John Horvath on Mon, 1 Apr 2002 22:59:01 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Re: biology and technology

Sadie Plant's article not only showed how it was a puff piece for
Motorola, but how incredibly unbalanced it was. Strange no mention was
made of earlier studies which showed the exact opposite, that is, 
cases of impaired muscular coordination caused by hand-held devices. It
seems that writing characters each on top of the last can induce
long-term confusion in some individuals. Subsequently, such people find
it nearly impossible to write on paper, producing instead a baffling

I noted this and other problems for a piece I did on mobile phones last
year. I've included it here in case someone might be interested.



For the Sake of Revolution
by John Horvath


There is an old saying that a revolution devours its own children.
Nowhere is this more accurate than in the present "information
revolution". More specifically, it's the next phase of this ongoing
revolution, that of the mobile Internet and m-commerce (mobile
commerce), which contains the greatest risk. Central to this are mobile
phones and the potential health hazards they pose.

There has been much information and misinformation in both conventional
media and new media about the issue. What this article attempts to do is
put all these arguments and counter-arguments into proper perspective.
The first part will deal with the issue at hand: assertions that
extensive mobile phone use can lead to averse health effects, namely
cancer. Much of this is based on the Adelaide Hospital Research study,
provided by the Australian technical writer Stewart A. Fist.

Following this is an analysis of how the issue is handled vis-a-vis
public concern for safety. Subsequently, the issue will be put into
perspective of the mobile communications industry, and what this may
entail for the future. From this, it will be shown how the lessons of
the past have not been learned and that governments, industry, and
consumers -- like the three monkeys who prefer to cover their ears,
eyes, and mouths -- are going down the same road travelled by other
industries in the past, such as silicon, asbestos and tobacco.

By the conclusion of this article it will be shown how government and
industry -- both fearful of the impact negative news might have on an
economy increasingly dependent on advanced information and
communications technologies -- have conducted a complex (and so far
successful) campaign to accentuate the positive aspects of mobile
communications technology whilst silencing opposition to the contrary.

The Adelaide Hospital Research Study

With the release of the Adelaide Hospital Research study (henceforth,
the Adelaide study or AHR) in April 1997, it has been concluded that
cell phones can cause health problems. The question, therefore, is not
whether they cause problems, but the nature of these problems. What is
more, cause-and-effect aren't necessarily immediate and obvious.

After its initial completion, the Adelaide study was not published for
nearly two years. It was rejected, according to the scientists involved,
for political reasons. Additionally, the journal Science said it was too
hot to handle, and Nature insisted that the work be replicated first
before publication.

In a nutshell, the Adelaide study looked into tumour promotion in
transgenic mice using GSM-pulsed cell phone exposures for up to 18
months at relatively normal power-density levels. It follows the
Lai-Singh study in Seattle which showed a radical increase in
double-strand DNA breaks in rat-brains following 2 hours of exposure to

The study provides a clear-cut result showing genetic alterations in
cells following reasonably low level exposures to cell phone radiation.
It showed a doubling of the number of tumours in mice following one hour
of exposure per day, over a 9 to 18 month period.

The concern is mainly about the potential for future health problems,
rather than for the present. Most cancers are caused by progressive
damage to DNA. Hence, the use of a cell phone over the lifetime of a
human being can produce tumours and other health effects which manifest
themselves only later on in life. What is more, these problems can be
passed on to succeeding generations, depending on the extnet and nature
of the DNA damage.

Yet DNA-cancers are only one problem. Many other short and long-exposure
brain conditions such as Altzheimers and melatonin changes are also
implicated in the study.

Although the findings in the Adelaide study are enough for Luddites to
start destroying cell phones en masse, it's actually a low-probability
-- but high potential risk -- problem. Moreover, few things in our
society can be considered perfectly safe. Thus, allowance must be made
for the productive value in having these devices.

Still, this doesn't means that consumers shouldn't get adequate warning.
Nor does this justify supporters of the cell phone industry to avoid the
issue through the spread of misinformation and outright media

Unfortunately, research into cell phone use is being manipulated around
the world and the truth is constantly being twisted, mainly by US
companies and their political front organisations, such as the Cellular
Telephone Industry Association (CTIA) and its "arms-length" research
corporation, Wireless Technology Research (WTR). In Germany the research
organisation FGF (Forschungs Gemeinschaft Funk) occupies a similar place
in Europe. The FGF has long been the premier source of funding for
non-ionising radiation research, and has been financed by the likes of
Deutsche Telekom and Siemens.

Outside of the US and the EU, the UN also seems to be involved in the
deliberate spread of misinformation. Working for the World Health
Organisation (WHO), Dr Michael Repacholi, an Australian from Adelaide
who has been closely aligned with the cellular phone industry for many
years, has pursued a hard line that cell phones are proven safe. Even
when the WHO publicly called for more research into the issue of cell
phone health risks, Repacholi referred to the issue as "perceived risks"
when, in fact, the risks are not "perceived" but actually well known;
what is at issue is the question of impact.

