Skeptic » eSkeptic » June 9, 2010

The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer?

by Bernard Leikind

Microwave radiation from cell phones cannot cause cancer by any mechanism, known or unknown. My answer to the question in the title of this essay is… Fuggedaboudit! No way! When pigs fly! When I’m the Pope! In short, No!

This essay is a companion to my article of the same title that appears in Skeptic magazine Vol. 15, no. 4, out on newsstands and in bookstores this week. Here I present the shortened non-technical version, and describe what all physicists know to be true about what happens when human tissue or any material absorbs microwave radiation. It is this knowledge that leads me to assert with such vehemence that cell phones do not cause cancer. I will also consider two recent, major epidemiological studies from Europe that correctly showed that there was no relationship between cell phones and brain cancers.

A cell phone emits about 1 Watt of electromagnetic radiation. Most of that zooms away to find a cell phone tower. The tissues of the user will absorb a part of this radiation. These tissues include the caller’s hand, ear, scalp, skull, and brain. The closer a tissue is to the cell phone’s antenna, the more of the radiation the tissue absorbs. For some reason, however, none of those raising fears about cell phones causing cancer are concerned about skin cancers on palms, fingers, or ears.

The frequency of the typical cell phone radiation is about 2.5 GHz, two and a half billion flips back and forth per second. The radiation travels at the speed of light — 186,000 miles per second — and dividing the one by the other and correcting for the units I used for the speed, shows that the wavelength of this radiation is about 10 centimeters or about 4 inches.

As the electric fields of the waves pass through the body’s tissues, the fields grab and try to shake any molecules or parts of the molecules that they can. These fields like to grab and shake water molecules, and there are plenty available. The fields will grab whatever else they can, which may be all or of parts of many of the critical molecules of biochemistry, such as the DNA in genes, or enzymes, fuel molecules, waste molecules, structural molecules, and so on.

Skeptic magazine volume 15, number 4order or renew a subscriptionorder this single issue

All of these molecules exist within the cytoplasm, and they are in close touch with one another. The molecules are quivering, twisting, and shaking, rattling about and transferring energy between each other. During the time — less than one billionth of a second — that it would take the cell phone’s radiation to shake a molecule or part of a molecule back and forth, that molecule will suffer a thousand or ten thousand collisions with its neighbors. Any energy that the one molecule might begin to gather from the electromagnetic field rapidly spreads throughout all of its neighbors.

Coursing nearby to these molecules is a capillary filled with blood plasma and blood cells. This blood is at body temperature. Any extra energy from any source that appears in cells close to the capillaries will transfer into the slightly cooler blood, warming it. The flowing blood will carry the energy throughout the body. The body temperature will increase imperceptibly, and the extra energy will eventually transfer from the skin into the environment.

Anyone who puts forward a potential mechanism by which this energy flow, less than 1 Watt, might cause any cancer should notice that he has thereby explained too much. One watt is much smaller than many other natural energy flows that no one suspects might cause cancer. In my Skeptic paper, I show that the average energy production in my body as I go about my life is about 100 Watts. I also show that while I jog on my local gym’s treadmill for half an hour, I produce 1100 or 1200 Watts. This energy, produced in my leg muscles, travels throughout my body including my brain, and I sweat a lot. My body’s temperature does not change much. No one believes that my frequent treadmill sessions cause cancer. If the cell phone’s less than 1 Watt causes cancers, then why doesn’t my exercise session’s more than 1000 Watts cause cancer?

Within the past year the results from two major epidemiological studies appeared in the scientific literature and to great fanfare in the media. Plainly stated, these two different kinds of studies found no evidence to link cell phones and brain cancers. The researchers might have simply said, “We did these large, carefully designed studies, and cell phones have nothing to do with brain cancer.”

In the major Danish study, the researchers collected data from the entire populations of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. These sensible countries have long provided medical care for all of their fortunate residents. Therefore, the researchers had access to thorough records. Brain cancers are rare, so they must search through large populations to find sufficient cases to draw conclusions. The plan of this study was to compare trends in the incidence of brain cancers from the late 1980s into the mid 1990s when cell phone use was non-existent or rare with the incidence in the first decade of the 21st century when cell phone use was wide spread. They saw no effect. None. Zero. Nada.

These researchers believe that cell phones must cause brain cancer somehow to some degree. Therefore, they asserted that perhaps their study was not large enough, perhaps their study did not cover sufficient time, or perhaps the large sample population diluted the effect in susceptible subgroups. They grudgingly admitted that it was possible that their study showed no effect because cell phones do not cause cancer.

The other study, known as the Interphone study, is a case-control study. Searching the populations of 13 European nations the researchers found 6000 brain cancer patients. Next, the researchers sought out 6000 more people to form a matched control group. Then the epidemiologists searched their data to see if they could detect suggestions that cell phone use might increase the risk of brain cancer. “The results really don’t allow us to conclude that there is any risk associated with mobile phone use, but… it is also premature to say that there is no risk associated with it,” the IARC’s director Christopher Wild told Reuters. Also:

Data from the IARC study showed that overall, mobile telephone users in fact had a lower risk of brain cancer than people who had never used one, but the 21 scientists … said this finding suggested problems with the method, or inaccurate information from those who took part.

Other results showed high cumulative call time may slightly raise the risk, but again the finding was not reliable.

“We can’t just conclude that there is no effect,” said Elisabeth Cardis of the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, Spain, who led the study.

“There are indications of a possible increase. We’re not sure that it is correct. It could be due to bias, but the indications are sufficiently strong … to be concerned.”

Figure 1 illustration (simplified from printed article in Skeptic issue 15.4)

A chart simplified from the printed version of this article in Skeptic magazine Vol. 15, No. 4. This eSkeptic version says that the brain receives only a tiny amount of energy from a cell phone compared to that generated by normal activity such as working out. The body’s powerful temperature control system deals with this extra energy without breaking into a sweat. The Skeptic magazine article compares the energy required to break the chemical bonds in living cells with the energy level of cell phone photons and other forms of electromagnetic energy. The result is the same. Cell phones cannot damage living tissue or cause cancer. (Click the image to download a PDF version of the diagram.)

Why aren’t these researchers proclaiming the brilliant discovery that cell phones protect against brain cancer? Why do they believe that concern is justified? They are confident that there is no possible way for cell phones to reduce the risk of brain cancer, but they suspect that the physicists might be wrong that there is no mechanism.

Physicists have solved the problem of microwave radiation and absorption. We know exactly what happens to the radiation, and there is no fuzzy area about it that we do not understand. The epidemiologists hear instead that physicists do not know of a mechanism by which the radiation might cause cancer.

The epidemiologists explain away their great discovery that cell phones protect against cancer and suspect that they may cause brain cancer because they believe the first has no mechanism and the second may have an unknown one. I argue strongly that there is no possible mechanism, known or unknown, by which cell phone radiation might cause cancer. However, the epidemiologists are wrong that there is no way by which cell phones might reduce the risk of brain cancer.

Here is my proposal. When our brains absorb energy from cell phones, there is a small temperature increase. When our bodies wish to energize our defense systems and to discomfit the bad guys, the immune system raises the temperature. If the problem is local, the innate immune system produces inflammation. If the problem is general, the innate immune system produces fever. Evidently, a slight, but noticeable temperature increase is beneficial to us.

Physicist Bernard Leikind ate a light bulb for an earlier generation of Skeptic readers — Vol. 3 No.3, 1995. He turned off the power, unscrewed the bulb, smashed it with a hammer, and only ate the glass. He strongly advises readers not to eat their cell phones even if they have turned them off, smashed them, and canceled their contracts.

Skeptical perspectives on fear mongering,
fraud and junk science, and plain nonsense
book cover Junk Science
(paperback $14.95)

In this provocative, wide-ranging, and hard-hitting book, University of Chicago biology professor Dan Agin separates fact from conveniently “scientific” fiction and exposes the data faking, reality ignoring, fear mongering, and outright lying that contribute to intentionally manufactured public ignorance.
Read more…

illustration Voodoo Science: the Road from Foolishness to Fraud
(paperback $17.95)

On our top ten list of recommended critical thinking books. Physicist Park expertly analyzes cold fusion, perpetual motion machines, free energy claims, and how well-meaning scientists can go down the wrong road through self-deception. Read more…

upsidedown detail of illustration from the cover of Skeptic magazine Volume 15, Number 2

Children Waiting for the End of the World

Children around the world are stressed and terrified by the idea that the world will end catastrophically in 2012. In this week’s Skepticblog post, Daniel Loxton reminds skeptics that we can help combat the pseudoscientific beliefs that cause unnecessary suffering and harm.

