You've written that the cellphone industry's long-term
strategy for responding to studies showing its products
damage DNA is to "war-game the science." What exactly does
this strategy entail?
Devra Davis: The example
in the 1990s, which is documented in my book, was that
[University of Washington researchers] Henry Lai and Narendra N.P. Singh found significant evidence of DNA damage
caused by cellphone light radiation comparable almost to the
damage you would get from X-rays, which is ionizing.
At the time, it was generally
believed by some people that non-ionizing radiation, which
comes from a cellphone, could not possibly be physically
damaging because it was so weak.
Well, it's true that
non-ionizing radiation lacks the power to have damage. But
its damage seems to come from its modulated signal. So every
900 milliseconds, if you have a cellphone in your pocket,
it's getting half of that radiation which is getting into
you as it seeks the signal from the tower.
So the industry understood this
could be of enormous consequences, so they did three things.
First, they wrote to the university and tried to get the
scientists fired for violating the rules of the contract
that they were working under at the time.
They then wrote to NIH [National Institutes of Health] - and all of this has
been documented in my book and there's been no lawsuits
filed about any of the statements I'm making to you - and
they accused the scientists of fraud for misusing funds to
do the study.
Then, when that didn't work they actually had
somebody meet with the journal editors to try to get the
article accepted for publication unaccepted.
After those three things didn't
work, they also hired a scientist named Jerry Phillips to
try to show they could not replicate their work.
for history, Phillips was an honest person. He replicated
their work and when he insisted on publishing his work both
he and Lai effectively stopped working in this field. They
were no longer funded to do any more work in the field.
In case all of that wasn't
enough, as the coup de grace, a memo was written from
Motorola to its PR firm saying we think we sufficiently
"war-gamed" the science. [Direct quote from the
1994 memo: "I think we have sufficiently war-gamed the
Where it gets really interesting
now is that President
Obama just nominated the guy who ran
the CTIA [Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association]
at the time this was going on to become the head of the
Federal Communications Commission.
His name is Tom Wheeler.
He's been a huge fundraiser for Democrats and Republicans,
more Democrats than Republicans.
And under his leadership at
the CTIA (which has been written about by [research
scientist] George Carlo in his book about this industry) a
$27 million joint program was run to study health effects of cellphones. And that study, according George Carlo, was shut
down when they started to produce positive results.
And that's all in Carlo's
book, written with
Marty Schram, who's an investigative
What ever happened to Lai?
DD: He's still a
scientist [at the same university], just no longer working
in that field. And if you Google his name and Seattle magazine,
there's a 2011 expose
article that he gave them. He's still courageous enough
to speak about it.
BJ: What are the typical flaws
you've found in examining industry-touted studies, many of
which are also industry-funded?
DD: Well, first of all, you have
to separate epidemiologic studies from experimental studies.
Epidemiologic studies tend to be studying people for a short
period of time who have not used phones a lot. So of course
they don't find anything.
So, for example, 700,000 people
started to use cellphones in 1993 to 1995 in Denmark. And
you throw out from your study 250,000 of them because they
were business users and your study can't be sure whether the
business users might have shared their phone with somebody.
So you throw them all out. Then you basically leave in your
study all the people who use phones very little back in
1993, when phones and the use of phones cost more than $1000
a year. And you look at all of those people who use phones
and you compare them to people who started to use phones
later on and you don't see any difference in their brain
cancer rate. And you conclude their phones are safe?
an example of a study that's been widely cited as showing
that cellphones are 'safe.'
The average studies of
cellphones and brain cancer have studied people who have
used cellphones for five years or less. Sometimes eight
years. Every study that has actually examined people who
have used phones for 10 years or more, and is well designed,
finds a 50 percent to an 800 percent increased risk.
is why the Israelis, the Finnish, the French governments
have all issued warnings.
But in fact focusing on cancer
has been a brilliant part of the strategy for industry.
Because it's not [just] about cancer that we have to be
concerned. Cancer is one of the issues.