Often, the misinformation being spread is of a very subtle nature. For
example, "adverse health effects" are often referred to rather than the
dreaded word "cancer". In much the same way, the word "energy" is used
as a cover for radio waves or radiation exposure. Likewise,
"communications equipment" replaces the word cell phones, where
possible, as the potential cause of problems. As Stewart Fist comments,
"it's enough to make you not want to risk using a normal phone, isn't

The combined power of industry lobbyists, "tobacco-science", and public
relations have thus far been able to keep a cap on this problem. They
put their trust in the surety of public ignorance, and the
"concern-overload" people now suffer from due to the constant
bombardment of health, nutrition and environmental claims and

A prime example of this is in the "cell phone debate". There are
actually two distantly-related exposure conditions, yet often they are
perceived as one. These are transmitter tower radiation (cell phone
towers are large, ugly, proliferating and intrusive, yet there is almost
no evidence of any causal connection between tower emissions and health
consequences) and cellular handset emissions. Within this last category
are a further three separate problems. These have to do with direct
radiation from the antenna, inductance transfer, and far-field exposure
from the antenna (this creates a potential problem akin to that of
passive smoking).

Through the use of skillful media manipulation and the spread of
misinformation, the public has ended up lumping all these problems into
one, over-simplified issue. At the same time, there are significant
adverse health effects of a wide range, not just cancer, associated with
cellular phone use. Cell towers actually have little to do with this.
Rather, it has to do with the handsets themselves -- and more
specifically, with pulsed TDMA type systems (as with GSM) rather than
analogue ones (AMPS, TACS and NMT). Media attention, however, is
foremost directed towards public irritation at the aesthetic issue of
cell phone towers, with only some lesser attention to health issues
related to handsets.

Another tactic often used in terms of media manipulation is whitewashing
any serious research. A high percentage of the research is designed to
have negative results, and these are then loudly trumpeted by industry
as proof of safety. The FGF in Germany, for example, found that "no
health effects" were proven, and promoted this finding publicly and
loudly as "no reason to worry". However, information pertaining to some
of their other research projects in the field seemed to have disappeared
without reports ever being written up or published.

Likewise, as the research arm of the cell phone industry, the WTR was
asked to get to the bottom of "persistent rumors" that cell phone use
may endanger the human brain. Their results conveniently skirted the
issue. Although it was suggested that there was a correlation between
cell phone emissions and brain tumours and DNA breakage in rats, it was
deemed that the research was "far from conclusive" and further in-depth
follow-up studies would be needed. [1]

Far from providing any form of scientific knowledge, what the WTR study
showed instead was the need for independent research. As part of the
CTIA's five-year research program "designed to show that its products
are safe", it was only natural that their conclusions would be a
whitewash. The cell phone industry has captured control of most of the
research being conducted around the world into the cell phone problem.
This follows a pattern already established by the asbestos and tobacco

A final tactic used by supporters of the cell phone industry, when all
else fails, is the use of attacks and criticism. With the Adelaide
study, for instance, scientists and the cell phone industry have been
trying to play down the results because of the economic and political
nature of the findings. One of the most common rejections of the
findings is that although the experiments have produced cancer in mice,
it would be different with humans for we are of a different species.

Such arguments are spurious, and use a pseudo-logic that is meant to
sway an uninformed public. As one of the scientists involved in the
Adelaide study put it: "men might not be rodents, but DNA is DNA." Even
the European Commission admits as much: "many scientists believe that
the mouse is a suitable mode for human genomics, and they hope that
using the mouse will help researchers to better understand human
disorders, such as cancer, and how they may be treated and cured." [2]
Thus, if radiation exposures effect mice, then it will most certainly
effect humans, for humans get cancers in the same way as mice. The
question at this point is one of extent.

Another criticism frequently made of the Adelaide study is that the
radio frequencies used in quite a lot of the research do not exactly
match those of cell phones. This, too, is a spurious criticism, for
devices operate pretty much the same over a range of frequencies.

Nonetheless, this is the most common argument used by the cell phone
industry, along with the defence that cell phone transmission powers are
all within standards. This last point is aruguable, however, for Swiss
studies on GSM phones have often found them exceeding the standards.

Even if the notion that cell phone transmission powers are all within
standards, the use of such standards in the first place is totally
ridiculous. The standards are set on simplistic Watt ratings because
they are based on heating effects, not penetration. Thus, these
standards have been set on the basis of heating effects, which don't
exist, while ignoring cell damage, which does.

Muddling the Issue

In general, muddling the issue of the relationship between cell phone
use and health is done in three ways: through denial or suppression of
the facts, misinformation and confusion and, if all else fails, claiming
that results are "inconclusive". An example of this is a FAQ (Frequently
Asked Questions) file put out by John Moulder of the Medical College of
Wisconsin entitled "Cellular Phone Antennas and Human Health". [3]

>From the title itself it can be seen how the nature of the FAQ file is
being framed. The general term "cellular phone antennas" lumps the issue
of base antennas and handsets together, when its the effect of the
latter which is of ultimate concern. Moreover, the FAQ file doesn't take
into account that the problem with cell phones is not the signals it
transmits, but the fact that it's a radiating device which is held
extremely close to the human body.

A more extreme example of muddling the issue is an article in the
Virginia Journal of Law and Technology (VJLT) by Laura Grasso entitled
"Cellular Telephones and the Potential Hazards of RF Radiation:
Responses to Fear and Controversy" [4]. From the outset, the article
attempts to set the tone by noting that science has not proved nor
disproved allegations surrounding radio-frequency (RF) radiation. This,
of course is not true: allegations were proven; what was lacking is more
in-depth research. What is more, the failure of this continued research
was on the account of the WTR dragging its feet. Like the tobacco
companies, the main objective is to stifle research and hide any
forthcoming results which may be damaging.

Grasso's article doesn't conceal her true concern over the issue of cell
phone use and health risks: the possibility that prolonged cell phone
use can be dangerous "could stunt the development of the cellular phone
industry and drive a useful product out of the market." This is a line
often used to justified the existence of harmful products on the market.
As with tobacco, once people are hooked it will be too late to turn
back; hence, the product ends up becoming an evil we must learn to live
with now that its exists.

