My Dad got a letter asking him to take part in a big epidemiological study on the risks of mobile phone use. I assume his name was randomly selected, rather than the result of a brainstorm that began, “wouldn’t it be fun to have…” . He passed it onto me, remembering that I used to bang on about such things. The study is being run by Paul Elliott at Imperial, who was one of the people I interviewed for my PhD. It’s a cohort study, which means it’s expensive. Cohort studies recruit people and follow them for a period of time during which they get data about their lifestyles (in this case, how they use a mobile phone) and their health (whether they get cancer or other things). Cheaper case-control studies find groups of people with an illness and compare them against a control sample. This study is costing more than £3 million, paid for by the Government and the mobile phone industry.
The letter recruiting participants states that,
“The current position on mobile phones and health is that in the short term (less than ten years) mobile phone use is not associated with an increase in brain cancers. However, there are still significant uncertainties that can only be resolved by the COSMOS study monitoring the health of a large group of mobile phone users over a long period of time.”
My research on the shaping of mobile phone risks found that it didn’t make sense to talk about uncertainties in purely scientific terms. How uncertain we are depends on what we choose to worry about. Interest in the risks of mobile phones waxes and wanes like many other public issues. I’ve written before about the fallacy of assuming uncertainties can be cleared up by science in politicised issues. The idea that this mobile phone study will resolve these uncertainties once and for all is ridiculous.