SCOTUS denies mobile phone lawsuit

By Phil Plait | October 5, 2011 11:00 am

I’m not a huge fan of the current US Supreme Court, but they recently did something right: Bloomberg is reporting the Court denied the revival of a lawsuit against mobile phone companies from a group claiming cell phones cause brain damage, including cancer.

The Court denied the claim for legal reasons — basically, the suit was filed under state law claims, but a court had already ruled that those laws were superseded by federal (FCC) regulations. So the Court ruled the claimant doesn’t get to sue mobile phone companies.

And while you might consider this ruling decided on a technicality, it turned out the right way. Mobile phones don’t cause cancer. Or, if you want to be technically accurate, studies of this topic have shown that any link between cell phones and brain damage is so weak it’s statistically indistinguishable from no link at all.

The exception would be if you’re using your phone while you’re driving. Then the likelihood of brain damage — and spleen damage, and kidney damage, and bone damage, and life damage — jump by a factor of four.

So you can use your phone and not worry about brain damage… as long as you use it intelligently.


Related posts:

Why I’m (still) not worried about my cell phone hurting my brain
Repeat after me: cell phones don’t cause brain cancer
(note the followup in the link below!)
More on cell phones and the lack of harm
xkcd radiates

Comments (18)

  1. QuietDesperation

    The real danger of cell phones is getting calls from idiots. The stupid will be injected DIRECTLY INTO YOUR BRAAAAIIIIN! AAAAAAA!!1!!¥!2!!¾!

  2. SkyGazer

    Ah yes, the old caveat emptor.

    @1
    That and deathcalls… urbanlegends.about.com/od/medical/a/death_calls.htm

  3. Considering the makeup of the SCOTUS, it’s proably better that they went in on a legal technicality! ;)

  4. mike burkhart

    I don’t think that cell phones cause brain cancer I use mine a lot (in fact some of my comments come from the internet conection my phone has, I like getting Bad Astronomy no matter where I go) but if some are still woried ,may I sugest buying a BlueTooth head set , most phones work with one and all you have to do is put it over your ear and you can talk on the phone with out holding the phone to your head. Off Topic; Phil I like to know what you think about a discovery in a particle acclerator of a neutrino that apperently went faster then light speed. I’m surprised you didn’t put any thing about it on this blog.

  5. Ben

    PP:>> “So you can use your phone and not worry about brain damage… as long as you use it intelligently”

    But that would exclude out about 85% of the American public!

  6. Greg in Austin

    @mile burkhart,

    “but if some are still woried ,may I sugest buying a BlueTooth head set , most phones work with one and all you have to do is put it over your ear and you can talk on the phone with out holding the phone to your head”

    I’m sure cellphones don’t cause brain tumors, but even if they did, wouldn’t putting a wireless device even CLOSER to your brain (i.e. inside your ear instead of outside your ear) be even more dangerous? After all, the cellphones transmit and receive radio frequencies between 800 and 2700 MHz, and the bluetooth devices tx/rx from 2400-2480MHz . So, what would be the difference?

    Seems like we would expect a rise instances of ear cancer from all these bluetooth devices!

    8)

  7. Greg in Austin

    @mike burkhart,

    You can find Phil’s first post about the FTL nutrino findings here:
    blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/09/22/faster-than-light-travel-discovered-slow-down-folks/

    8)

  8. Arthur Maruyama

    @ mike burkhart

    BA wrote the following on the day of the faster-than-light neutrino release:
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/09/22/faster-than-light-travel-discovered-slow-down-folks/

  9. Daniel J. Andrews

    Health Canada gets a little proactive in encouraging parents to limit cell phone use for their children just in case.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2011/10/04/cellphone-calls.html

  10. CraterJoe

    I think cellphone usages way exceed the dangers. Consider these uses (some requiring serious adjustments and may void warrenty):
    GPS Navigation
    Faux Light Saber
    Handy Gaming Device
    Phone (wait, people still talk on them?)
    Portible Art Studio
    Camera
    Video Camera
    IED timer or detonator
    Personal Massager
    UFO spotter
    Telescope
    Credit Card theft device
    Microscope
    Television
    Web Browser
    Motion Detector
    Night Vision Device
    TV/DVD Remote
    Flashlight
    Accelerometer
    Photo Meter
    Compass
    Navigation unit for a remote piloted drone
    Something to pretend you are talking to avoid a social situation.
    Lie Detector
    Paper Weight
    Source of revenue for telecom companies
    Recipe Book
    Photo Album
    Hoax Generator (for those times when you need to toss together a quick UFO sighting)
    Gamma Ray Detector
    Door Stop
    Audio Recorder
    Finger Trap (slide phones only)

  11. Elmar_M

    Look at the statistics for adult glioma (brain cancer) and you wll see that there has been no, or lamost no real measureable increase in brain cancer since the 1977s. However, since then, the use of cell phones has increased almost exponentially.
    Actually the incidence of some types of glioma has gone down.
    Those that showed an increase were only in elderly, which until recently did usually not use cell- phones. Also the increase in elderly can be explained by other facts such as:
    – they dont die of other things anymore, so they get old enough to get cancer…
    – better detection methods and diagnoses and as such more reports.
    – slightly changed classification

    Even disregarding all of the above, the increase would be ever so slight that it is almost non existent and then only in the elderly. So again you cant make a direct connection to cell phones at all.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.20621/pdf

  12. flip

    One thing that keeps bugging me is a family commenting that they text so much they’ll get thumb cancer. … Sigh… And then they say that texting is better than sticking the phone next to your head because of cancer worries. Double sigh…

  13. They were asked to decide a technicality, and they did so. It is not the job of the judiciary to say “cell phones do not cause cancer”. The executive branch, specifically the FCC figured that out long ago. SCOTUS just had to say that the FCC superceded the state.

  14. Nigel Depledge

    @ Ben (5) –
    Hah. You beat me to it!

  15. Nigel Depledge

    Daniel J Andrews (9) said:

    Health Canada gets a little proactive in encouraging parents to limit cell phone use for their children just in case.

    I kind-of support ideas klike this, but for kids’ mental, not physical, health (and social development).

  16. Nigel Depledge

    Elmar_M (11) said:

    Look at the statistics for adult glioma (brain cancer) and you wll see that there has been no, or lamost no real measureable increase in brain cancer since the 1977s. However, since then, the use of cell phones has increased almost exponentially.

    I think mobile phone use has increased by an infinite proportion since the 1970s.

    IIUC, cellphones were not available at all until the early ’80s.

  17. jafar hussain

    thanks to all scientist who work 4 the huminity

  18. mark

    Wow – you guys really think that cancer is the only disease that cell phones can cause? thats pretty narrow minded. autoimmune diseases have increased exponentially in recent years. doctors say they dont know what causes them – maybe the answer is no farther away than the cell phone in our hands. just because they dont cause cancer dosnt make them safe. autoimmune diseases are terrible diseases and can be life threatening. we need to look at the effects of radiation beyond its ability to cause cancer.

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