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Mobile Phone Transmitter Causes Brain Tumours? 374

Peter writes "Seven staff in the one building have been diagnosed with brain tumours, and everything seems to be pointing to the mobile phone towers located on the roof. The building is owned by RMIT University and an investigation is taking place. Five of the seven staff worked on the top floor of the building. Medical experts contacted by The Age Newspaper said no definitive link had been proved between mobile phone tower radiation and cancer."
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Mobile Phone Transmitter Causes Brain Tumours?

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  • Research (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cephalien ( 529516 ) <> on Friday May 12, 2006 @09:56AM (#15316960)
    Hmm. I'd say 7 incidents in one building is probably very high; even so, that depends entirely on the relative frequency of the specific kind of tumor.

    Also, did any of these people work in hazardous areas? A university can have all sorts of nasty stuff around.

    It would seem to me that these incidents could be related to the cell phone tower; or it could be a very sad coincidence. You can't just freeze everything at one single point in time and go ah-ha!

    There are too many other factors that aren't considered.
  • by muellerr1 ( 868578 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @09:57AM (#15316978) Homepage
    No it isn't. The fact that they were all working in the same building only points to a correlative factor between the building and the incidence of cancer. Could be something in the ventilation system. Could be rat poison in the coffee machine on the top floor. There is absolutely nothing about this situation that definitively links cancer to mobile phone tower radiation.
  • by XxtraLarGe ( 551297 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:01AM (#15317009) Journal
    I'd call seven brain tumours in one building a heck of a link...

    Or maybe they all get lunch from the same Chinese place a few times a week. Or maybe there's something in the water cooler. Or maybe it's just a clustering phenomenon unrelated to all those things. I'm definitely not discounting the possibility, but remember, "correlation does not imply causation".

  • Re:Other factors (Score:3, Insightful)

    by laughing_badger ( 628416 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:02AM (#15317014) Homepage
    Actually, from a maths point of view, my first question would be: Following the first two brain tumor diagnoses, how much more vigilant to the (now known) symptoms of a tumor did the rest of the workers become? This cluster could very well be explained by people picking up on subtle signs of a (non-malignant) tumor that they would have otherwise lived in ignorance of until they died at a 'normal' age.

    Also, again from a maths point of veiw, don't forget that a cluster of seven people with brain tumors is perfectly possible by random without any outside influence.

  • by lisaparratt ( 752068 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:02AM (#15317015)
    Air conditioning is a wonderful thing.
  • by jasen666 ( 88727 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:02AM (#15317020)
    One guy says there's no "casual" link, and your natural conclusion is to take him completely at face value and make the assumption that they were all getting together after hours and building a nuclear reactor in someone's basement??

    So if you worked in that building, and seven of your coworkers suddenly got brain tumors at the same time, you'd have no worries at all, eh?
  • by catwh0re ( 540371 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:04AM (#15317030)
    The press would love to spin it that way.

    Yes it's an unusual number of cases, but no, this is over a 5 year period. It's not like all the top floor workers got it a week after moving in.
    Of the 7 brain tumors, 2 are malignant. Indicating that possibly different kinds of cancer are occuring. While the building could be to blame, it's probably not the towers sitting on top of it. More likely something else which they are exposed to inside of the building, hence why they shut down the building instead of lowering the tower's output. (They fail to mention that numerous other buildings have similar towers and exposure, but not the cancer rate.)

  • by simon_hibbs2 ( 792812 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:08AM (#15317060)
    * There are mobile phone radio masts on tens of thousands of buildings all over the world, for almost a decade.
    * There has been no significant increase in the number of brain tumours since mobile phones became popular.
    * Why would people in one building sudenly have a greater chance of getting brain tumours from a radio mast, while the chances of the many (possibly hundreds of) thousands of people in other buildings with radio masts on them getting cancer stay the same? There's an antenna on the roof of a building next to the one I work in, I can see the antenna from here througn the window. Why don't I and all my colleagues have cancer?

    Unless there is a huge difference in the way this mast is installed and operated, or the structure of the building from other similar installations, there's no reason to suppose this cluster of cancers has anything to do with the radio mast. There could be thousands of other factors that could be the cause.

    Or there might be no cause. How many buildings are there in the world? How many random instances of cancer are there? Statisticaly, you'd expect to see the occasional fluke cluster of cancers in one building from time to time. If the odds against such a cluster in any given building were a million to one, in a survey of 10 million buildings you'd expect to see roughly 10 such clusters just by pure chance. Even if the chances were 10 million to 1, there's still no reason to suppose finding one such cluster in the sample is at all suspicious.

    Simon Hibbs
  • Brain? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Treacle Treatment ( 681828 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:13AM (#15317107)
    Why just brain tumors? I thought the Cell Phone / Brain Tumor link was due to the cell phone being held next to the head? Why no stomach tumors? Why no big toe tumors? I smell a rat.
  • by Russ Nelson ( 33911 ) <> on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:19AM (#15317155) Homepage
    I'd call seven brain tumours in one building a heck of a link...

    Actually, no. Enough people get cancer that you'll see groups of people with cancer from time to time. Doesn't mean that anything about the building caused the cancers. As Freeman Dyson points out, you can expect something with a one in a million chance to happen to you every year. See, miracles *do* happen!

  • by GroeFaZ ( 850443 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:27AM (#15317220)
    There was a small village in rural Germany. A broadcast tower for mobile phones was to be built there, and despite rabid protests from the locals, which were concerned about negative health impacts, the tower was built. Soon after its completion, more than the usual number of locals went to see their doctor, complaining about headaches, nausea, and various other little ailments which they linked to the tower.

