Dr. Caffrey when she said “But smartphone energy falls into a category called non-ionizing radiation […] which isn’t powerful enough to cause this [DNA] damage.” Does Prof. Woloschak and Dr. Caffrey give the impression that the only way to cause cancer is when the DNA damage happens? Because it is a serious misrepresentation. Cancer, as they very well know, is a complex disease that can be caused by various factors. Here are a few factors that can contribute to the development of cancer: 1. Genetic Mutations (including spontaneous mutations): Certain changes in genes can increase the risk of developing cancer. These mutations can be inherited from one or both parents or can occur during a person’s lifetime due to exposure to carcinogens or errors during cell division. 2. Environmental Factors: Exposure to certain substances or environmental factors can increase the risk of cancer. Examples include tobacco smoke, radiation (such as UV rays from the sun or medical radiation), certain chemicals (like asbestos or benzene), and certain infections (such as human papillomavirus or hepatitis viruses). 3. Lifestyle Choices: Unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and obesity, can also increase the risk of developing cancer. 4. Age: The risk of cancer increases with age. This is partly because exposure to risk factors accumulates over time, and our body’s ability to repair damaged DNA and control abnormal cell growth may decrease as we age. 5. Family History: Some types of cancer can run in families. If certain types of cancer, especially at a younger age, have occurred in your family, you may be at an increased risk. It is important to note that cancer development is usually the result of a combination of multiple factors rather than a single cause. Therefore, cancer can be caused not only by agents directly damaging DNA but also by agents that don’t damage DNA but contribute by affecting diverse intracellular signaling pathways and non-DNA molecules. Giving the impression that no DNA damage equals no cancer possible is simply incorrect.

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Prof. Woloschak is quoted as thinking that only harm could be caused by wireless radiation if it would over-heat the tissues of the human body: “According to Dr. Woloschak, radiation would need to heat our bodies several full degrees to pose health risks like burns or a fever. “A cellphone’s never going to do that,” she said.” There are proven non-thermal biological effects of wireless radiation. Whether the induction of biological effects will translate into health effects is still a matter of scientific debate. Especially, as said earlier, the science on wireless radiation and health is inadequate in scope and of poor quality to dismiss the possibility/probability of health effects caused either by wireless radiation alone or in concert with other environmental factors. Professor Woloschak should not be so hasty.

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Prof. Woloschak said “A lot of people think ‘radiation is radiation,’ but it’s not all the same.” Yes. The effects and the mechanisms of the effects are different for ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. The scientists usually specialize in either of these radiation types, not in both. The same seems to apply to Prof. Woloschak herself. Being an expert in ionizing radiation does not mean being an expert in non-ionizing radiation, and vice versa. Prof. Woloschak is an expert in the effects of ionizing radiation but she is not an expert in wireless radiation effects.

 

In conclusion, one may wonder why the story was written now and why the chosen experts were who they were.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place – Dariusz Leszczynski