But a much more
important issue than cancer is reproductive damage, on the
nervous system, on the brain and on sleep. Many of the
negative studies that have studied people are only looking
at cancer and not looking at these other things.
Studies done by the Cleveland
Clinic and other organizations around the world have found
clear evidence of human sperm damage, taking sperm from one
man and putting it into two different test tubes and
exposing one test tube to cellphone radiation and the other
And guess what? The cellphone exposed test tube - those
sperm died three times faster with three times more damage
to their mitochondrial DNA.
With respect to experimental
studies, it's much easier to get negative results because
all you have to do is study the wrong cell type. Younger
cells are more vulnerable than older cells. So if you study
adult cells - and really, effects are mostly in neural stem
cells, very young baby cells - then you're not going to see
Because older cells, more mature cells, are more
resistant to damage. The younger a cell, the faster it
grows, the more vulnerable it is to damage.
I'm releasing a study next week
in Thessaloniki, Greece, done with researchers in Brazil,
where we have modeled exposure, and we show that the
exposure of a cellphone gets all the way through the brain
of a 2-year-old or 3-year-old. And yet people are giving
cellphones to toddlers for educational devices and not
turning off their connection to the Internet.
So we are very
concerned about children's exposure and the greater exposure
BJ: What are the current U.S.
safety standards for cellphone radiation exposure based on?
DD: They're based on the
assumption that cellphones can only do one thing, which is
produce heat. That's number one.
They're based on an
11-pound head of a 220-pound man talking for six minutes [a
day]. They do not take into account the possibility of any
biological impact that has nothing to do with heat. And yet
there's growing evidence that that is the case. There's
damage to sperm, there's damage to embryos that are growing,
there's a whole bunch of things that go on that are not
taken into account.
So current standards are
outdated, outmoded, and one thing that the FCC has in common
with the cicadas is that they take 17 years to change
themselves. [The Federal Communications Commission
announced in March that it would reevaluate
radiofrequency radiation standards for cellphones for the
first time since they were originally established in 1996.]
And of course with this new
person designated to take over the FCC, I think what it will
probably mean - I hope what it will mean - is that the FCC
cannot be allowed to set standards for cellphones.
you have someone who for 10 years masterminded showing there
was nothing wrong with cellphones be in charge with setting
up the new standards?
BJ: Why has the cellphone
industry moved glacially to produce phones with lower
radiation emissions while simultaneously generating a
never-ending stream of new technological bells and whistles?
DD: Because they can. Because
people are ignorant about these things. And because - here's
one of the dirty secrets about cellphones - we know that
drugs, sex and rock and roll stimulates something called
dopamine in the brain. So do videogames.
something that we crave. We get dopamine in the brain when
we like something a lot. Well, cellphones stimulate
dopamine, too. So it really is the case that there are some
people who are pretty addicted to these devices.
But once you understand it, you
can do something really radical, which is turn your phone
off and reclaim your private life.
BJ: But with such a ubiquitous
product, so ingrained in our lives it's difficult now to
imagine living without them, what are some basic
recommendations for how people can limit their risks when
DD: First of all, get in a habit
of putting it on airplane mode, except when you want to be
interrupted. Get your life back. Get your private time back.
Say no to being on-call 24/7 unless you are an emergency
responder. Use a speakerphone, use a headset.
Get in the
habit of never putting the phone next to your brain or body
unless it's a true emergency. When the signal is weak, the
phone is working more, you drain the battery faster, so only
use a phone when the signal is weak in a true emergency.
People have got to get to
realize that. If it's a true emergency, then you can use it
with a weak signal.
But otherwise the weaker the signal, the
more radiation it's putting into you. And that's one of the
reasons why in Sweden and Israel researchers found that
where people are using phones in rural areas their risk of
brain cancer is higher than in urban areas.
We think because
the radiation is being dumped into their bodies more. On our website, people can go to
see the Doctor's Advice - we have 250 million copies of this
that have been given out.