This, in part, explains the procrastination on the part of the cell
phone industry to deal with the issue. Wireless Technology Research,
created by the CTIA to run their five-year research program "designed to
show that its products are safe", had spent 25 million USD (most notably
on damage control) before sponsoring a single biological experiment.

As with so many other articles and FAQ files on the subject, there is no
denying that RF radiation causes averse health effects. However, by
using certain phrases which invariably point out that there is no
"conclusive" evidence, it is suggested that continued use must be ok
until a "definitive" link can be found. In effect, it totally ignores
the precautionary principle which should come into play in these kinds
of situations. In fact, Grasso attacks the precautionary principle by
arguing that risk-based regulation (the legal basis for the
precautionary principle) is simply ill-defined and unnecessary. On the
issue of cell phones, she writes: "non-thermal effects are not
well-established and, currently, do not form a scientifically acceptable
basis for restricting human exposure to RF radiation from cellular

Not only are arguments against any form of risk-based legislation
clearly apparent, but explanations as to why industry attempts to stifle
research are also provided. In essence, the reason why the WTR has done
so little is because cell phone manufacturers believe that safety
research for latent hazards increases exposure to litigation and
catastrophic liability. Therefore, to protect themselves from liability,
many manufacturers choose to remain ignorant of the latent hazards of
their products, relying on the causation-rule in toxic torts to escape
liability. This explains why the WTR has done so little over the past

Yet it's not only industry which is afraid of possible litigation, but
governments as well. Courts fear that once a victory has been
established, it would open a floodgate of litigation and class action
suits. Precedents do exist: for instance, as in the case with asbestos,
litigation against manufacturers grew into monstrous dimensions.

As a result, there appears to be biased judicial treatment of RF
radiation cases. The first such case to be brought to court was Reynard
vs. NEC Corp., where it was claimed that exposure to RF radiation
initiated, or aggravated and accelerated, the growth of a brain tumor
which eventually killed the plaintiff's wife. Fearing the landslide
litigation this would cause, the court not surprisingly established a
strict standard for determining the admissibility of the types and
quality of scientific evidence and expert testimony.

In many ways, it can now be said that the role of science has been put
on trial, as court judges no longer take a deferential view of science,
but now consider how the experts arrive at their opinion. Authors like
Grasso see nothing wrong with this: "Without conclusive scientific
evidence to justify further action, this approach of restraint is
proper, if not necessary, to preserve the integrity of policy makers
charged with the difficult task of protecting the public from the
unknown risks of RF radiation."

This rationale, in essence, is nothing more than a justification for
doing nothing, despite the fact that a possible link may exist. The
precautionary principle has been side-lined for the sake of economic
progress. In other words, governments and judicial authorities have sold
themselves out to the highest bidder.

Still, in order to give the impression that the issue is being looked
into seriously and not simply swept under the rug, various
inter-governmental agencies have expressed their opinions and showed
some "concern" over the issue. The WHO, for example, had already in 1997
called for more research into whether mobile phones, power lines and
radar might cause health problems such as cancer and Alzheimer's
disease. More specifically, the WHO's five-year program was to pool
studies to assess risks linked to exposure to electrical and magnetic
fields in the frequency range of 0-300 Ghz.

The WHO involvement, far from being an impartial body dedicated to an
objective assessment of the issue, has unfortunately done its share to
help the mobile phone industry to muddle the issue. This has usually
been accomplished through the skillful utilisation of diplomatic
language. References to "mixed evidence" and that "science would likely
proved otherwise" already instilled within the WHO a framework for
accepting industry claims that cell phones are totally safe.

Comments by Dr. Michael Repacholi, manager of the WHO's Electromagnetic
Fields Project, that "there have been suggestions that electromagnetic
fields may produce cancers or memory loss or other neuro-degenerative
diseases" [5] betrays this pre-determined stance toward research results
and an attempt at damage control on the part of the WHO. The
"suggestions" referred to by Repacholi are more than such; independent
studies have drawn actual conclusions, and not mere "suggestions".
Another example of this kind of pre-determinism is when Repacholi told a
news conference that although a study was needed on the effects of
low-level exposure over longer periods, he was confident existing
international standards were adequate.

Repacholi's stance sometimes bordered on an outright denial of the
facts. He admitted that "questions have been raised as to whether mobile
phone use leads to brain or other head and neck cancers because you have
a radiating antennae very close to the head," but then went on to state
that "there is no scientific evidence for that." Not only does this
statement play down the possible risk, it's simply not true. Much
scientific evidence does exist; again, it's a question of putting this
evidence into proper perspective.

Some of Repacholi's views also stand in clear contradiction with those
of other official organisations. For instance, he noted that present
scientific evidence can't be accurate given the time difference between
the existence of cell phones, which have been around for less than 10
years, and the incubation period for cancer, which can be up to 15
years. Thus, in order to further delay dealing with the issue at hand,
he concludes that more studies need to be set up so that if an impact is
to be proven, it can be found in a "reasonable time".

Yet the fact remains that studies on probable causes at low levels of RF
radiation were carried out as early as the 1960s. Dr. Allan Frey, a
researcher and consultant based in Potomac, MD, distributed a paper
presented at a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) symposium in 1969
concluding that a link between microwaves and headaches was real, but
requires verification. This observation, made over 30 years ago,
contradicts Repacholi who maintains that not enough time has passed and
that low levels are proven safe. [6]

To make matters worse, no one has yet dared to test Frey's hypothesis.
One reason is because of what they might find. Frey was not only
convinced that the radiation from cell phones causes headaches, but that
it causes microwave-induced leakage through the blood-brain barrier.
"Headaches may only be the most obvious indicator of what is going on
biologically," he warned.