READ the post


LECTURE THIS SUNDAY: paleontologist John Long

Dr. John Long

Death, Sex & Evolution

Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 2 pm
Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech

IN THIS RIVETING STORY about his remarkable discoveries from the Gogo fossil site in the Kimberly district of Western Australia, the Australian paleontologist John Long, now Vice President of Research and Collections at the Natural History Museum of L.A. County, takes us beyond just reconstructing animal morphology and into the realm of restoring ancient behavior. Long drills down deep on how we know what we know about the past, what the boundaries of knowledge are with respect to studying fossils, and how exceptional fossils contribute to reshaping our perspectives on evolution.
READ more about this lecture…



  1. Henk van der Gaast says:

    Thanx for the article on cell phones. No matter how much you explain energy deposition to folk, they would rather believe the more “reliable” news reports.

    The diagram is very good. Sadly you are probably preaching to the converted.

    Keep up the good work and please, avoid Deepak Chopra debates. He does a good enough job shooting himself in the foot. It probably isn’t worth you being witness to it.

  2. Donald Clarkson says:

    I believe cell phones cause brain damage, but not through radiation!

    I am no physician, but I am pretty sure inflammation is merely the by-product of increased blood flow to a site of infection, the purpose of which is to deliver extra leukocytes, not extra haemoglobin. The inflammation itself is of no benefit.

    Fever can damage brains, and even kill. Is there any evidence that it is beneficial to us, and not just an evolutionary mistake?

  3. Edward Schwieterman says:

    There is a well-documented mechanism for tissue damage due to cell phone use; however, it involves simultaneous use of an automobile.

  4. Clive Varejes says:

    I feel that Bernard Leikind is being somewhat disingenuous.
    He has given his opinion, based by ‘facts’ to accommodate his results,

    I do recall scientist relying on their ‘facts’ proving that tobacco causes no harm.

    Please understand that I am in no way likening Leikind and his research to the tobacco industry, however I am stating that there is a lot of controversy regarding cell phones and to state blatently that cell phones CANNOT cause cancer is assinine.

    I started using cell phones in early 1994, and whether this is a coincidence or not, is moot, however since then, I have developed migranes and about 8 years ago was diagnosed with Complex partial seizures. I also cannot place a cell phone to my ear for more than 10 seconds without experiencing the beginning of a migrane.
    Furthermore when I was in hospital being monitiored for the seizures, there was a distinct disturbing wave pattern when I placed the cellphone to my ear.

    To suggest that one can compare the fragility and suseptibility of the brain to cancer and comparing that to hands etc is ludicrous.

    Perhaps more research is needed before blith comments are made dismissing out of hand all concern.

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      Mr. Varejes,

      Of course, I have given my expert opinion, but my facts don’t need quotation marks. Physicists agree that what I wrote in this eSkeptic article and the Skeptic essay are the relevant facts. I did not select them tendentiously. Most of them are from textbooks and represent fundamental, basic, and uncontroversial scientific thought. Physicists know exactly what happens to microwave radiation when living tissue absorbs it.

      Great scientists, epidemiologists, physicians, biochemists, and others were precisely who uncovered and proved that smoking causes cancer and many other diseases. These researchers had to fight against non-scientific opposition to get their message heard.

      The brain is not fragile and susceptible to cancer. Brain cancers are rare. Skin cancers are very common; the incidence of skin cancer is rising rapidly. Skin cancers are hundreds of times more common than brain cancers. You may examine the wonderful Center For Disease Control SEER database to check my data on this.

      You are correct that there is controversy about cell phones and cancer. You are wrong to suppose that because there is controversy, no one is correct. My conclusions are correct.

      • ron waite says:

        First of all any idiot, physicist or not, who eats light bulbs is not to be trusted. Second, mr Leikind, doesn’t seem to have any real facts to back up his claims. Third, when somebody disagrees with him he strikes back at them with some vitriol,not unlike a very unprofessional person.

        • Ishan says:

          To each and everyone…..

          Do you know why UV Rays, Gamma Rays, X-Rays harm your body, But VISIBLE LIGHT does NOT???

          1)Its because these rays are much HIGHER in the energy spectrum and thus have enough energy to cause damage to tissues…(Check out Eloctromagnetic Spectrum)

          2)Visible light is on the lower side and thus cannot damage your tissues in any way….(I hope you agree with this fact, or else you wont be alive to read this comment)

          3)Radiation from CELLPHONES is MICROWAVE RADIATION which is much much much lower than EVEN VISIBLE LIGHT, let alone UV RAYS AND GAMMA RAYS…

          Cellphone radiation may heat up your tissues V.V.V.V.VERY SLIGHTLY….but that is not at all a cause for concern

        • Ishan says:

          Believing that cellphone radiation causes cancer is like believing that A LION WAS SLEEPING & A GOAT EATS THAT LION BECAUSE IT COULD NOT FIGHT!!!!! Total Nonsense!!!!

          • Jill Ahlgren says:

            I had to have a cell phone brain tumor rmoved in August 2010 in my right side lymbic system (right where I held my phone) and will not use one again! I am still in “rehab”, away from my family and two toddlers…. It’s HELL. I got brain cncer from a cell phone. So, be careful– ewspecially kids. I probaly used the phone heavily for 11 years– starting @ age 24. It’s awful. Thank God– my doc said I can still get my PhD, I’m not paralyzed, and only lost my peripheral viswion on my left side.

  5. Davkiz says:

    “These sensible countries have long provided medical care for all of their fortunate residents.”

    Are you kidding me? I think we’ve all figured out that socialized healthcare will fail miserably in the US. It’s unfortunate that governments believe they have the right to experiment on the citizenry without any punishments if the experiment goes wrong and people are ultimately killed because of the lack of good healthcare after socialization is implemented. When will people wake up and realize that their govt doesn’t have their best interests at heart for politicians have no hearts.

    • Nathan says:

      I love how you use phrases like, “experiment on the citizenry” as a scare tactic.

  6. Tracy Ramsey says:

    The “C-word” is scary, even for scientists, so it should come as no surprise that they are willing to allow themselves to grasp at anything which might explain the cause of this scariest of boogeymen. We must never neglect to account for the human equation in our research. It’s simply the nature of our humanity. We look for hope. It’s both a weakness, and a strength. It might send us scurrying down the wrong path occasionally, but it’s also the motivating factor for our searching for answers in the first place.

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      Dear Tracy,

      Thank you for your heartfelt comment about my essay. I appreciate that you recognize scientists’ humanity.
      In our research, however, we must keep our cool. When my heroes in Law & Order arrest the wrong guy, it means that the real murderer is still on the loose.
      Those seeking the presently unknown causes of brain cancer must not waste their time looking where there are no possible causes.

      • Tracy Ramsey says:

        Dear Mr. Leikind;
        I in no way wish to make it seem as though I am offering an excuse for shoddy science, or police work for that matter. Rather, I am saying that we need to constantly be aware of any and ALL biases which might tend to cause investigations to go awry. The human factor is an example of an outside influence which must be accounted for, as well as understood for what it is. People look for cancer triggers such as cell phones, because it might perhaps offer hope for understanding something which is otherwise all too horribly random. I love science, and the scientific method. However, unless we allow for the human factor, we turn into a bunch of little Mengeles, trying to one up each other with how damn smart we can seem. I offer Mr. Williams’ diatribe as my exhibit A.. I would rather engage in a real dialogue, as opposed to a Mensa pissing match over how close one is going to be allowed to what research.

  7. msagen says:

    This physicist speaks like a physicist, not like a biologist. Just his analysis of the two studies, about which he appears to know little,is enough to disqualify him from being taken seriously, at least by anyone who has actually followed and evaluated those studies. Appendix 2 of the Interphone Study, an analysis done when they tried to correct for the case-control mismatching, indicated doubling and quadrupling of some tumors among heavy users (read: today’s average user)as compared with light users. Didn’t see Appendix 2? No wonder—it was not published with the study in the journal; you had to download it separately—a compromise necessitated to reach consensus and get this study published after a five year delay.

