Uh Oh: Salon Is Scaremongering Again

By Keith Kloor | January 14, 2015 12:35 pm


In 2000, Salon asked, “Is your cell phone killing you?”

Last year, editors there must have decided the verdict was in when they published this embarrassing piece entitled, “Your cellphone is killing you: What people don’t want you to know about electromagnetic fields.” Rather than waste my time explaining the egregious flaws in that article, I’ll just point you to this website page of the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health:

Although there have been some concerns that radiofrequency energy from cell phones held closely to the head may affect the brain and other tissues, to date there is no evidence from studies of cells, animals, or humans that radiofrequency energy can cause cancer.

Today, Salon continues its fine tradition of scaremongering with a short piece that carries this headline: “Uh oh: Wi-Fi exposure may be worse for kids than we thought.” In the sub-head, we get a newsy teaser: “New research indicates that our current exposure limits may be out of date.”

Let’s go to that new research, which by the way, is published in a new open access journal called the Journal of Microscopy and Ultrastructure (otherwise known as the Journal of the Saudi Society of Microscopes). The good news: There’s no publication fee! The bad news is that the paper is rife with dodgy, unqualified correlations and claims. You only need to read the abstract to get a sense of its bias. My favorite line:

Digital dementia has been reported in school age children.

Followed by this:

A case study has shown when cellphones are placed in teenage girls’ bras multiple primary breast cancer develop beneath where the phones are placed.

No, carrying your cellphone in your bra will not cause breast cancer. Or, if you’d like a more qualified answer, read this take from an expert at the National Cancer Society. More importantly, what you need to know about the paper cited by Salon is that there are no caveats or discussion about multiple risk factors with respect to any possible association between cancer and WiFi devices. Just flat-out assertions. To see for yourself, read the paper, especially the conclusions. It makes eight recommendations, including the banning of toys that contain wireless devices and radio transmitters. Here’s number six and my favorite:

MWR [microwave radiation] is a Class 2B (possible) carcinogen as is carbon black, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, DDT, lead, nickel, phenobarbital, styrene, diesel fuel, and gasoline. It seems clear that we would not expose children to these other agents, so why would we expose children to microwave radiation?

How can any respectable researcher make this kind of analogy? Even more, how can any respectable media outlet not perform its due journalistic diligence about such a slanted, opinionated paper?

Last year, after the atrocious cell phone = cancer story appeared at Salon, the editor of the website Doubtful News wrote:

I get the impression that Salon, like many other web outlets, publish such pieces in order to fan the controversy in a shallow way that promotes web hits instead of providing actually useful information. That’s a big disappointment but a reality of the web.

Here’s a study I suggest that Salon familiarize itself with. It was published in 2013 in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research and asked, “Are media warnings about the adverse effects of modern life self-fulfilling?”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: science, science literacy
  • Kacey

    Salon = Newsmax of the Left

  • mem_somerville

    From the paper:

    An iPad placed within a rattle. Note the device is immediately over the boy’s testicles.

    Um, this is evidence of what exactly? Besides the parents having too much money so they think the kid needs an iPhone rattle?

    But I went looking for this bra story, Figured Orac would have “insolenced” on it already. I was right. It was featured on Dr. Oz too. http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2013/12/16/fear-mongering-over-cell-phones-and-cancer-by-dr-oz/

    How exactly can we get science writers to grasp that these pay-to-play “review” articles with wild correlations should be a red flag? That’s awful.

    • Buddy199

      At this point, Dr. Oz has achieved the same scientific respectability and ethical integrity as the Wizard of Oz.

      • Matthew Slyfield

        In my opinion, Dr. Oz manages to come in below the Wizard of Oz on those measures.

    • Jim

      Come on you are trying to tell me that the Journal of Microscopy and ultrastructure is not a high impact journal? I mean its open source and everything it has to be good. Let me guess you want stuff from “respected” journals with real “peer review” from actual “experts” in the field.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Wouldn’t it be best to demand emergency legislation and warrantless search and seizure to save us from Bluetooth adult playthings re Pascal’s wager? The Patriot Act ended terrorism. The 18th Amendment to the US Constitution created a sober nation safe for all.