While industry and international organisations pursue studies which are
focused on damage control in deference to gathering scientific evidence,
true research is laid to waste on the sidelines. To put it simply, no
one wants to fund this kind of research. Though long promised WTR
research funds, many eminent researchers, who take a more scientific
approach to the issue as opposed to a diplomatic one, are still
empty-handed. Even the FDA in the US has offered but a minimal
contribution. The agency has opted to simply watch WTR's effort from the
sidelines -- with a few exceptions.

Meanwhile, to make matters worse, the media has been inundated with
corporate spin and "junk science". The injection of misleading studies
helps to further muddle the issue. Dr. Ross Adey of the Virginia
Hospital in Loma Linda, California, in a study for Motorola, indicated
that digital (TDMA) cellular phone signals had a protective effect
against brain tumor development in rats. Yet a parallel study on FM
waves, which is of more concern to cell phone users, wasn't elaborated
on. Adey admits, however, that "every signal may have a different
effect." [7]

Likewise, Dr Joseph Roti Roti of Washington University in St. Louis came
to the conclusion that his experiments did not show DNA breaks reported
by Lai and Singh. This, too, was because he had used a different type of
microwave radiation and an in vitro assay rather than live rats. Yet he
admitted he didn't make the decision about the signal. "I did not pick
it," said Roti Roti, "talk to the lawyers who wrote the contract."

Not surprisingly, when attempting to trace the source of decisions, it's
difficult to determine who's responsible. There's no transparency within
the process, which is one of the hallmarks of junk science, as opposed
to true research. In the case of Roti Roti's study, for example, one of
the lawyers involved, Charles Eger, declined to say who had picked the
experimental conditions for Roti Roti's study. "I'm not familiar with
the contract," Eger told Microwave News in an interview. "I'm not a
practicing lawyer; I'm a policy guy." [8]

As a result of all the spin and junk science, the mass media -- when not
in the direct employ of cell phone industry -- is taken along for the
ride. A typical news item, early on when the issue of RF radiation was
still relatively new, was Sylvian Comeau's report "Cellular phone under
the microscope". [9] The title of the report makes it look factual. Yet
already within the first paragraph the issue was framed within the
confines of a "cellular phone scare", with the conclusion obviously
being that "numerous studies had already concluded that they were safe."
The article then goes on to trumpet the industry view that "safe
exposure levels to EMFs have already been quantified, and the fields
produced by cellular phones are well below this level," which is
contrary to the scientific evidence available, even at that time.

Similarly, Comeau asserts the industry claim that cellular phones are
"considered safe". His statement that "the biomedical community is
trying to determine whether long term exposure, even to these lower
levels, is likely to cause subtle effects which have not yet been
identified" ignores the fact that the effects are already known;
instead, what is of concern is how prolonged use will affect humans.

Comeau finishes the article by adding a little muddle to an already
skewed report, by noting that research may also address many other
concerns besides the rumoured tumour connection, such as the effect of
cellular phones on hospital equipment. Not only does this lump two
totally separate issues into one basket (RF radiation and communications
interference), it makes the whole issue blatantly obvious that it's not
worth looking into it further.

Although some may excuse Comeau's apparent ignorance to the fact that
general knowledge of technical issues were harder to come by in those
days, more recent articles on the subject fare not much better. In a
Wired article reporting on the results of a WTR study called "Cell
Study: Hazards Are Real" (June 21, 1999), Chris Oakes noted that prior
to the WTR results, "the studies were largely speculative", which is
simply not true. Moreover, throughout the piece he routinely fails to
critically examine such claims. Furthermore, the tone of the article is
clearly biased toward the cell phone industry through the careful use of
language. For instance, he writes that "the latest findings *suggest* a
correlation between cell phone emissions and a *slightly* higher
incidence of human brain tumors, cell growth in human blood micronuclei,
and DNA breakage in rats." [10] Not only this, there is scant coverage
of the other side, with opposing views presented mostly as those of
"activists" when in fact many of these "activists" are eminent
scientists themselves.

Oakes' article is noteworthy in that it provides clear examples of the
tactics employed by the industry to muddle the issue. In addition to
stressing that "while the findings are far from conclusive", a quote
from Paul Joseph Morrissey, the head of Motorola's biological research
program, was a classic in terms of doubletalk: "we saw both effects and
no effects, and we need to replicate [the studies] to assess the
results," said Morrissey as he tried to downplay the findings.

Apart from all the corporate spin, junk science, and media manipulation,
what also indirectly contributes to muddling the issue is the advantage
some companies are taking to exploit the issue for their own economic
benefit. By doing so, they end up belittling the issue. For instance, an
on-line advertisement for the "Protector" anti-radiation health cover
for cellular phones makes various spurious claims. One is that a cover
made from leather and a "special" material can reduce exposure to
harmful radiation by 95%. The fallacy should be obvious: if so much of
the transmission is indeed filtered out, then your cell phone probably
doesn't work properly either.