    This “skeptic” author is mere bluster and doesn’t pass muster.

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      Dear Msagen,

      I am a physicist. Physicists are the correct experts to consult in this matter. Any biologist wishing to study the consequences of absorbing microwaves in living creatures should consult with us first, and she should believe what we tell her.

      Retrospective analysis of sub-groups after major case control studies find no result is a well-known source of error in these studies. The study showed that cell phone use reduced the risk of brain cancers, but not at a statistically significant level. You ignore this result. Why? I’m telling all my friends to be sure to hold their phones alternately against their right and left ears. Errors from retrospective sub-group analysis is the reason that the researchers call for more research. The result you cite and the one ignored are statistical fluctuations and will disappear in future studies, while some other matter will fluctuate into view. This is the signature of causes not relevant to the effect.

    • Hal Sampson says:

      Lead sentence of Interphone study Appendix 2:

      “We observed an overall decrease in risk of glioma and of meningioma with any regular use of a mobile phone”

      • Bernard Leikind says:

        Thank you, Mr. Sampson. You are correct.

        The overall result of the major WHO-Interphone study to which you refer was that cell phone use appeared to reduce the risk (the odds ratio) of brain cancer. The result is visible in the data, but not statistically significant. The researchers, evidently, could not believe their own data in this matter and worked hard to explain it away. They would not have bothered to explain away a result that showed a similar, visible but not significant result if it had shown a small increase in the odds ratio. They would have called for more research, and urged everyone to be cautious about their cell phones. Then they sought evidence of harmful effects in a sub-group analysis because they knew that cell phones must be harmful in some way. They found one group with an elevated risk. Of course, with many sub-groups, some must be above the average for the entire group and some must be below average. They decided that the single sub-group that was above average must be important, but paid no attention to all of the other sub-groups with below average risks.

        At the end of my eSkeptic essay, I propose a possible mechanism by which cell phone radiation might be beneficial and reduce the risk of brain cancer. Based upon my mechanism, I encourage all of my friends to use their phones alternately by their right ears and their left ears. There is no possible mechanism by which cell phone microwave radiation might cause cancer.

        In addition to the big WHO-Interphone study that showed a small decrease in risk among cell phone users, other major, large studies show the same effect. For example, a large, ongoing, Danish, prospective cohort study is also showing a small reduction in risk.

  8. Bjørn Østman says:

    When will people wake up and realize that their govt doesn’t have their best interests at heart for politicians have no hearts.

    And insurance companies do?

  9. Bad Boy says:

    I teach Astronomy & Physics and I’d give Leikind an ‘F’ for this article:

    1) How can he assert properties of *unknown* mechanisms? There may be second and third order effects (and/or combinatorial effects). At best he can say that the mechanisms that he considers cannot cause cancer.

    2) Comparing energy of mircowaves to thermal/kinetic energy is worse than an apples-to-oranges comparison. I could write a whole skeptical review of the dangers of this – but I’ll simply note that a cup of hot water has about the same energy as a cup of cold water & a piece of bread – does this mean that we can live on hot water as well as bread and water?

    3) His attacks on the researchers conducting those European studies remind me of one cooking implement accusing another of producing thermal radiation according to Planck’s Law.

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      Dear Prof. Bad Boy,

      I wish to appeal the F grade you have given me.

      All mechanisms, first, second, or third order, that occur within living cells will conform to the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, the conservation of energy. You taught me this yourself. I have it right here in my lecture notes, second week, on Wednesday afternoon, freshman physics. This will be true of all mechanisms, even the ones I don’t know about.

      Any homeopathic remedy marked 30X or higher does not work by any mechanism, known or unknown, because there is no remedy present. I do not have to test individually every homeopathic remedy to see if the existence of atoms is still correct for each one.

      Apples and oranges are roundish fruit, the one usually reddish and the other orange. They both grow on trees. They contain tasty juice. I have trouble figuring out why everyone knows that you can’t compare apples and oranges. They seem comparable to me, but they are not identical. Making up a bad argument about living on hot water, that I don’t make, does not discredit the arguments I do make.

      I am not attacking the European researchers. After all, they state that their large studies show no evidence that cell phones cause cancer. That is the correct answer.

      I criticize them, however, for conducting the wrong kind of research to answer the question, in this case. We know it is the wrong kind of research because every researcher always says, “More research is needed” after every study, even ones such as these that show no effect. Their overall enterprise is similar to insisting that if you haven’t done major studies on every single possible mechanism by which a homeopathic remedy might possibly work, including the ones you don’t know about, then you can’t say that the remedies don’t work. I say that physicists know exactly what happens to all of the microwaves that leave a cell phone and enter human living tissue.

  10. morgaine says:

    Msagen is correct.The no cancer risk conclusion is not congruous with a close reading of the study.

    Epidemiologist Elizabeth Cardis headed the Radiation Group, which conducted the Interphone study.(Courtesy of The Center for Research and Environmental Epidemiology)

    “CARDIS: The study is very complex and the interpretation is not clear. And we have not demonstrated consistently that there’s a risk, but I think it’s really important to note that that does not mean that there’s no risk. We have a number of elements in the study which suggest that there might actually be a risk, and particularly we have seen an increased risk of glioma, which is one type of malignant brain tumor, in the heaviest users in the study—in particular on the side of the head where the tumor developed and in particular in the temporal lobe which is the part of the brain closest to the ear so closest to where the phone is held, so that’s the part of the brain that has most of the exposure from the phone.

    CURWOOD: And indeed, I’m looking at something known as Appendix Two, a table in your study that shows for gliomas is what—twice as likely to have one of these brain tumors if somebody was a heavy user of cell phones over a long period of time with a good 95 percent confidence rate for this finding. Why is there such a confusion about this? Why isn’t this a valid finding?

    CARDIS: Well, we don’t know whether the finding is correct. Basically, there are a number of possible biases which are typical with these kinds epidemiological studies, which could have affected the results. And the increased risk could be just something we call recall bias, so we really can’t conclude that there is a risk from our findings because of the potential of bias.

    CURWOOD: Why not simply look at their cell phone records?

    CARDIS: We’ve tried to do that actually in a smaller scale validation study. We had hoped to be able to do that on many people in the study, but unfortunately at the time we did the Interphone study it was very difficult to go back in operators’ records and get long time historical records for the study subjects.

    CURWOOD: By the way, the number of minutes per day that somebody used a cell phone that considered a “high” use averaged—what?—less than 30 minutes a day?

    CARDIS: Yes, that’s correct. I mean, Interphone was basically carried out between 2000 and 2004, depending on the country, and we asked about people’s long-term historical use of the phone—we were asking about the use of the late 1980s, early 1990s, at time when mobile phones were used much less than today. And one of the reasons we are concerned about the results to the study, even though we cannot conclude for sure, is where we see the increase is in these people—half an hour a day for 10 years was a high use in the participants of that study, but it’s just a normal reason or relatively low use today.

    The use of cell phones has grown exponentially.”

    Also, there is along latency period for brain tumours which can be around 10 – 20+ years. The actual group of participants in the Interphone study who had used a mobile phone for 10 years was very small and therefore its statistical power is weak and therefore very unreliable.

    for more on above

    And for an analysis of the design flaws see:

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      Dear morgaine,

      I’ve read Dr. Cardis’s comments in several interviews. Members of her research team have also spoken to the media. She is professional and careful in her comments. She understands that the major result of her study is that cell phones are not associated with brain cancers.

      It appears, however, that she and her co-workers just can’t believe it. It is for this reason that they focus so much attention in the supposed errors in their study’s design and execution. Do you think that they would be so interested in these factors if the study had shown any effect at all? It is why she calls for more research into the sub-group with the statistically anomalous increase, but shows no interest in further research in the astonishing decrease in risk of brain cancer she found.

  11. MKR says:

    If the cell phone’s less than 1 Watt causes cancers, then why doesn’t my exercise session’s more than 1000 Watts cause cancer?

    Here’s a question for you: If the cell phone’s less than 1 Watt causes loudspeakers to sputter, then why doesn’t my exercise session’s more than 1000 Watts cause loudspeakers to sputter? Are you going to say that when loudspeakers sputter when I hold my cell phone near them, it is due to some other cause?

    As Bad Boy says (comment no. 9 above), Leikind’s argument treats microwave radiation and thermal and kinetic energy as if they should have the same effects, which plainly they do not. His use of such sophistical reasoning casts doubt on his honesty.

