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<nettime> Re: biology and technology
John Horvath on Tue, 2 Apr 2002 05:34:40 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Re: biology and technology

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

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



For the Sake of Revolution
by John Horvath


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

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

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

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

The Adelaide Hospital Research Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muddling the Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hype over Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons of the Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes and References --------------------


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

3. Moulder, John - Cellular Phone Antennas and Human Health, December 28,
1998. <http://www.mcw.edu/gcrc/cop/>

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

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

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

7. ibid

8. ibid

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

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

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

12. <http://www.umts-forum.org/>

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

14. cf.

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

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

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

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

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

19. "CORDIS New interview with Commissioner Liikanen", CORDIS-RTD News,
Record Control Number 13881, November 9, 1999. <http://www.cordis.lu>

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

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

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

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

24 cf. <http://www.sfbg.com/wire/45.html>

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

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

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

28. The IEGMP Report on Mobile Phones and Health, better known as the
Stewart Report. <http://www.iegmp.org.uk>

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

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