Often, those hoping to cash in on other people's misery are just as
guilty of spreading inaccurate information as industry spin doctors. As
with Comeau's article, the advertisement for the Protector case
generalises facts and muddles the issue by mixing two separate issues
together -- that of RF radiation as a health risk, and that of cellular
phone interference with other communications equipment. Thus, the claim
that "it is a regular thing to see the new signs in the hospitals and
airplains [sic!] that forbid the use of cellular phones" has nothing to
do with "protecting your brain". [11]

In the end, at issue is not only that prolonged cell phone use can be
hazardous to your health, but that there are no adequate warnings of the
dangers it imposes. Admittedly, very few products we use nowadays are
risk free. Yet this doesn't mean cell phones should never be used and
are not useful. As with household appliances most of us use everyday
(such as microwave ovens and television sets) for which warnings,
information and suggestions for proper use are all provided, what is
needed for cell phones is more information and less spin so consumers
can make well-informed choices and know about the risks they face.
Although industry has a phobia over infantcide, there is no need to
throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Hype over Health

In addition to muddling the issue, concern over the safety of cell
phones have been drowned out by the hype surrounding mobile
communications. With the advent of third generation mobile phone
technology (better known as 3G technology), this hype has become more
prevalent. The reason for this is not only to keep the "revolution"
going, but big telecom operators (and, subsequently, the financial
institutions which lent them money) need 3G technology to be a
resounding success in order to recuperate the enormous amount of capital

Aside from this, some argue that the current grab for "electrospace" is
to cybercapitalism what the enclosures movement was to capitalism -- the
edifice on which all future enterprise must be built. Not surprisingly,
one of the main motivating groups behind this modern enclosures movement
is the UMTS forum. [12] In effect, as Phil Graham pointed out in a post
to Nettime, what this amounts to is the establishment of a global,
privately owned broadcast space. [13] He goes further, adding that
control of eletromangentic space is one of the most serious issues of
our age, yet awareness of its significance seems minimal. Radio spectrum
is a non-depletable, concrete resource upon which any global knowledge
economy, if it is to exist at all, must be built. Indeed, it had laid
the foundation for US dominance after 1945 in world telecommunications
and the formal empire it has maintained.

Whatever the primary reason for the focus on 3G technology, as with all
the hype surrounding computer and Internet technology, mobility is now
regarded as the dominant trend of the future. The introduction of
increasingly high-speed mobile networks, which will enable cell phones
to display full-colour, high-resolution video, is regarded as the
"killer app" which will breathe new life into what has become a stale

Because 3G technology is supposed to be an integral part of this next
phase, the trend in so-called "network research" has concentrated on
blurring the distinction between computers and telephones. Thus, as a
Sunday Times article in 1999 reports, "phones and internet services fuel
each other's growth." [14] To its credit, the article goes on to note
that "as with all revolutions, there are reservations. Health concerns
about mobile phones are unresolved, with microwave radiation linked in
one recent study in Sweden to increased tiredness and headaches."

Some see the blurring of computer-mediated communications and telephony
as a shrewd strategy on the part of large telecoms and cell phone
operators alike. By maintaining such a focus, they are both looking to
"capture" the Internet access market, or at least a large portion of it.
For large telecoms, one observer noted: "internet protocols look as much
like the telephone net as possible to make it easier for dinosaurs to
survive meteor strikes." [15]  Cell phone operators, meanwhile, with
their relatively huge subscriber base, are in a position to topple both
free and subscription-based ISPs by launching portals tastefully
garnished with existing rich user data. [16]

Yet it's not only business interests that have high hopes for 3G
technology. Governments also look to 3G technology as the latest chapter
in the evolution of the "information society". The US has realised as
much: toward the end of the Clinton presidency, an Executive Memorandum
issued on October 13, 2000, charged the regulatory authorities in the US
with the responsibility to immediately solve the problem of allocating
additional spectrum. Accordingly, the Federal Communications Commission
(FCC) had been directed to develop rules to identify and auction off
this spectrum for third-generation wireless services as soon as
possible. As Clinton remarked when he announced the memo, "if the United
States does not move quickly to allocate this spectrum, there is a
danger that the US could lose market share in the industries of the 21st
Century." [17]

Yet for the US, this is easier said than done. There are many other
barriers to the uptake of wireless in the US than spectrum allocation.
Most analysts agree that the penetration of mobile phones is foremost
being held back in the US as a result of competing incompatible systems,
which makes roaming problematic. Another is the US practice of charging
mobile phone customers for the calls they receive, as well as those they

While the US places the importance of cellular technology on its need to
maintain its dominant position, others see it as a way to come up to
speed on the infobahn. Japan is often looked to as a case in point.
Despite all the technology at its disposal, Internet penetration in
Japan is very low, lagging behind the US and Europe. Cell phones, on the
other hand, are just the opposite: the island nation is among the top in
terms of cell phone use. As a new generation of mobile devices with
Internet capabilities becomes available, many pundits believe that Japan
will soon be on top in terms of Internet use. Already, the i-mode
service, which allows users to log onto the Internet and charges them
according to the volume of information downloaded, is seen as a taste of
things to come.