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      Dear MKR,

      I am so sorry to read that you have such old and worn out loudspeakers. I’m sure that if you were to try to use them in front of a 1000 Watt weather radar, the static will be much worse. My cell phone has no effect on my loudspeakers, my computer monitor, or my computer, or my home theater system or my wetware.

      The thermal kinetic energy that appears within my leg muscles while I exercise and that my blood carries throughout my body is of exactly the same form of energy that arises in my body when my tissues absorb microwave energy.

      • Rafi Erlitzki says:

        By the same logic, it should be safe to place one’s leg in a working 1000-Watt microwave oven.
        You’ve eaten a light bulb, before, to make a point, so you might want to consider the microwave oven experiment.
        May I suggest, however, using your head instead of your leg; just to be on the safe side, since “the brain is not fragile and susceptible to cancer … skin cancers are hundreds of times more common”.

        • Bernard Leikind says:

          Dear Mr. Erlitzki,
          It would be entirely safe to place your leg into a working 1000 watt microwave oven, as long as you were attached to your leg, your blood was flowing, and your body’s temperature control system were operating. The wonderful Dr. Eleanor R. Adair and other scientists have already done this experiment. No harm came to the human (and monkey) subjects of her experiments. Here is a link to a New York Times interview with this great researcher:

          Would you like to know what happens when a human being absorbs a kilowatt of microwave power? He sweats a lot, just as I do when I produce a kilowatt of power while jogging on a treadmill.
          It would be a bad idea, however, to do this same experiment with your head instead of your leg because your head contains your eye lenses and corneas. These transparent tissues have poor blood supplies and, therefore, poor cooling. The rest of your head, however, would have no problems.

  12. Everett Willams says:

    As a skeptic, absolute statements cause my skin to itch. The little bit of evidence that is presented is only one aspect of radio-chemistry. It is much easier to improve the odds of reactions than it is to break bonds already made. If chemical reactions occur that were not otherwise likely to happen, you would have a long ways to go to convince me that these would be entirely without consequence. In addition, the rise in temperature within a body is largely a result of inflammatory and infectious processes rather than a cause. With radio waves, we have reactions throughout the tissue as opposed to environmental effects that are largely presented externally. These are qualitatively and quantitatively different than external heating or the heating that occurs in the infectious or inflammatory process, especially by location. Maybe the risk is small or nonexistent, but we have had insufficient time to gauge the results of use which amounts to many hours per day, day in and day out.

    As a skeptic what I do not see here is the modesty of a true scientist, noting lack of longitudinal data in an area of usage that is very dynamic. It also demonstrates a distinct lack of understanding of biochemistry and the various ways in which radio waves interact with various particles in our bodies. I would not allow Mr. Leikind within a couple of miles of any piece of research that was serious in intent.

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      Dear Mr. Williams,

      I am so sorry to read that you are allergic to the 1st Law of Thermodynamics: Energy is conserved. Do you have itches from other laws of nature too?

      My eSkeptic essay doesn’t deal with the details of chemical processes. For that you will have to read my Skeptic magazine article. In any case, microwaves from cell phones are unable to break any chemical bond relevant to biology, strong covalent ones, weaker hydrogen bonds or any other the other important weak bonds. All microwaves from cell phones can do is to slightly increase the thermal kinetic energy of the organism’s tissues, and the organism’s powerful thermal control system will pass that slight excess out to the environment.

      Researchers believe, but are still discussing the matter, that the famous calor sign of inflammation, the result of the immune system sending core temperature blood to the afflicted extremity, is a beneficial part of the immune response. It brings in the army and energizes the soldiers, while making the invaders uncomfortable. The same is true of fever, which is the result of the body itself adjusting its thermal set point higher to deal with system-wide threats. Physicians commonly recommend heat applied to injuries to speed healing.

      My argument, however, is not that cell phone radiation is necessarily beneficial through its heating effects. These are minuscule. My argument is that there is no mechanism, known or unknown, by which cell phones might cause cancer, but there is, at least, a plausible mechanism by which they might be beneficial. This is contrary to the expectation of many researchers who believe that there might be some unknown harmful mechanism, but that there is no possible beneficial one.

  13. KenC says:

    Let’s examine the thermal effect. One watt of radiation 2 cm from the human body has a power density of about 50mw/cm^2 at that distance.
    The FCC Office of Engineering & Technology (Bulletin 65)has set the limits for maximum exposure at 1mw/cm^2 at the frequencies commonly used by cell phones. Motorola, AT&T, Lucent, City of Hope, or about 40 contributors participated in setting these limits. Why do you think they would do that if there was NO risk, Nada, as you claim?

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      Dear KenC,
      One watt divided by 4 pi r^2= 20mW/cm^2, not about 50.
      The document you cite has to do with methods by which a manufacturer must demonstrate by test that equipment in its intended use meets requirements set elsewhere. Reading such government regulations risks turning your brains to scrambled eggs and endangers your health more than any cell phone conversation. It looks to me as if the FCC relieved the manufacturers of cell phones and similar mobile devices from regular monitoring requirements if the devices radiate less than 3 Watts (page 73). Why do you think they would do that if there were SOME risk?
      Radiofrequency safety limits have to do with heating the absorbing tissue. My article deals with whether cell phones might cause cancer. The only thing that the cell phone radiation might do is slightly increase the thermal energy flowing through the body, the subject of the safety limit. This FCC limit is set well below that at which there is any detectable heating in a living organism. If cell phone radiation caused cancer, so would wearing the ski cap your grandmother knitted for you.
      I did not use the word Nada to describe the risk of cell phone radiation although I could have. I used the word to describe the results of the major Danish study that examined the incidence of brain cancer in all of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland from the years before cell phones came into common use until some years after. They found that extensive cell phone use among millions of Scandinavians had no detectable effect on their risk of developing brain cancer. Nada.

      • KenC says:

        Dear Bernard,
        Thanks for responding.
        I agree that there is a woeful lack of empirical evidence supporting claims that cell phones (or transmission lines) are causing brain cancer. But are you familiar with Radiation Cataracts? There is plenty of research that as little as 2mw/cm^2 of microwave radiation can cause eye damage with enough exposure time (24 hrs). It seems that the duration of the exposure is no less important than the intensity of the irradiation. The effect also appears to be cumulative.
        The mechanism causing the eye damage is more elusive; is due to something other than simple temperature change or ionization.

        Point being, that low level microwave radiation does produce observable damage to the eye’s lens. The cause is hard to pin down and that is the elephant in the room.

        OBTW, I am comfortable with “about” 50mw/cm^2. Assuming an isotropic radiator on a cellphone doesn’t seem likely. My numbers are for an omnidirectional antenna with “about” 4db gain.

        • Bernard Leikind says:

          Dear Ken C,

          The way I would state your first idea is this: Not only is there no good evidence that cell phones cause brain cancer, or any other cancer, but there is strong evidence that cell phones do not cause any cancer, and there are powerful reasons to believe that they cannot do so.

          As for radiation cataracts, it depends. Since I wrote about cell phone microwaves, let’s consider only electromagnetic radiation. The lens absorbs electromagnetic energy through the same processes as any other tissue or material.

          The highest frequency forms of electromagnetic energy, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays, are capable of breaking covalent chemical bonds and of ionizing molecules. These forms of electromagnetic radiation cause cataracts by damaging critical molecules in cells. For anyone who must spend substantial time outside at mid-day, UV blocking sunglasses are a good idea along with UV blocking skin lotions or creams.

          The lower frequency forms of electromagnetic radiation, infrared, microwaves, and radio and TV signals, cannot break chemical bonds of any kind. The frequency of these forms is lower, sometimes much lower, than the frequency of molecular collisions in the cytoplasm. Therefore, they can do nothing but add to the random thermal motions of the molecules. In the brain, the flowing blood absorbs excess energy and carries it throughout the body, and then to the environment. The cornea and lens have little or no blood supply. They are, therefore, more susceptible to heating than other tissues. Don’t watch your popcorn pop in the microwave by placing your eyes close to the front window. There is no reason to believe that the microwaves from cell phones would cause any harm to your eyes.