    The funny part? The tower hasn't even been operational.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:32AM (#15317272)
    If someone would ask an engineer and not a doctor, this would have already been put to rest. RF is not magic, it doesn't go through walls or ceilings very well at all. And what kind of cell tower has the antenna pointing straight down? Are people really this retarded? Am I the only sane person left?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:37AM (#15317335)
    Yup. Correlation is not causation.

    Also, as far as I know, no-one has shown a proven (or even plausible) mechanism that allows non-ionising microwave radiation at such low energies to produce cancer. If it is non-ionising, it has to operate by thermal effects, and the power output of phone masts is regulated such that thermal effects on humans and other animals is so low as to be unmeasurable. You are more likely to get skin-cancer from standing in front of an incandescent light bulb - which (horrors) is pumping out 100 Watts of (gasp!) radiation when it's on. [Granted, most of that is IR, but there will be some UV.]

  • by ccool ( 628215 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:40AM (#15317377) Homepage
    Explain that to the microwave!

    Electromagnetism energy, at the "microwave frequency" is still energy. Even if it is not strong to pop-corn your brain in 2 minutes, it can still have some effects..

  • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @11:00AM (#15317605)
    What would it take to convice you that there was a link? ... Seven workers in the same building all developing brain cancer is VERY rare as well as VERY telling!

    Some kind of statistical significance is needed, for a start. Considering the millions of office buildings in the world, what is the chance that in *one* of them you'll find something "VERY rare" happening? Random chance alone guarantees it.

    Much more surprising would be if you couldn't find a group of seven people with brain cancer in any office building at all in the whole world. Demonstrating this is a trivial problem in statistics: assuming a person has a probability "p" of developing a brain cancer, what is the probability that seven out of a group of "n" people will all develop brain cancer in a given time period?

  • by myth24601 ( 893486 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @11:26AM (#15317910)
    "correlation does not imply causation".

    True but it sure is good for making some scary headlines.
  • by flosofl ( 626809 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @12:11PM (#15318400) Homepage
    No, correlation doesn't prove causation. It does imply it, however.

    Only for people who have no real understading of those two terms.
  • by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @12:22PM (#15318536) Homepage
    In most cities, mobile phone masts live on the roofs of the tallest buildings. Here in Glasgow, that tends to be tower blocks with low-rent flats in them. If anyone there gets cancer, it's almost always smoking-related lung cancer. Brain tumours are pretty rare anyway.

    I've worked with very high power microwave transmitters for over 10 years, and my family has a fairly high risk of cancer (good ol' genetics right there). If it was going to happen, it would have happened to me by now.

  • by fbjon ( 692006 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @01:19PM (#15319152) Homepage Journal
    Correlation doesn't imply a causal link. For the media, it does imply a casual link, however. Usually far too casual.
  • by Attila the Bun ( 952109 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @01:20PM (#15319158)
    It's not even sure there is a common cause.

    Approx 1 in 1500 people are diagnosed with a brain tumour every year, and according to the article the tumours were discovered over the past 7 years. The building is big: 17 storeys. If the building contains 1000 people, then you would expect 4-5 brain tumours every 7 years *on average*.

    There must be many hundreds of similar buildings in Australia, so it's hardly surprising to find one with slightly more tumours than average. Human instinct is notoriously poor at judging probability, and the media exploits this to hype-up their stories.

  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @01:33PM (#15319293)
    I wish people would stop advancing their semi-scientific theories as fact to show how smart they are. It just shows how a little education, possibly very little, can hide ignorance in almost all areas.

    The grandparent noted that cell phone towers do not meet the criteria for the ONLY KNOWN mechanism by which electromagnetic radiation can cause cancer.

    There are some other, hypothetical mechanisms, some very unlikely and some plausible, but none have been shown to cause cancer. The one you cite, if true (which I have strong doubts about) by your own description reported observing something other than cancer.

    Maybe you had a bad day. Regardless, try and be a little more humble. You obviously aren't the expert in everything that you imply you are.
  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @01:44PM (#15319425)
    For the scientifically illiterate, you get more daily radiation from 15 minutes in the sun, or your watch, than those people would have received.

    For the stubbornly ignorant, while the Sun IS a big source of radiation, it does NOT broadcast a microwave signal modulated into the 10 htz range where brain cells start acting funny. --Like dilating the pores in the blood-brain barrier so that any old foreign (and toxic?) particle can enter. If you spend a lot of time in a specific radiation zone where your blood-brain barrier is constantly not doing its job, then yeah, I can see how your brain might be at greater risk from toxins in the blood.

    --Oh, and wrist watch manufacturers stopped using radioactive paint many decades ago.

    I've heard the "Sun emits more ration in 15 minutes" argument so many times that it started sounding like another urban myth. --I always wonder why so few people stop to double-check such ideas. I did, and found it seriously wanting. I think perhaps people just want easy answers so that they can stop worrying that their favorite toys are making them sick and stupid.

    Because, you know, pretending that a negative situation isn't there is so much more practical and effective than getting up and actually doing something about it.


  • by hubie ( 108345 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @02:21PM (#15319820)
    I am not sure what the medical profession is supposed to be catching up to. You emphatically state cell phones are causing cancer and assume the medical profession has to eventually come around and accept your truth. The only problem is that, to my knowledge, there are not any carefully-controled studies that show any link between the two. There isn't anything in the physics to suggest it either. I guess I fail to see what you do that would convince me there is anything of significance there.

    To be convincing, as in the case of the effects of tobacco on the body, there has to be a pretty strong correlation between the cause and effect. With tobacco, this was very easy to see, even in the pre-modern medical age. When it comes to cell phones, whether go into it believing it one way or the other, the data clearly show no strong correlation between cell phone use and anything. You are now down in the are where the signal to noise ratio in the data is one, and it becomes a heck of a lot harder to attribute the effect to the cause, because now how you slice and dice the data makes big differences in your result.

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