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Faye Flam

Cell Phones and the Anatomy of a Cancer Scare

Mobile devices are less dangerous than the science publicity machine.
Don't be scared.

Don't be scared.

Photographer: Justin Chin

The latest study supposedly linking cell-phone radiation to cancer was meant to serve the public good. But its effect on the public has been bad. The $25 million government-funded experiment produced confusion and scary headlines, but little in the way of useful information -- beyond perhaps an indication of where the science publicity machine is broken.

This wasn’t necessarily a case of bad science. The researchers, from the National Toxicology Program, subjected one group of rats to high doses of radiation of a frequency similar to that emitted by cell phones. Following accepted protocol, they compared the radiation-exposed rats to a control group. The pathologists looking for cancer didn't know which animals came from which group.