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      This link points to a report about the potential for X-rays to cause cancer. This has little to do with the subject of my article here or in the Skeptic magazine, but a comment is worthwhile because the Natural News report combines facts, half truths, and mistakes to create a misleading impression in readers.
      Ultraviolet light, X-rays, and gamma rays are forms of electromagnetic radiation and all are carcinogens. Ultraviolet radiation is a strong risk factor for skin cancer. X-rays and gamma rays, whether from the natural background radiation to which we are all exposed or from medical or other sources, increase risks for various cancers. No one disputes this. In all cases, patients and medical professionals must balance the benefit of an accurate diagnosis or effective treatment of an illness against the risk of the medical procedure itself. This is the case for many medical interventions from drug treatment to surgery.
      Visible light, infrared radiation, microwaves, TV and radio waves are all forms of electromagnetic radiation. None has ever been shown to be a carcinogen. The photon energy of these forms of electromagnetic radiation is less than that of ultraviolet light, X-rays, or gamma rays. In the case of microwaves photons, each has about a million times less energy than any ultraviolet photon. All of the known carcinogens can break chemical, covalent bonds. None of the other forms of electromagnetic radiation can break covalent chemical bonds and most cannot break any chemical bond of any form that is significant to biochemistry.
      After you have read my eSkeptic and my Skeptic magazine essays, you will understand why we are confident that microwaves from cell phones cannot cause cancer by any means, known or unknown.

  14. sally says:

    My cell phone gets HOT.
    It emits HEAT.

    Doesn’t seem healthy to me,
    so I use it on Speaker Phone 95%
    of the time

  15. Jan C. says:

    Finally! A voice of reason in the desert! When automobiles were new, people thought that driving faster than 20 or 30 mph would cause the riders’ brains to be squashed somehow. People mostly believe what they WANT to believe, which is why science has such a hard time changing people’s minds (climate change, anyone?). When a large, properly conducted scientific study says it found no link between cell phone use and cancer, lots of folks claim that means the study is “inconclusive”–in other words, it failed to find a link that JUST MUST be there. Let’s believe scientists more than demagogues, even if their facts force us to change our understanding and (gasp) beliefs! Now, about that “the Earth is round” thing…

  16. James says:

    Jan C, i agree. Of all the ways i’d worry about dying, it’s definitely not brain cancer from my iphone use.

  17. RK says:

    Dr. Leikind,

    Thanks for your article. I use the examples of cell phones and cancer as an example of the photoelectric efect in my courses; I thought your graph was great.

    As an organic chemist, I became interested in the literature on microwave effects on chemical reactions. Early in the 70’s, there was quite a bit of research done on anomalies in rates of reactions heated by microwave ovens. Long story short, they were caused by small pockets of very hot solvent within the reaction vessels. There was no “microwave effect”. Food cooked by microwave ovens is not different than that heated by any other means.

    Sadly, the cell phone/cancer debate seems to be nearly the same story.

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      Dear RK,
      The eSkeptic figure is a simplified version of the two that are in my printed Skeptic article. You will want to look at them.
      In addition to what we learn from the photoelectric effect, that electromagnetic radiation transfers energy to materials in chunks, it is useful and informative to consider the time scales relevant to the radiation and the absorbing materials
      In solids or liquids, the idea of collisions is not as clear as it is for molecules of gases. In solids and liquids, or the cytoplasm, the molecules are in continual contact (mediated by electromagnetic fields). The relevant technical measure of the collision time is the thermal relaxation time.
      Electromagnetic fields that have oscillation periods shorter than the thermal relaxation time are able to grab and shake a molecule or part of a molecule many times before the incoming energy spreads among its neighbors through collisions. This radiation may break bonds.
      Electromagnetic fields, such as cell phone microwaves, that have oscillation periods longer than the thermal relaxation time can only add to the general thermal motions of the absorbing material because those slow fields never have a chance to grab and shake the molecules. The microwaves try to grab and shake them, but collisions repeatedly knock the molecules from their grasp.

  18. Justin Case says:

    I don’t know anything about this, but I DO know that people who talk on cellphones are complete numbskulls. That in itself is enough for me to avoid them.

  19. Marcel says:

    “My argument is that there is no mechanism, known or unknown”

    Wow. Someone who knows what “unknown” mechanism’s can or can’t do.


    • Bernard Leikind says:

      Dear Marcel,
      Every mechanism by which human tissue or any other material absorbs microwaves, and everything that happens to the energy after that, known or unknown, will conform to the conservation of energy. I don’t have to check each new mechanism or chemical reaction that someone imagines.
      Atoms and molecules make up every substance. Once I have diluted any material by thirty factors of ten or more, there are (virtually) no molecules of the substance left. There is less than a one in a million chance that there is even one molecule remaining. Therefore, no homeopathic remedy marked 30X or higher can have any effect by any mechanism, known or unknown.
      Although everyone knows that you cannot prove a negative statement, the first three sentences of the previous paragraph prove the negative statement in the fourth. The assertion that you cannot prove a negative statement is itself a negative statement that everyone considers to be true, for some reason.
      I agree with you that it is amazing that we have found some of the great laws of nature that apply to everything, including to chemical reactions and biological processes we don’t know about yet.

  20. Rafi Erlitzki says:

    If energy level is the only factor for cancer – what is the energy level of a cigarette?

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      Dear Mr. Erlitzki,
      I didn’t say that the energy level was the only factor for cancer, but I believe I can respond to your question.
      When microwaves from any source enter a material, including the human body, the energy from the radiation appears as thermal motions of the molecules. In a living organism, the flowing blood distributes this energy throughout the body, and from there it enters the environment. The power that the body absorbs from a cell phone is about a watt, which when distributed throughout the body is only a few per cent of the power density generated all the time by the chemical activity of the body required to keep it alive and kicking. Many other activities, such as exercise, produce a thousand times more energy within the body than any cell phone, and these activities do not cause cancer. Therefore, the small amount of energy from a cell phone does not cause cancer.
      As for cigarette smoke, it comprises many chemicals. These chemicals contain chemical bonds, each of which may have sufficient energy to join in reactions with the body’s molecules. In fact, smokers are engaging in their suicidal habit precisely because of some of the chemical reactions and their physiological effects. So we know that smoke’s molecules have the energy required to do chemical bad things to life’s molecules. The smoke molecules’ chemical bonds contain the energy and is sufficient to modify other chemicals’ bonds through reactions. The energy that microwave radiation transfers to life’s molecules, however, is entirely too low, by factors of a million, to modify any chemical bond that is important to life. The energy from the microwaves shows up as the thermal motions of the molecules and cannot transfer into chemical bonds as long as the body’s temperature control mechanism maintains the body’s temperature.

  21. LuchinG says:

    Hi. The best point (the one I can understand and show) is that skin cáncer is not more comon now than 30 years ago, so ¿where can I find statistics that shows that skin cancer hasnt soar since the introduction of cells phones?

  22. Bernard Leikind says:

    The best source for cancer statistical data is the Center for Disease Control’s SEER database. Do a Google search for it. The American Cancer Society also has good data. The World Health Organization has good data for world-wide health matters.

    But the incidence of skin cancer has been rapidly increasing in the United States due to sun exposure.

    The argument I am make is that those who seek carcinogenic effects of cell phone radiation are so confident that the radiation, which is more intense in the skin of the hand, ear, and scalp than in the brain, doesn’t cause skin cancer that they don’t bother to even look for a carcinogenic effect. They believe incorrectly that the mechanism by which brain tissue absorbs cell phone radiation is different than that by which other tissues absorb it.

    The general principle of a dose-response relation would lead one to expect a greater carcinogenic effect, if it exists, where the cell phone radiation is more intense. In fact, since skin cells divide much more frequently than brain and other nerve cells, you might expect them to be more susceptible to carcinogenic influences from cell phone radiation than nerve cells.

  23. eaca says:

    Thank you, Dr Leikind.
    Your rigorous approach to the subject and to the critical responses, whilst being a tool taken for granted in your profession I’m sure, is simply a joy to behold.

    Long may you continue!

  24. Matt Kojder says:

    Sigh…looks like the self-promoting fear mongers and opportunists continue to harp on this subject ––brain-cancer-tied-to-heavy-cellphone-use-says-author

    There are lots of strange prescriptions the author makes in her statements regarding cellphone use. Things like – “For instance, the BlackBerry Curve 9300 should be held at least .98 inch from the body when turned on”

    Are these valid concerns or a mistaken interpretation of studies and regulations?