It's two sides, one piece of
paper, and explains why you need to be concerned, what the
science shows you and how you can protect yourself.
BJ: In your book
Disconnect, you wrote:
"The need for research in
this field is one fact upon which all have usually agreed.
The absence of research has become part of the rationale for
making no changes in the meantime. The history of what
little research has been conducted in the United States on
radio frequency radiation shows a remarkable pattern of
science lost and found repeatedly."
Can you elaborate on this
DD: Well, Allen Frey, when he
was a young investigator for the Office of Naval Research,
first did studies showing that cellphone-like radiation
weakened the blood-brain barrier.
Now remember, when he was
doing his research there were no cellphones. This was back
in the 1970s. And he was doing research on something called
radar. Radar, of course, is what cellphone radiation is
exactly like. It can be a similar frequency, it's just much
He tells a story, which I quote
in my book, that when he produced his findings showing that
just a little bit of exposure to this pulsed digital signal,
which is now a cellphone signal, could weaken membranes of
But he was visited by a team of researchers who
said this is really fascinating work and if you want to get
funded, you'll stop doing it. So there are old examples of
There's the example of [German
EMF scientist] Franz Adlkofer, the chapter in my book called
"The Doctor Who Danced With the Devil," which talks about
how they went after this guy [after he produced research
showing cellphone radiation unravels DNA], who fortunately
for all of us wasn't easy for them to do in.
everybody like Adlkofer who can stand up to these guys,
unfortunately there are many more who never survive.
Larry Lessig, Professor Lawrence Lessig at Harvard Law School,
held a seminar on ethics last year about what happened with
Adlkofer [beginning in 2008 -
it here.] And he had me and Adlkofer there talking about
the history of how the industry had gone after him, tried to
discredit him, because they could not afford to have those
results go unchallenged. So recently that's what's gone on.
I myself have been producing
work on analyses of brain cancer in the United States, which
shows an increasing incidence of brain cancer in young
people. And we've had a great deal of difficulty in getting
that work published.
The fact is, this industry has
set up - and you may quote me on this - a quarter of a
billion dollar fund for the sole intention of war-gaming the
science, of creating media responses.
So the moment an
article comes out saying there's a problem, they have
scientists ready to come up with another one saying,
we're not really sure."
And the manufacture of doubt and the
magnification and exaggeration of uncertainty is a huge
David Michaels had a wonderful
Doubt Is Their Product. [The title] is based on
a memo from the tobacco industry. ["Doubt is our product
since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of
fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is
also the means of establishing a controversy," wrote a
As long as they can raise doubt in the
public mind about the science, which is how most people
think of cellphones today - "well, I'm not really sure, I've
heard things, maybe there's something wrong, but, you know,
it's probably okay because if there was something wrong they
would tell us" - as long as you can maintain doubt, people
will keep doing what they're doing because these things do
have a lot of attraction.
BJ: What's the source for the
quarter of a billion dollar figure?
DD: This admission was made at a
London briefing that included members of the [international]
Mobile Manufacturers Forum, and the Association of
Telecommunications and Value-Added Service Providers, which
represents most of the German providers in this field.
not know whether CTIA was involved directly, but I know that
these groups work closely together on such matters.
[According to Davis, someone living in England who attended
the briefing revealed this admission to her off-the-record.]
I thought to myself, "If this
industry is spending a quarter of a billion dollars, then
this is really validation for what we've been doing."
BJ: Similar to the decades-long
struggle to get U.S. regulatory agencies to definitively
link smoking with cancer and declare them a dangerous
carcinogen, how does cancer's long-term characteristic
manifestation and prevalence work in the cellphone
industry's favor and pose another future public health
DD: Because cancer can take a
long time to develop and necessarily has multiple causes.
you focus only on cancer, you don't bring attention to
things that can take nine months or less to develop. For
example, birth defects or learning disabilities or possibly
autism. And keeping the debate focused on long-term issues,
for which there are legitimate questions, you take the
public focus away from the more serious short-term issues.