For Europe, the development of cellular networks is also considered very
important, so much so that the EU's political, economic, and research
policies are all geared toward exploiting this trend for all its worth.
"The benefits of the new economy will only become apparent when we
attain the critical mass of Internet penetration on the European
market," Commissioner Liikanen stated when presenting the e-Europe
project last year. [18] With the world's most advanced mobile
communications system and highest per capita cell phone ownership in the
world, European leaders feel that this is the one avenue by which Europe
can surpass the US in terms of economic growth. According to Liikanen,
"in the field of mobile telecommunications Europe is really leading. It
shows that we can seize the opportunity." He was quick to add, however,
"but we have to move fast with these things." [19]

At present, statisitcs seem to back up the European position. About
twenty percent of Europeans already use mobile phones and between 1-2
billion short message service (SMS) messages are exchanged each month.
According to some estimates, m-commerce will boom in Europe by 2003.
Then, it's estimated that a third of Europeans will access Internet
services via cell phones. [20] What is more, wireless data service
revenue in Europe will increase by a whopping 1366% between 2000 and
2008. It has been predicted that total revenue for wireless voice
services will hit $157 billion by 2008 and total revenue for wireless
messaging services will hit $57.8 billion by that same time. Meanwhile,
the global use of cellular technology is expected to rise to 1.7 billion
users by 2005. [21]

The future hope for Europe is primarily based on successful past
experiences. European industry has built on the competitive advantages
gained during the development of the second generation digital mobile
cellular system (GSM) and, in 1997, became the world's largest service
provider, overtaking the US. The EU is now set to maintain its lead in
telecommunications technology with the 3G system known as the Universal
Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS), and companies are joining
forces across Europe to ensure they take advantage of new developments.
While UMTS is only one of several 3G systems, it looks set to become the
industry standard. A commercial UMTS network is expected to be be fully
operational by next year.

Government involvement in this is readily apparent. In 1998 the European
Council and Parliament adopted a decision paving the way for the rapid
and coordinated introduction of compatible UMTS networks and services in
the EU by the year 2002. This was followed by a cooperation agreement
signed in 1999 between the UMTS Forum and IPv6, the worldwide consortium
of Internet industry players founded to promote the Internet Protocol,
version 6.

Prior to the auction of 3G licenses last year, the European Commission
(EC) called on Member States to negotiate additional radio spectrum to
allow further growth of third generation mobile telephony. The EC wanted
to ensure Europe maintains its lead in mobile telephony, and it was
feared that without sufficient spectrum space, the jump to a mobile
Internet would be hampered. This effort was then followed in June 2000
with an agreement between 150 countries in Istanbul during the World
Radio Communications Conference to allocate additional spectrum for 3G

Unfortunately, concern over the success of UMTS is such that the EC
appears willing to forego public health for the sake of economic
interests, as well as "supporting the communications revolution". [22]
For example, a new directive regarding the approval of
telecommunications terminal and radio equipment adopted by the European
Council was established in early 1999 which follows a "light" conformity
assessment regime, one based upon the principle of a manufacturer's
declaration. [23] This means the assessment and approval of such
equipment has been shortened.

The argument in support of this directive is that faster technological
progress and the shorter time it takes to develop such equipment
requires a "new approach", which means radically simplified legislation.
However, relying on a manufacturer's declaration that a product is safe
is foolhardy; because of obvious vested interests, there is no guarantee
of an objective assessment. If anything, it's a clear case of a conflict
of interest.

Such radically simplified legislation undoubtedly means that products
will enter the market which haven't been adequately tested. In
particular, since the health risks of prolonged cell phone use has not
been adequately dealt with, this means that the principle of a
manufacturer's declaration has taken precedence over the precautionary

At this point, one might argue that even if prolonged cell phone use is
a health risk, the nature of 3G technology would actually minimise such
risks. Since information is received audio-visually through the screen
and tramsmitted via a keypad, the risks associated with holding a
powerful electronic transmitter so close to the brain no longer applies.
Moreover, ways have already been devised to keep the hand piece and
antennae away from the head. The use of earpiece and mouthpiece cellular
phone attachments is a prime example of this.

Yet such attempts have so far failed to adequately address the issue.
Earpiece and mouthpiece cellular phone attachments have not become all
the rage as industry experts had hoped. Although these extra little
gadgets are claimed to make cell phones "safer", they also tend to make
personal interaction more difficult.

In addition to this, there are alternative dangers to using cell phones
than just radiation exposure. Medical specialists have noticed an
upswing in cases of impaired muscular coordination, apparently caused by
the use of Palm Pilots and similar hand-held devices [24]. It seems that
writing characters each on top of the last can induce long-term
confusion in some individuals. Subsequently, such people find it nearly
impossible to write on paper, producing instead a baffling doodle.

Aside from all this, there is a more fundamental problem. Concentrating
on 3G takes the focus away from the telephonic use of cell phones. In
other words, it's still a dangerous product in terms of radiation

The approach by industry to the problem is still primarily based on the
"thermal-only" argument of cell phone radiation; the development of
earpiece and mouthpiece attachments being a case in point. As Stewart
Fist pointed out, "the 'thermal-only' argument is dead." What is more,
the conduct of the experiment in the AHR study not only looked into the
effect of direct exposure, but also raised questions about the potential
for cell-phone handset radiation to effect people nearby, better known
as passive exposure.

On top of all this, it remains to be seen whether 3G will even work in
the first place. The precursor to 3G technology, Wireless Applications
Protocol (WAP), has been a dismal failure. When WAP first made
headlines, it was hyped as the next stage in the "Internet revolution".
The global business television network, CNBC, even included a special
feature segment called "WAP Wednesday" in order to promote it. Since
then, WAP has fallen into utter disgrace. Subsequent commercials on CNBC
about emerging technologies ended up asking whether they would be
"wasted like WAP."

Lessons of the Past

Without a doubt, there's still a lot we don't know about how cell phones
might affect us. What we do know is that they are powerful electronic
transmitters, and have been linked with DNA damage and other such
problems. Because of possible health risks associated with holding cell
phones close to the head for long periods, the cell phone industry has
conducted a sophisticated -- and so far very successful -- campaign to
accentuate the positive and silence anyone who raises the possibility
that their product might have a problem.

