Thursday, 7 January 2010

Just stop

Does anyone even take notice of these stories any more?

Mobile phone radiation 'protects' against Alzheimer's

After all the concern over possible damage to health from using mobile phones, scientists have found a potential benefit from radiation.

The researchers, led by Professor Gary Arendash, said that if the phone exposure was started when the Alzheimer's mice were young adults, before signs of memory impairment were apparent, their cognitive ability was protected.

That's from the BBC today, which links to this not unrelated story also from the BBC...

Mobile phones 'may trigger Alzheimer's'

Mobile phones damage key brain cells and could trigger the early onset of Alzheimer's disease, a study suggests.

Researchers in Sweden have found that radiation from mobile phone handsets damages areas of the brain associated with learning, memory and movement.

The study, which was carried out on rats, is the latest twist in the long-running debate over whether mobile phones are a health risk.

As I see it, there are three explanations for this:

1. Mobile phones give rats Alzheimer's, but protect mice from getting it, for reasons that are completely unknown and totally inexplicable.

2. Scientists had their fun trying to scare everybody about mobile phones then they first came out, but now nearly everybody's got one they've decided to make us feel scared if we haven't.

3. Thousands of foolish young people pour out of university every year clutching a degree in epidemiology and are desperate to produce 'findings' that will get them in the news.

The second story is a classic case in point. The study's author, no doubt pleased to be talking to the media, is a mass of contradictions.

Professor Salford said there was good reason to believe that mobile phones could have the same effect on humans.

"A rat's brain is very much the same as a human's. They have the same blood-brain barrier and neurons," he told BBC News Online.

"We have good reason to believe that what happens in rat's brains also happens in humans."

That sounds worrying. Your study has just found that mobile phones cause brain damage in rats.

Professor Salford said that there was also a chance exposure to mobile phone radiation could trigger Alzheimer's disease in some people.

"What we are saying is those neurons that are already prone to Alzheimer's disease may be stimulated earlier in life."

Now I'm really worried. This sounds plausible.

"However, this theory is hypothetical. We do not have evidence yet that the human brain is affected in this way."

That's okay then. What a relief.

Professor Salford said mobile phone users should not be alarmed by the findings.

Thank God for that. I was alarmed for a second.

"This is a negative finding and yes it doesn't seem to be particularly good."

That sounds bad.

"But this is one observation, in one laboratory with a small number of animals. This study will have to be repeated before we get alarmed."

Good. That's set my mind at rest. A bit.

"Nevertheless, it is strong enough to merit more research into this area."

(The scientist's timeless way of asking for another research grant.)

But he added: "Perhaps putting a mobile phone repeatedly to your head is something that might not be good in the long term."

How else are you supposed to use the bloody things? I thought it was only cigarettes that were "hazardous when used as the manufacturer intended."

"Maybe we should think about restricting our use of mobile phones."

Make your mind up. And is that "we" the people, or "we" the government?

That brief interview has everything - extreme caution combined with extreme scare-mongering, followed by a request for more money and a suggestion that we legislate on the back of evidence that even he isn't sure about. Evidence which has now been disproved. Or maybe not. Presumably, another study will come along saying something completely different.

Instead of paying these people to tell us whether such-and-such does/doesn't cause disease, let's just employ one bloke, put him in a room and give him a coin to toss. It would save us a fortune and he'd probably be right more often.

One day, someone will actually make a scientific breakthrough. Will anyone be listening?


Ben said...

Quite an interesting study, Prof. Salford. I would be interested in providing funds for a follow-up study. So Prof. Salford, could you please give us your mobile phone number so that we can talk that over.
PS. i hope you haven't forgotten what the subject is by the time I call you on your mobile. After all, Alzheimer happens ...

Unknown said...

Lol! Good write up.

Thousands of foolish young people pour out of university every year clutching a degree in epidemiology and are desperate to produce...

This isn't epidemiology, that's the phone mast people. These sounds like neuroscientists which is perhaps even more irritating.

Paul said...

Reminds me of the Ben Hecht quote: Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.

Just substitute media in general for the newspaper and the phrase applies more than ever. It seems with health you need a good decade or so for these half baked studies to resolve into something substantial.