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Biggest Study On Cellphone Health Effects Launched in Europe 109

Posted by timothy
from the pay-extra-to-be-in-the-control-group dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The biggest study to date into the effects of cellphone usage on long-term health was launched today, aiming to track at least a quarter of a million of people in five European countries for up to 30 years. The Cohort Study on Mobile Communications (COSMOS) differs from previous attempts to examine links between mobile phone use and diseases such as cancer and neurological disorders in that it will follow users' behaviour in real time. Most other large-scale studies have centred around asking people already suffering from cancer or other diseases about their previous cellphone use. Researchers said long-term monitoring will provide more time for diseases to develop, since many cancers take 10 or 15 years for symptoms to appear."
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Biggest Study On Cellphone Health Effects Launched in Europe

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  • More info on study (Score:5, Informative)

    by thijsh (910751) on Friday April 23, 2010 @05:40AM (#31952688) Journal
    There is some more info here: http://www.mthr.org.uk/research_projects/COSMOS.htm [mthr.org.uk]

    Apparently the project is in the UK, Scandinavia and The Netherlands, let's see if I can participate...

    No details on how the study is performed but I guess they will just try to gather data for statistical analysis. I hope they will make a difference between calling for hours daily (holding at your ear) and using mobile Internet over 3G for hours daily (on your lap / in hand)... Most studies until now just looked at the length of use and calculate the energy absorbed by the body (i.e. a sack of water), and I guess there aren't really a lot of interesting things to learn from that...
  • Re:What, now? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ZombieWomble (893157) on Friday April 23, 2010 @06:00AM (#31952780)
    With regards to this data being relevant to cancers from "yesteryear" - to be blunt, they don't care. The purpose of these studies is to determine whether current mobile phone usage poses a risk to the population. If someone developed a cancer from using a phone which was made to poorer standards a decade ago, that's a shame, but there is no particular reason you should expect this research to be relevant to them, and moreover what good would it do? Unless they were anxious to try and throw around lawsuits, there's no benefit to working out the risk factor they were exposed to.

    And as for why this study has taken so long to do - you don't launch a study costing many millions of pounds and spanning decades as a first step in research (particularly in a field with relatively sketchy underlying hypotheses). You start with smaller, retrospective, studies which allow for large effects to be readily detected, at a fraction of the cost. The problem with mobile phones is that there is no evidence for the type of large-scale, acute effect which can be readily quantified by such small projects, so a larger project (like this one) is required to look for smaller-scale effects (which may still be significant on the level of the population).

    And the problem with a big project is actually managing to get enough stats for sufficient predictive power - in the early days of mobile phone usage there simply weren't enough people regularly using mobile phones to make meaningful predictions about the effects on the level of a population. Indeed, it notes that even five years ago a study of this kind had to be halted because of a lack of participation.

    Berating scientists for wanting to perform good-quality studies is not very productive. The demand for scientists to produce dramatic information very quickly tends to lead to lead to misleading results being presented, and statements of that kind (see: foods which cure/cause cancer every other week) is one of the reasons many people are losing faith in science.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 23, 2010 @07:26AM (#31953176)

    HOLY FUCK HOW MANY TIMES DO I NEED TO SAY THIS! CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION!

    Since you guys just don't seem to understand, let me say it again, CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION!

    I know it still hasn't sunk in, so let me inform you that CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION!

    Right now you're thinking that correlation implies causation, but it does not. CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION!

    One final time, let me remind you that CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION!

    Oh, and since you might have forgotten by now, keep in mind that CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION!

  • Re:What, now? (Score:3, Informative)

    by jibjibjib (889679) on Friday April 23, 2010 @10:07AM (#31954794) Journal
    An idle cellphone will transmit occasionally to tell the network it's still on, but not very often and not for very long. Something on the order of a few seconds per hour. The 2 hours per month might become 3 at a stretch, but certainly not 20 or 200.
  • Re:Control group? (Score:3, Informative)

    by ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:16AM (#31955828)

    Using pre-1980 numbers for control won't work. Many forms of cancer have been increasing in prevalence over the years. The exact causes aren't known, but it's likely from a combination of reasons. Environmental contamination is one possibility; e.g. BPA and other hormone mimicking chemicals may affect the rates, as could other dietary changes like the increasing prevalence of salt, transfats and HFCS. Some or all of those may be harmless as far as cancer goes, but if any of them do matter, your control is worthless. More importantly, detection methods, particularly for brain cancer are *much* better. Traditional x-rays are useless for detecting most tumors, and the tests prior to 1970 were invasive and dangerous; not used unless there was an urgent need. Commercial CT scans weren't introduced until 1972, and they didn't spread quickly until the 80s. MRI, which is by far the best non-invasive detection method available at present, didn't even enter human trials until 1977. Sure, some cancer would be detected by the invasive, dangerous methods, or post-mortem at autopsy, but you're still going to have numbers that aren't remotely useful for this study.

    The presence of so many confounding factors makes it nigh unto impossible to attribute any effect to cell phones without a real study. For instance, CT scanners, which both detect brain cancer and deliver a dose of ionizing radiation, thereby increasing the risk of getting cancer in the first place, spread at roughly the same time wireless technology was taking off (maybe a decade or two before the cell phone craze, but in line with the spread of thousands of other wireless technologies that should be just as dangerous as a cell phone, assuming cell phone radiation is a threat). Same goes for the increased use of plastics (containing BPA) and HFCS as a sugar replacement. You'll never be able to separate out a specific cause, because too many potential cause all arose and spread in a similar time frame.

    I do agree that there won't be a proper control and test group with rigorous sorting (I said as much half an hour before you posted); they'll simply monitor minutes and look for patterns in heavy users vs. light users. But your suggestions to simulate a control group using historical data are flawed; the results of a study making such a comparison might get trumpeted in the media, but any decent medical journal would laugh them out of the room.

    That said, for a smaller scale study, it might be possible to pay individuals to use or not use a cell phone; if you pick from city dwellers or farm workers for both control and test (as opposed to suburban commuters), they'll have access to a phone when they need it 95% of the time anyway and might be willing to give it up for compensation. Or provide the control group with a cellphone with the builtin speaker and mic disabled, but with a wired handsfree device, so the radiation from the cell phone would be a few feet from the head; the inverse square law would mean they're getting a massively lower dose of radiation to the brain.

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