  25. Bofbon Nituka says:

    I’m not sure I understand – is the assertion made that 1 watt is simply too little energy to cause any damage, or that the frequency is in the wrong range, or both?

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      One watt absorbed by your hand, ear, scalp, and brain is too small to cause any damage. The circulating blood carries this small amount of energy throughout the body.

      As I show in the inset in my Skeptic article, my basal metabolic rate is equivalent to about 90 Watts, and when I am exercising I generate more than 1200 Watts.

      This would be correct for all forms of electromagnetic energy with frequencies below the visible. Visible light may modify chemical bonds, and UV, X-rays, and gamma rays may break chemical bonds.

  26. Jaclyn says:

    Dr. Leikind,

    You have written a very clear and informative article that really gets to the physics of what is happening. I also enjoyed reading your responses to the critics — they keep coming at you and you keep shooting them down with science, logic, and reason! It’s sad to see so many people who didn’t pay attention in their Introductory Physics classes.

    Kudos to a great article!

  27. Tom says:

    If 1 watt is simply too little energy to cause any damage. What is the least amount of watts where damage would occur. I have enjoyed the discourse above, I love “Dear Prof Bad Boy”.

    Playfully to not, you use an example of the body producing 100 watts of energy, do you suggest that more than that is needed to cause tissue damage?

    Personal disclosure: I am happy cell phones do not cause damage. I like my cell.

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      Researchers have beamed a kilowatt of microwave power into sitting human subjects. You could Google Dr. Eleanor Adair to learn more. Those subjects broke into a sweat, just as I do when I produce a kilowatt of power while jogging. There were no other ill effects.

      Humans thermal control system can easily handle more than 20 times their basal metabolic rate in heating.

      It would be dangerous to microwave the corneas of your eyes, which have poor connection to the body’s cooling system.

  28. jesse says:

    Check this out. Scientists say cell phones can cause cancer. Please research this!

  29. Max40 says:

    There are at least two aspects to this question: (1) epidemiological evidence, and (2) a plausible biophysical mechanism. Regarding (1), finding small effects requires large population studies, which are expensive and time consuming. I have not studied in detail those studies that have been done, so I will not comment on this aspect. Regarding (2), most physicists, myself included, tend to think that radiation must be of sufficient energy to ionize atoms or molecules in order to cause cellular mutations that might lead to cancer. Recently, I was surprised to learn that this may not be true. Theoretical studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory (see, for example, Alexandrov, B.S., et al., Phys Lett A 374, 1214 (2010)) and experimental work at both Harvard and in Israel have shown that terahertz electromagnetic radiation can induce conformational changes in DNA by a non-linear resonance mechanism. These changes involve partial lengths of unwound DNA strands (“bubbles”, in which the two strands of the DNA helix are separated), which can cause irregular chromosomal geometries that may result in mutations. Other research seems to indicate that these effects are mitigated by thermal interactions in an actual cell, so they might not, in fact, lead to mutations.

    While this particular effect may not lead to cancer, and acknowleding that terahertz radiation is of higher frequencies than the gigahertz radiation involved in cell phone use, I view the relevance of this mechanism to the issue of the possible connection between cell phone use and cancer to be that it provides a plausible alternative mechanism for non-ionizing radiation. In retrospect, the assumption that ionizing radiation is required to cause the DNA damage necessary to lead to a mutation that can result in cancer is just that – an assumption.

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      I’ve read the referenced paper, and a blog comment is not the place for a detailed discussion. The key question is whether or not the theoretical model provides a “plausible” mechanism for DNA damage.

      It does not. While terahertz radiation is much higher in frequency than cell phone microwaves, it is still somewhat below the thermal collision time of molecules in biological tissues. That is, as the radiation attempts to add energy to a single atom or bond or molecule, that energy rapidly spreads throughout the material. The Los Alamos authors propose a resonance effect and also make unrealistic assumptions for this thermalization process.

      Furthermore, we know that there is no mechanism by which this radiation can cause cancer because we know of plenty of other natural and safe processes that do exactly the same thing to the internal energy as microwaves do. These include wearing a ski cap, drinking hot coffee or soup, or exercising.

  30. nick humphrey says:

    Dr. Leikind, i showed someone this article and he replied: “you forget to mention positive and negative charges. cell phones concentrate negative ions on a single area over a long period of time.”

    i tried googling this and found something called Orgone, but i dont know if it is related/relevant.

  31. Raymond says:

    There is an additional article that reinforces this one in The Skeptical Inquirer, September/October 2009 isue if anyone is interested. %The author there makes the same points that the professor does here. They are both Physicists, and why do people listen to journalists, epidemiologists, researchers, biologists, instead of them? They are schooled in the field of Quantum Physics and are the experts that every other field goes to for understanding of the actions of the small universe at large. My money is on them, if anyone has credibility and is to be trusted to know the science of the issue, it is these guys. There is just too much woo woo science going on by non-experts who are taken too seriously to believe anyone else but these physicists.

  32. pandora Jewelry says:

    Dr. Leikind, i showed someone this article and he replied: “you forget to mention positive and negative charges. cell phones concentrate negative ions on a single area over a long period of time.”forget my comment about orgone (pseudoscience), but could you please comment on positive and negative ion emissions in relation to cell phone radiation? thanks.

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      Nick and Pandora,

      Microwaves do not concentrate charges or separate them. Microwaves shake charges back and forth, but in opposite directions. In living tissues, the charges don’t get far before they bonk into their neighbors. These collisions distribute the incoming microwave energy throughout the tissues. The tissue will warm a little, but the flowing blood will distribute the energy throughout the body.

  33. x says:

    In short, when you charge a molecule, you can cause that molecule to break apart. For example, researchers have shown that a hemoglobin molecule can be made to break apart by increasing the charge on the molecule.

    The reason why the DNA molecule can be made to break apart even though the radiation is non-ionizing is because of the electrical conductivity inside the DNA molecule, i.e. the electrons present in the DNA bases can be made to move. And, EMF’s have been shown to cause electron transfer in the DNA.So, the idea that non-ionizing radiation cannot create a biological effect has been shown to be completely inaccurate.

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      When microwaves wave at molecules, they do not change the charge on the molecule. The microwaves may move some of the electrons about, however, as you say. The molecule’s valence electrons are incessantly moving about in any case. The bonds to which you refer break frequently, naturally, and safely.

      Hydrogen bonds connect DNA’s base pairs. Two hydrogen bonds hold adenine to thymine, and three hold guanine to cytosine. Reference to the Energy World of Biochemistry figure in my Skeptic paper or any biochemistry text will show you that the binding energy in these bonds is a few times higher than the energy of the molecular thermal motions in a cell. James Watson says in his biochemistry book that any of these hydrogen bonds breaks apart about every tenth of a second. All of the other bonds nearby, however, hold the base pairs in place, and the broken bond reconnects. The jostling that breaks any single hydrogen bond occurs about a ten trillion times a second, so you can see that it takes a lot of jostling to temporarily break one.

      Hydrogen bonds in biological molecules always come in large numbers, like a zipper in which one link is weak, but the collection of links is strong. Covalent bonds are much stronger, and thermal motions, or microwaves for that matter, do not break them.

      No one says that microwaves cannot create a biological effect. What informed researchers say is that they know exactly what the effect is. The energy from the microwaves goes directly into the random jostling, vibrations, and twists of the molecules. It does not go anywhere else. It does not do anything else. It causes no harm unless it cooks the organism.

      Your link is to a major collection of published papers in which the researchers believe that they have observed “non-thermal” effects of microwave or of extremely low frequency fields. They are mistaken for various reasons. Consider the introduction to this collection written by one of its editors:

      “Protection against Non Ionizing Radiation is based on a paradigmatic assumption: ‘We know very well the interaction between electromagnetic fields and living organisms: it is a thermal interaction; thus the standards internationally accepted are adequate to protect people and workers.’ This is a fairy tale.”

      Dr. Giuliani and his cited source are mistaken. The fairy tale is not a “paradigmatic assumption.” It is a conclusion drawn from more than a hundred years of research, experiment, observation, and theory, by physicists, physiologists, and others. It is not a fairy tale, either. The interaction between microwaves and other lower frequency fields is entirely a thermal one.

      Dr. Giuliani goes on to say, “To be able to speak about a thermal effect on a system, we must first observe a variation in the temperature of the system.”