In terms of corporate behaviour, this is clearly a case of history
repeating itself. The cell phone industry, and to some extent government
agencies, have been acting the same way as in the past when other
industries were confronted with the knowledge that they were marketing a
product that, for all intents and purposes, could be labelled as
dangerous and unsafe. The best illustration of this is that of the
tobacco industry.

The cumulative balance of evidence against cell phones is about the same
today as that against cigarettes twenty years ago. The tobacco industry
held sway over much of the research into the health effects of smoking
for many years -- and blocked good research. Incidentally, the "men
aren't rodents" ploy mentioned earlier comes from the tobacco industry,
where it became so commonly used as a way to down-play the importance of
health research that it acquired the name "The Hockett Defence". [25]

As with tobacco, there are several lines of defence being used (and will
be used) by industry to shelter themselves from criticism. The first is
to simply dismiss preliminary early studies. When this quickly becomes
untenable, research results are then hidden from view, as the tobacco
industry had done in the 1960s to avoid a probe launched by John F.
Kennedy's administration in the US. When hidden research can no longer
be denied, the third line of defence is to play for time. Against some
of the more resounding claims, cosmetic changes are introduced in order
to allay fears. For the tobacco industry, this meant putting filters in
cigarettes; for the cell phone industry, it has meant the introduction
of cryptic warnings, such as not to hold the device too close to the

While all this is going on, a subtlety aggressive advertising campaign
is undertaken to increase the number of consumers and, more importantly,
have them addicted to the product. To this extent, direct advertising is
geared foremost to the young and usually equates the product with social
success and acceptability.

For the tobacco industry, accomplishing this task hasn't been too
difficult since the product itself is naturally addictive. For the cell
phone industry, it requires a little more effort; for instance, when
phone companies give away free cell phones to get consumers hooked on
their service. [26]

With such a campaign in hand, the spin doctors can then avoid the
fundamental issue -- i.e., health and welfare -- and focus on economic
aspects instead. Thus, after having successfully forced the product on
to the market and expanded its consumer base, industry is then able to
acknowledge health issues -- to a certain degree -- knowing that people
and the economy are too addicted to the product anyway.

Finally, when the overriding amount of evidence makes even this position
untenable, a threat veiled in the form of a plea is made, in that
litigation will destroy the business, and society will then have to pay
the economic price. This, even though the business is destroying the
health of society which, in turn, places its own economic burden in
terms of loss productivity and an unnecessary strain on government
services, namely health care.

What many within industry don't realise is that adopting such an
approach for the sake of short-term gain is ultimately self-defeating.
The breast implant industry provides a case in point. It was nearly
destroyed because of deceptive practices by a few manufacturing
companies and the arrogance of plastic surgeons. In the end, they almost
destroyed their own market by avoiding research and trying to manipulate
public opinion through tobacco-science. Ironically, it seems little has
been learned, as an attempt is underway to make breast implants
acceptable again.

Corporate history is replete with such examples. Health concerns are
swept aside for the sake of profit until the charade can no longer be
maintained. The makers of leaded gasoline, for example, systematically
suppressed information about the severe health hazards of their product
for decades. These health hazards include, among other things, lower IQs
and learning disabilities, hyperactivity, behavioural problems, high
blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. According to Mokhiber and
Weissman, "these companies knew from mid-1920s that leaded gasoline was
a public health menace, yet they went ahead and put lead in gasoline
anyway, to prevent engine knocking." [27]
The fear of losing business and profits is based on a short-sighted view
of the situation; skirting around health concerns ultimately defeats the
purpose. Yet, despite lessons from the past, the cell phone industry is
still intent on muddling the issue for the sake of pushing through a
"wireless revolution". Little do they realise that the practice of
ignoring fundamentals will eventually boomerang on them once averse
health effects begin to make themselves known -- and felt.


Cell phones are an intense source of high-frequency magnetic fields that
is held very close to the brain. Studies have investigated various
health hazards -- reduced fertility, brain tumours, memory loss,
behavioural changes, and damaging effects on a child's development.
Naturally, this has raised concern and fear about the effect of cell
phones on human health.

Industry scientists claim to have no proof that cell phones are harmful,
saying that there is as yet insufficient scientific basis for confirming
or disproving the claims made by the likes of the Adelaide Hospital
Study. Nevertheless, many of these same scientists are not prepared to
commit themselves to their absolute long-term safety.

In an attempt to remove further doubt, the research arm of the cell
phone industry, the WTR, has initiated a feeble attempt to look into the
problem. Yet research conducted by the WTR is mostly safe and reasonably
non-controversial. For accurate results, control of the direction of the
research must be taken away from the cell phone industry. As Stewart
Fist pointed out, "any research that is not perceived as independent is
pretty much a waste of time."

Already, there exists much evidence to point to the harmful effects on
human health of the extensive use of cell phones. Unfortunately, much of
this research has been discounted because the results of the studies
have not been replicated. This is because when such disturbing results
have become known, the industry has consistently failed to fund
replication studies.

When first confronted with the lawsuits and the resulting publicity, the
cellular industry mounted a public-relations offensive, claiming at news
conferences and in news releases that there were thousands of studies
that proved the safety of cellular phones. Yet the industry has largely
put forth studies that looked at the effects of radio waves outside the
cellular frequency.

Meanwhile, industry regulators who are supposed to be acting in the
public interest have clearly failed to do their part. None of the
organisations in question have much credibility. They are run by people
who have long worked as industry lobbyists, or who are employed by
government departments which are widely believed to have been "captured"
by the industry they are supposed to regulate.

