Worst Science Article of the Week: Use a Cell Phone, Damage Your Baby

By Melissa Lafsky | May 20, 2008 3:17 pm

thumbMainstream news outlets are buzzing today about a new study from UCLA that found an apparent link between mothers using cell phones during pregnancy and their children developing behavioral problems. The story broke on Sunday, when Britain’s Daily Mail and The Independent both reported its findings.

From the headlines in these two papers (“Warning: Using a mobile phone while pregnant can seriously damage your baby” in The Independent) to the claims (“Women who use mobile phones when pregnant are more likely to give birth to children with behavioural problems, according to authoritative research”) and categorizations (stating that the study was conducted by “top scientists”) to … just about every other sentence, these stories do a pretty spectacular job of diluting the facts. And while The Independent may win the award for “most egregious science coverage,” with the Mail a close second, they certainly weren’t alone.

Researchers at UCLA and the University of Aarhus, Denmark, did in fact conduct a study of around 13,000 women (a decent sample size, but hardly “giant,” as The Independent calls it), and found a correlation between the women who used cell phones during pregnancy and women who had children with (what their mothers reported to be) behavioral or emotional problems, hyperactivity, or issues relating to other children.

The children were all born in Denmark in the late 1990s, and the research relied on surveys of the mothers concerning their phone use during pregnancy and their kids’ behavior during their first seven years. The mothers who’d used cell phones—which, given the low prevalence of mobile phones in the late ’90s, was only about half—reported a higher level of behavioral and other problems in their children.

As with all studies, correlation does not equal causation, and the researchers themselves have cautioned that these results could be explained by a host of other factors unrelated to cell phone use—such as the fact that mothers who had access to cell phones before they were cheap and ubiquitous may also be more likely to be in a certain socioeconomic class, have certain attitudes towards child rearing, spend less time with their children, be less likely to breastfeed—the list goes on.

One of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Jorn Olsen, a professor and chair of epidemiology at UCLA, has already stated on the record that the media’s take on the conclusiveness of the research has been “off target.” Whether cell phone companies experience a fallout remains to be seen—then again, all the would-be-panicking mothers out there might still be busy digesting the news that their stress while pregnant affects their baby’s immune system, their lack of farm exposure while pregnant makes their baby more susceptible to allergies, and their weight loss or gain while pregnant can effect their baby’s long-term health.

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  • Pingback: Protect Your Phone with Shock-Absorbing Nanotubes | Discoblog | Discover Magazine()

  • http://radsafe.net Stan Hartman

    It’s certainly consistent with what we know about health effects of microwave radiation that the younger an organism is the more susceptible it will be to damage, with an unborn child being the most at risk. Reassurances from the wireless industry are just profit-protecting PR. There used to be something called “tobacco science” – profit-protecting spin in the guise of serious research. Now we have “wireless science.” You can design studies to show anything you want, so the first thing to consider when looking at them is who funded them. In the large Danish study, for instance, a “regular cell phone user” was defined as someone who used their mobile phone once a week for six months – and the results were promoted to show that there was no correlation between cell phone use and brain cancer. In another study that touted the same result, the rats that were used were designed to be exceptionally cancer-prone only when exposed in utero, but in the study were exposed in adulthood.

    Trying to get people’s attention to the dangers of wireless technology, which is exposing us to billions of times the radiation we evolved with, is like trying to talk about the dangers of tobacco back in the fifties. Will we adapt? Brain cancer is now the leading cancer killer of children, overtaking leukemia (which has also been linked to electropollution). The rates are also rising for young adults. We never adapted to excess ionizing radiation, arsenic, lead, cadmium, etc., or even heat. What we’re seeing is an old story – get people addicted to a product before its health dangers become apparent, after which they won’t want to hear about them, then rake in the profits until the dangers can’t be ignored anymore.

  • Jockaira

    Rather than wringing one’s hands for the harmful effects of various types of radiation associated with celfone use (shown in all studies to date to be non-existent), it makes more sense simply to acknowledge that mothers with celfones are likely themselves to be of certain personality types who become frustrated and stressed by the difficulties associated with long hours of yakking ijnto a tiny box. The simple possession and habitual use of a celfone already shows a prediliction to control-compulsion. It is known that stress in a pregnant female has definite effects on the fetus both in fetal development and serum levels of important nutrients, and there is no reason that these effects could not manifest themselves in later behavioural problems in the child, or even as emulative mirrored behaviour in the child.

    And when you talk about “billions of times the radiation we evolved with”, please don’t forget the comparatively extremely strong radiations that every human receives on a daily basis from the sun at levels that put wireless technology to shame. If we can adapt to that, then wireless radiation is as a gentle breeze.

  • http://antiradiation.org Gregory Despain

    EMF & Cell Radiation Is Damaging Your Brain and Skin.

  • http://www.importpris.no/ klokke

    I found your blog web site on google and test a number of of your early posts. Continue to keep up the very good operate. I just additional up your RSS feed to my MSN Information Reader. Seeking ahead to studying extra from you in a while!…

  • http://gdx.no/overvakning-utstyr/overvakningskamera-dvr-ip-kamera.html Overvåkningskamera

    What`s not hurting our health or our children these days?

    • http://billigeblekkpatroner.no Blekk

       Fresh air and a walk in the wilderness perhaps :)

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