  • Bearpants112

    Websites such as Salon, Polygon, Kotaku, Jezebelle, etc, are not news sites in any definition of news. They make money through clicks, and the more sensational the tag line, the more visitors you get. They don’t follow even a base level of journalistic ethics.

    • JH

      No media website survives without some lurid click-bait, regardless of what exactly they report. Just to the right of where I’m typing it says “Water Secret Takes Fluoride Out”.

      WRT articles, it’s not so much about the site offering “good material” as it is about the site offering what it’s readers want.

    • Yashmak

      Add to that, the horrid ‘addictinginfo’ site.

  • Buddy199

    Good lord, imagine the multiplier effect of talking on your cell phone while drinking GMO coffee.

    • Matt

      The horror….the horror….

    • KellyJ

      With your car running on idle (CO2) as you watch cows graze in an oil field (Methane), idling glancing up at the airliners leaving “chemtrails” overhead as you consider buying your son his first daisy BB gun.
      The Horror!!!

  • Marcel Volker

    Forbes is running the same story, also without a single critical peep. One weeps for mankind.

    • kkloor

      Salon piggy-backed on the Forbes story.

    • Panoptes

      Yes, the War on Ignorance is full of Pyrrhic victories, if victories at all, I’m afraid.

  • Matthew Slyfield

    With sufficient wattage, you can kill yourself with em radiation. However, sticking to cell phones, you would need to hold a tower antenna to your head to get that much wattage and at that point, you will be cooked (as in microwave oven) long before you accumulate any significant cancer risk.

    • Nom de Plume

      The key word being sufficient wattage. I have accidentally gotten an RF burn, but with a 100 W VHF transmitter, IIRC. Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) for cell phones in the US is set at 1.6 watt max by the FCC. Checking the FCC ID pulls up such info. Yes, out of curiosity I checked mine, and found it under a watt. Some are higher; all are under 1.6 W.

      Another check out of curiosity: Cell phone frequency bands run from 700 MHz to 1900 MHz. Since microwave bands are from 1 to 170 GHz, the upper cell phone bands can be considered microwave. Compare 1.6 W max of a cell phone to 700 to 1,200 W of a microwave oven.

  • Tom Scharf

    Wait until he hears about all the background microwave radiation still around from the big bang.

    Of course microwave (as in the frequency, not the kitchen device) radiation can kill you. Just apply with enough power and it will cook you real good. X-rays can be had in lethal doses. On a very unfortunate day the earth may be the unlikely victim of a huge gamma ray burst from a collapsing super nova and cause a mass extinction. Aaaaaaghhhhhh!!!!

    As with the same types who have a bad case of chemophobia, it is the dose that matters, not the existence of the poison.

  • Michael MacKay

    We don’t expose children to lead, carbon black, DDT etc., not because they are Class 2B carcinogens [technically that means “probably doesn’t cause cancer”] but because they have other known, demonstrable adverse health effects. That the authors of the article are willing to put to print such an obvious logical fallacy in order to make such an emotional rhetorical claim, is a good indication of the emptiness of their claims.

    • Nom de Plume

      Such a lumping together of “nasty” things does act as a BS warning for those who think, though

      • Yashmak

        Given the frequency with which I see these sorts of articles shared on social media by otherwise intelligent friends of mine, I’d say the abundance of those who think is in serious decline.

  • dailypenny

    Now, I’m wondering “Is reading articles like this hazardous to your mental health?” Probably. But I won’t know, because I too busy swilling down the booze and lighting up the cigs.

  • KenPrescott
  • Viva La Evolucion

    I have always been curious as to if WiFi signals have an effect on microorganisms.

    • Tom Scharf

      Yes, they now have internet access.

  • guntherarschspiel

    Salon has been complete garbage since Joan Walsh left. It was headed downhill for a long time but went right off a cliff when she departed.

    • Joseph Lammers

      I hadn’t realized she left. Personally I haven’t noticed a difference, I’ve always considered garbage.

  • ramv36

    Salon asks, “Is your cell phone killing you?”

    Click through these ads for a 10 page slide show to find out!


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Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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