      In this sentence, Dr. Giuliani encapsulates one of the major conceptual errors that invalidates most of the papers in his collection.

      Although thermal effects often come along with temperature changes, they don’t necessarily do so. Ice melting in a glass of water, or boiling water converting to steam, are definitely thermal effects. They occur at 0 C and 100 C and as long as some of both phases (solid and liquid, or liquid and vapor) are present, the temperature will not change.

      By Dr. Guiliani’s definition, if the temperature change is smaller than researchers detect by whatever methods they employ in their particular experiment, then a “non-thermal” mechanism is operating. They do not report that their methods or instruments are insensitive, which would be correct.

      Warm-blooded organisms have temperature control systems that keep their internal temperature stable. There would be two thermal mechanisms in play, the heating effect from the microwaves and the cooling effect from whatever the organism’s physiology deploys to counter this. In humans, who have unusually powerful thermal control systems, and in most other organisms the first step of the cooling effect is the flow of core temperature blood into and then, warmed, out of the region absorbing the microwaves. This also serves to keep temperature changes unnoticed by some researchers.

      Much more thorough, clear, and reliable information is here:

  34. x says:

    You are of course correct in your assertion that although thermal effects often come along with temperature changes, they don’t necessarily do so. However, to be fair, the article is titled: “Why investigate the non thermal mechanisms and
    effects of electromagnetic fields on living systems? An introduction” so the obvious assumption is that it is living matter that is under discussion here.

    If your DNA is undergoing phase changes you probably are not alive to tell about it, don’t you think? Therefore your basis for dismissing most of the papers is rendered moot.

    It would appear to a rational observer that you’re using circular logic since you state: “The energy from the microwaves goes directly into the random jostling, vibrations, and twists of the molecules. It does not go anywhere else. It does not do anything else. It causes no harm unless it cooks the organism.”

    So if I’m reading you correctly, you are stating that since the organism is not being cooked, the energy is insufficient to harm it, but it’s insufficient to harm it because it’s not being cooked. I don’t think this would stand up to the standards of biological investigation of harmful effects. If I’m reading you incorrectly, please help me understand your position. I don’t share your belief that biological harm can be dismissed if the underlying physics of its mechanism is not yet completely understood.

    You also state: “By Dr. Guiliani’s definition, if the temperature change is smaller than researchers detect by whatever methods they employ in their particular experiment, then a “non-thermal” mechanism is operating. They do not report that their methods or instruments are insensitive, which would be correct.”

    I’m unable to find anything in the document that indicates Dr. Giuliani is stating anything similar to this. Could you please refer to the specific quote that supports this? It appears to me that he is stating that an input that is three orders of magnitude below a commonly accepted threshold for a phenomenon to occur cannot be of any significance as a contribution to that phenomenon, and therefore another effect must be occurring.

    Human beings are electrical systems. Electromagnetic fields cause the phenomenon of induction in electrical systems. This is not a thermal effect. If you deny this, you deny the fact that the alternator in your car can charge the battery.

    • Bernard Leikind says:


      In living organisms there are no non-thermal effects produced by electromagnetic radiation at frequencies below those of visible light. This is a well-known result of more than a hundred years of observation, experiment, and thought.

      My point about phase changes is that the researchers who wrote those 25 papers do not understand the science of electromagnetic fields and of thermal interactions. Therefore, they do not design their experiments correctly, do not carry them out correctly, and mis-interpret their results. Each of the papers in the volume you cite and all others by those authors published elsewhere or published by other authors who make the same claims make one or more of the same type of error.

      The energy from the microwaves appears in the random, kinetic motions of the organism’s molecules. The organisms we are considering are “warm-blooded”, and these organisms respond to increased internal energy flow by increasing their transfer of energy to their environment (or by acting to stop the activity producing the incoming energy flow). Organisms have various mechanisms for this. This incoming power always produces some temperature increase under the conditions of living organisms. As the incoming power increases, the organism increases the outgoing power, and its internal temperature rises further to another stable level. Eventually, as the organism can no longer dissipate the incoming power, its thermal control system fails. This is heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Up to the power flows at which thermoregulation fails, damage to the organism does not occur. The temperature required to “cook” its tissues occurs above that at which thermoregulation fails.

      You ask where Dr. Giuliani says that if the experimenter does not observe a temperature increase, then there is no thermal effect. Will this do?

      “To be able to speak about a thermal effect on a system, we must first observe a variation in the temperature of the system.”

      I read this to mean that if the researcher does not observe a temperature change, then he or she is not seeing a thermal effect.

      Or this?

      “With reference to the usual meaning adopted in the context of protection against radiation, we can consider as non thermal all mechanisms that are not able to induce an increase in temperature higher than 0.01°C, when we are considering a system like a living organism, or lower than 0.001 °C when a system like a cell is considered, or again lower than 0.0005 °C when a sub-cellular system is studied.”

      As you can read, Dr. Giuliani believes that if researchers don’t see a temperature increase at least as great as some threshold, then there is no thermal effect. He also mistakenly believes that this threshold depends upon the size of the system under investigation. This last is just one of several demonstrations that Dr. Giuliani doesn’t understand the meaning of temperature.

      You say that humans are electrical systems and point to induced currents as an example of a non-thermal effect.

      Human beings, and everything else for that matter, are thermodynamic systems. The maximum temperature change observed in our brains while we use a cell phone is about 0.1 C. The typical daily variation in our body’s temperature is 0.9 C. During vigorous exercise our body temperature may increase as much as 2 C. None of these temperature increases causes any harmful effects. Indeed, wearing a woolen ski cap on a cold day causes a temperature increase greater than that due to a cell phone. All of these are thermal interactions.

      The currents that electromagnetic induction produces in materials transfer energy to those materials by way of the materials’ resistance. That is, the energy transfer is a thermal effect.

  35. Michael Wong says:

    Not sure why the amount of energy, 1W, is so relavent. I tell call my across the street neighbor (on my cell?), and tell him to flash a 0.25W LED light in his window at me and I will see it. Then, on that signal, I could turn on a 2kW space heater.

    What if a 1W cell signal tells the brain to stop fighting cancer cells? I think looking at the amount of damage 1W of radiation alone isn’t a broad enough consideration.

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      Mr. Wong,
      The brain is about 3% of our body’s mass. It uses 15% or 20% of our body’s power, our metabolic rate. This amounts to about 15 or 20 Watts produced by normal metabolic processes within our brains.

      Even if all of the cell phone’s radiated RF power were absorbed within the brain, it would be less than 10% of the amount of power produced in the brain.

      The absorbed power from a cell phone produces about a 0.1 C temperature increase in a small volume of the brain. Every day our body’s temperature increases about 0.9 C between early morning and late afternoon.

      If we exercise hard, our core temperature may increase 1 or 2 C. Blood at this temperature warms the brain.

      If the watt of microwave power were to tell the brain to stop fighting cancer cells, then so would these natural effects. Only they’d do it more strongly because they are larger.

      • Michael Wong says:

        I think you’re misunderstanding my analogy.

        When I dial the wrong phone number, I will not get connected to my desired party, no matter how powerful the signal. Similarly, with a very weak signal I may still get a connection if I dial correctly.

        I smell liver cooking in the kitchen. The amount of potential energy in that gaseous is completely disproportionate to the amount of energy I expend vomiting. However, the outcoume is not the same when I smell bread baking.

        It has nothing to do with power. Detectability and specificity of the stimulii are what’s in question for my scenario.

        • Bernard Leikind says:

          Mr. Wong,

          When molecules waft into your nose, each individual molecule may find a specific molecular receptor into which it fits. If enough molecules find suitable receptors on a single nerve cell, that nerve will fire. It’s an off-on response, in which off means that the nerve is firing at some low frequency and on means that it is firing at some distinctly higher frequency. Downstream, the signal from one nerve may combine with signals from other nerves, amplifying, as you say, until deep within the brain, you become aware of the odor.

          The odor molecule must have sufficient energy, a combination of kinetic thermal energy and energy in the appropriate chemical bonds, to create a bond with the receptor.

          Continuing with your analogy, those who fear that some new aroma molecule produces some harmful effect have to explain why many other aromas that fit into the same receptors and which occur in much larger numbers than the new, feared molecule do not cause the harmful effect.