Regulators often see their job mainly in terms of keeping information of
adverse cell-phone problems from the media and the public. Right
throughout Europe, the push to develop GSM digital phones as a
world-wide standard has taken precedence over the health and safety of
the public, because this is potentially a billion dollar business.

When it comes to corporate abuse, it's almost taken for granted that it
is primarily the US which facilitatets industry to push ahead a
pro-business agenda and to silence critics. Yet with the issue of cell
phone radiation, this is not the case. It's Europe which has done little
in terms of research and critically aprraising the product. The reason
for this is quite obvious: cell phones are key to Europe's global
economic strategy, and the fact that Europe is the leader in the field
has made politicans and policy makers unwilling to look too closely or
critically at the matter, for fear of jeopardising Europe's one economic
advantage over the US and Japan.

Despite all this, there has been some progress on the issue. Last May,
British experts released a critical report regarding the effects of
radio-frequency radiation on biological functions, especially for the
brain. [28] And this year saw the launch of the first large-scale
international epidemiological study into the health risks of cell phone
use. This study, known as the Interphone project, will involve 17,000
test cases and analyse the risk to organs which could be thought to be
the most exposed. The initial results are expected to be available at
the end of 2003 or the beginning of 2004. [29]

At this point in time, what is needed is a comprehensive precautionary
approach to the use of cell phone technologies. This doesn't mean an
absolute ban on the use of cell phones but, rather, requires government
and industry officials to fully inform the general public as to the
potential risks. But even more important than this, there is a desperate
need to have continued independent research, one that is not influenced
by economic or political considerations, but by scientific standards

Notes and References


2. "Commission Funds Mouse Archive", CORDIS Focus, Number 176, July 2,
2001. p. 14.  Also available on the CORDIS site <>,
CORDIS-News, Record Control Number 16979.

3. Moulder, John - Cellular Phone Antennas and Human Health, December
28, 1998. <>

4.  Grasso, Laura - Cellular Telephones and the Potential Hazards of RF
Radiation: Responses to the Fear and Controversy, Virginia Journal of
Law and Technology, University of VIrginia, Spring 1998.

5. Nebehay, Stephanie - UN Backs Research of Mobile Phone Health Risks,
Reuters News Service, December 19, 1997.

6. cf. FDA Workshop on Biological Effects of Wireless Radiation:
Politics and Lack of Research Stymie Progress, Microwave News.

7. ibid

8. ibid

9. Comeau, Sylvain - Cellular phones under the microscope, The Thursday
Report, November 1994.

10. Emphasis represented by "*" is my own.

11. The fact that this advertisement contained, in addition to several
factual and logistic errors, numerous basic spelling and grammatical
mistakes, suggests that this on-line advertisement is most probably a

12. <>

13. Graham, Phil - reply to the "Fwd: Bill Clinton freaks out over G3
wireless" thread on Nettime, posted on October 15, 2000.

14. cf.

15. Crowcroft, Jon - "What is the latest trend of network research?"
posted to the Netizen list, March 1, 2000.

A similar view is also shared by Gordon Cook, and has been a recurring
theme in his on-line publication The Cook Report, which can be found at

16. Ni hEilidhe, Sorcha - "WAP in Europe", NUA Internet Surveys, Volume
4 Number 38, September 27th 1999.

17. Greene, Thomas C. - "Bill Clinton freaks out over G3 wireless",
October 14, 2000, posted to Nettime on October 14, 2000 as "Fwd: Bill
Clinton freaks out over G3 wireless".

18. "E-Europe, An information society for all." Communication on a
Commission initiative for the Special European Summit in Lisbon on
23 and 24 March 2000.

19. "CORDIS New interview with Commissioner Liikanen",
CORDIS-RTD News, Record Control Number 13881, November 9, 1999.

20. NUA Internet Surveys, Volume 5 Number 1, January 4th 2000.

21. NUA Internet Surveys, Volume 5 Number. 30, August 8th 2000.

22. "Liikanen pledges EU support for the communications revolution",
CORDIS-RTD News, Record Control Number 13756, October 11, 1999.

23. "Single Market extends to telecommunications terminal equipment",
CORDIS-RTD News, Record Control Number 12132, February 5, 1999.

24 cf. <>

25. The term was named after Dr. Bob Hockett, chief scientist at the
Tobacco Institute, who sent out the phrase in a memo to all cigarette
company executives, suggesting that it was the best way to counter
adverse health claims.

26. Sprint started the process offering access to certain Internet
functions on their digital cellular phones. Soon, non-telecoms followed
suit, such as Dell with the BlackBerry device which can attach to LANs
like a pager connects to service.

27. Mokhiber, Russell and Weissman, Robert - "The House of Butterflies",
Focus on the Corporation, March 13, 2000.

28. The IEGMP Report on Mobile Phones and Health, better known as the
Stewart Report. <>

29. Researchers will look at the past record of cell phone use among all
patients showing new cases of tumours in the participating hospitals,
and compare these cases to a control group. Scientists will analyse
around 6,000 cases of brain tumours, 600 parotid gland tumours (a
salivary gland in the cheek) and 1,000 tumours of the acoustic nerve
(running from the ear to the brain). Including members of the control
group, the total survey population will be 17,000. It will be possible
to establish the importance over time of exposure to close magnetic
fields, specifically those emitted by the radio frequencies of cell
phones, and to study possible correlations with the occurrence -- or not
-- of cancers.

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