Mobiles, cancer and lightning

Posted on June 8, 2011  /  3 Comments

The trigger for this post was a call from an outlying area in Sri Lanka. A concerned citizen had got hold of my number and wanted my advice on the effects of cell towers an an observed increase in lightning strikes in his area. I told him that people tend to associate new things like cell towers with increases in lightning strikes, without factoring in the possibilities that (a) there was really no change in lightning strikes, there just appeared to be an increase; and (b) other factors may have changed, including the houses that were being hit by lightning. I said that I could not agree to explanations that went counter to basic physics, namely that high objects such as cell towers would not attract lighting and would instead cause lighting to hit objects that were lower in elevation such as houses.

I directed him to several government agencies, including the Telecom Regulatory Commission which was said to have launched a nationwide study on the subject.

That brings me to the subject of cancer. I have been getting inquiries about cancer as well. But here, there is plenty of research. Not only research but writing that explains the research in ways that most anyone can understand. The following excerpt comes from the New York Times. It is an exemplary piece of science writing.

Moreover, if cellphones caused brain tumors, we should have seen a worldwide increase in brain tumors pandemic as the phones became ubiquitous. That hasn’t happened.

“If you look at brain cancer around the world over 25 years that cellphones have been in use, there’s no suggestion at all of any increase in rates,” said Dr. Meir J. Stampfer, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and a consultant to the cellphone industry. “In science, unlike math, we can’t have absolute certainty, but in the scheme of things, this is not a health risk I would be concerned about at all.”

In this age of anxiety, there is a role for people who explain the science behind everyday phenomena. Only problem is that such people do not live in our part of the world (or are not paid to do their job, but entities such as the NYT).


  1. this is something i read recently

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    World Health Organization
    Links Cell Phones, Cancer
    Cell phone use may cause cancer, the World Health Organization announced Tuesday.
    There is not enough long-term data to link cancer and cell phone use directly, reported a
    group of 31 scientists from 14 countries. But there is enough information to issue an alert.

    With Tuesday’s announcement, WHO now groups cell phones in the same hazard category
    as chloroform, lead, and engine exhaust.

    Related WebMD Coverage of Cell Phones
    • Cell Phones Affect Brain, But Does It Matter? (WebMD News, Feb. 22, 2011)
    • More Research Is Needed (WebMD News, April 1, 2011)
    • Are Cell Phones Safe? (WebMD News, July 24, 2008)

    More WebMD Reading & Resources
    • Hands-Free Headsets Don’t Improve Driving Safety
    • Cell Phone Use During Pregnancy May Put Child at Risk
    • Technology and Sleep Don’t Mix

  2. According to Derana TV news today Health Minister said that the WHO has confirmed that mobiles cause cancers. Is this true Prof. Samarajiva?