          We know exactly what happens to microwaves when living organisms absorb them. The energy appears in the random thermal motions of the organisms’ molecules, and the organisms’ blood carries that energy throughout the organism. This is like your aroma. The random thermal motions of your brain’s tissues increase and decrease each day from your body’s normal temperature variation by 5 or 10 times the increase caused by any cell phone. Exercising hard will increase your brain’s temperature by as much as 20 times the increase caused by any cell phone. If the energy from a cell phone could trigger some large calamitous effect, then daily temperature variations and hard exercising would trigger much more of this effect.

          You will not detect an odor unless molecules that bind to specific receptors arrive in your nose at a large enough rate. To bind to a receptor, each odor molecule must have sufficient kinetic and chemical energy. A minimum number of the odor molecules each carrying a minimum energy must arrive each second. That is, there must be sufficient power. The photons in a cell phone signal each have energy equal to Plank’s constant times the microwave frequency. Gazillions of these photons flow from the cell phone’s antenna to the brain’s tissue each second. This constitutes a power flow.

          Since we know that much larger power flows than that from any cell phone do not cause cancer, we can be confident that cell phones do not cause cancer. If we knew that some aroma molecules that bind to particular receptors in your nose don’t cause you to feel nauseous, then we could be confident that some other aroma molecules that bind to the same receptors but appear at one tenth the rate, do not cause you to feel ill.

  36. Michael Wong says:

    “Bind(s) to the same receptor” is irrelevant. Two different odorants can bind to the same receptor with very different outcomes.

    You keep repeating your conclusion about microwaves heating effect on organisms.
    But your discussion of “exactly what happens” implies the entire spectrum of microwaves has been tested, which I doubt.

    The our physiology, acting as a sensor or “antennae” conceivably could respond differently to stimulation by specific wavelengths. If that is the case, all that is
    necessary is that 1W be detectable.

    • Bernard Leikind says:

      Mr. Wong,

      It’s not “my” conclusion that physicists and others know what happens when any material absorbs microwave radiation. It is the conclusion of researchers working since the 1930s, when radar researchers first produced what we now call microwaves. It is the primary subject for investigation of quantum mechanics and the biological effects of non-ionizing radiation, as a part of this field is known, is the subject of an immense amount of research. Biological materials, no matter how complex, are a sub-group of “any material.” Much of the relevant knowledge comes from research going back into the 19th century.

      I do more than “imply” that the entire spectrum of microwaves has been tested. I state as a fact that it has. Researchers have thoroughly investigated the entire range of frequencies from far below the microwave region to far above it. All of the energy from the microwaves ends up in the kinetic, random part of any material’s internal energy (in the conditions relevant to organisms). We colloquially refer to this as heat. In this case, the “antennas” are polar molecules or the polar parts of much larger molecules. The thermal equilibration time is more than a thousand times shorter than the time it would take for the microwave fields to shake the molecule back and forth once. Nothing else happens until after the energy thermalizes. If there were some unknown amplification mechanism, as you suggest that there might be, then normal biological processes that increase the internal energy of the organism’s tissues would also trigger it. Many normal processes increase this energy by more than any cell phone’s microwaves. Between 5 AM and 5 PM, your body temperature increases by almost 1 C, which is more than ten times the increase in thermal energy caused by any cell phone call.

      Consider two microwave frequencies: 2.45678 GHz and 2.45679 GHz. Do you think that we also have to check out 2.456785 GHz? Do researchers have to check each frequency to see if it has a peculiar effect on some hapless lab rat, each 1 Hz apart: 2.000000001 GHz, 2.000000002 GHz, …? I suspect that you would then say that rats are not people, so we still can’t be sure.

      In the case of microwaves, we already know, even if some researcher has not irradiated rats at precisely 2.123456789 GHz, exactly what will happen to the rat. It will become a little warmer.

  37. x says:

    It seems as though you believe that all signalling within the human body is thermal. You are incorrect. Nerves communicate via voltages between 10 and 100 millivolts. Certain frequency bands have the ability to alter this signalling and cause health effects. This has been shown by peer-reviewed science. If microwave energy were only a thermal phenomenon, demodulation of the signal by the receiving cell phone would be impossible. It would just cycle between cold and warm. This is not how information is transferred in a cell phone call. It is a comparatively very tiny frequency variation of the carrier frequency that carries information, information that is not thermally distinguishable from the carrier itself. The human body can react in a similar fashion. No matter how many times you try to reduce the effects to thermal changes, it doesn’t make it so.

    Here’s a study that showed heart rate changes from a portable phone at only 2uW/cm2:

    Were these thermal effects?

  38. MeriKae says:

    Ok why then if you are so extremely intelligent in all of this why haven’t you explained that RF radiation acts much like Electricity and seeks to be grounded and the closest to ground is the human body, which MOST of the of the radiation will go to ground long before it will seek a tower…otherwise it would be unnecessary to ground the shielded rooms when working with radio stations and cell towers, I mean I am a stay at home mother of 7 children and even I know that much!!!

  39. Paul says:

    The World Health Organisation listed Mobile phone radiation as possibly cancer causing and the risk of glioma is doubled when a person spends more that 30 minutes a day with long term use (over 10 years ). The links between mobile phone radiation and the cancer glioma is not conclusive but I would rather err on the side of being safe than sorry. We supply mobile phone safety accessories and education on this issue at
    to help reduce mobile phone radiation exposure.

  40. Lor says:

    “It would be entirely safe to place your leg into a working 1000 watt microwave oven, as long as you were attached to your leg, your blood was flowing, and your body’s temperature control system were operating.”

    When you talk about no harm sticking your leg into an operating microwave oven, it contradicts reports of serious damage like the ones described in this Wikipedia article

    Are these reports wrong? I can’t imagine that putting a living animal into a microwave oven won’t cause burns and death. #

  41. Cynthia Franklin says:

    Mr. Leikind simply offers another opinion about the question of cell phones causing cancer.

    However, in contrast, there are hundreds of publications by independent scientists showing biological effects from the non-thermal microwave emissions from cell phones.

    There is significant concern in the scientific community – no, there has not been a causal link established between cell phones and cancer and it may be decades before this is established, if indeed there is one.

    But, there are many people (including their doctors) claiming that their cell phones are causing them to develop a tumor (glioma, acoustic neuroma and parotid gland tumor) at the same location as they hold their phones – and even nerve tumors of the hand where the phone is held. Women are developing breast tumors at exactly the location at which they tuck their cell phone in their bra all day long.

    Is this not reason for concern?

    If it turns out that there is a causal link – how many of today’s children and young people will be afflicted and what will be the future public health costs if true?

    Until we know for certain one way or the other – responsible scientists should be calling for precautionary warnings (as cell phone manufacturers are doing by warning consumers against use of cell phones directly against the body).

    Just because Mr. Leikind believes there is no known mechanism by which cell phone radiation can cause cancer does not make it so.

  42. I have open eyes and open ears says:

    Some ludicrious things about your article

    You seem hell bent on proving that only your opinion is correct.
    You seem hell bent on stopping the arguement that technology can kill

    You ignored the first comment made by someone saying putting a phone next to his head caused headaches. If there is one person who gets medical problems from using a cell phone use you understand that your clam that its ‘impossible to get medical problems’ is a flawed statement.

    Science is never absolute. Its limited by bias, human error, discovery and the interests of big business. A scientist saying he is 100% correct is not a scientist. Just a arrogant, closed-minded person blocked to new information.

  43. jason8 says:

    Hello Mr Leikind

    an interesting link perhaps ?

    i have been fascinated by this debate for some time and trust in the natural laws that you so readily quote to put forward your case BUT it is in my own experience that i am prone to headaches after even mild cell phone use and my brother who is a extreme cell phone user ( about 3-4 hours a day) developed and had removed a large tumor exactly where he holds his phone.

    If you ask me this story is unresolved… data from many years of study needs yet to be accumulated from the higher rates of cell phone use experienced these days.

Patreon: a new way to support the things skeptic creates

Get eSkeptic

Science in your inbox every Wednesday!

eSkeptic delivers great articles, videos, podcasts, reviews, event announcements, and more to your inbox once a week.

Sign me up!

Donate to Skeptic

Please support the work of the Skeptics Society. Make the world a more rational place and help us defend the role of science in society.

Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

FREE PDF Download

The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

Copyright © 1992–2018. All rights reserved. The Skeptics Society | P.O. Box 338 | Altadena, CA, 91001 | 1-626-794-3119. Privacy Policy.