For example, there is apparently
an epidemic of tinnitus in younger people. Tinnitus is
ringing in the ears and it can be disabling.
associated with cellphone use. There's an increase in
serious weight disorders from cellphone use. And people who
don't sleep have serious other consequences for their health
that can be associated with it. There may be as well
increases in problems with their memory.
And all of those
things are not as sexy and don't demand as much attention as
cancer, but they can be very, very important from a public
health point of view.
BJ: To prove causality regarding
cancer in a court of law is very difficult. One of the
industry's main arguments for why cellphones are safe is to
point out that people have been using them for years now but
there's been no proven correlating epidemic of brain cancer.
Is that a legitimate argument?
DD: That's absolute nonsense.
Because the reality is, the way we've used phones and the
amount that we've used phones has changed radically in the
past five years. When phones were first marketed in the
1990s, it cost, for car phones, $3000 to buy a phone and the
average person did not use it that much. They were very,
The data that we have on cellphone use and
brain cancer comes from that long ago period of time. And by
the way, that's only 20 years ago. Brain cancer has a
latency in the population of 40 years. We know that because
when we studied the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
there was no increase in brain cancer to those who were
exposed to the ionizing radiation from the bomb until 40
years after that exposure took place.
So are we really going
to say we should wait 40 years, see how much cancer happens
and then try to protect others from getting as much?
In my book
The Secret History of the War on Cancer, I
discuss at some length how the whole idea of what is
evidence for causation in epidemiology cannot be separated
from the whole debate on tobacco. Simply cannot be
It was because the tobacco industry understood
that if they could raise doubt about how you could conclude
something caused cancer, that they put so much effort into
getting so many receptive public health authorities to say,
"Well, causation requires that these five things be met."
that is, in fact, nonsense.
If you are a physician and
someone comes to see you with an absolutely incapacitating
headache or a swollen arm, you don't tell them,
in 10 years when I've completed my study and I'll see what I
can do for you."
And we have lots of things right
now for which we do not have explanations and we have good
reasons for concern, concerning behavioral changes in our
children, serious problems with hearing difficulties,
increases in thyroid disease.
Where there's a lot of reason
for concern and we need to start to take precautions to
reduce exposure. That is what the governments of France and
Israel and Finland and India are doing now. Even Canada.
BJ: How did the FDA come to
approve cellphones for widespread public use without any
DD: That's an interesting story
that's also in my book Disconnect.
The fellow who
oversaw the approval of the cellphone with no safety testing
at all - as soon as that was done at the FDA - went on to a
very lucrative career at Motorola for 20 years afterwards.
He argued that the only health effect from a cellphone was
Since cellphones don't produce a measurable change in
heat within six minutes, which at the time was the only
standard, they said, "OK, they're safe."
BJ: The cellphone industry
appears to have learned many lessons from the tobacco
To get the industry off the ground, the Federal
Telecommunications Act of 1996 essentially prevented local
authorities from weighing any health concerns when deciding
where to install cellphone towers. Apart from the often-overlooked
safety warnings accompanying new cellphones, are there other
actions the industry has taken to indemnify itself from
potential future liability.
Does any legislation, for
example, exist or is there any in the works you're aware of
that would indemnify them from future mass lawsuits?
DD: I know that the strategy is
"If the phone was in compliance with existing law,
then we should not be faulted."
Do you have an iPhone? [She
emails me a screenshot - below image - of iPhone's safety warnings, which are
located in the phone.] This is a screenshot of the safety
warnings that are buried six levels in within the iPhone.
And because of the screenshot, you can make it bigger and
you can do things with it. But in the iPhone itself, it's
the only thing that cannot be magnified or copied. But I
outsmarted it by making a screenshot of it.
BJ: Another tactic the cellphone
industry appears to have learned from the tobacco industry
is to target young users as early and often as possible. We
even see plenty of commercials here in the States that
depict a tween or teen schooling their parents on the
necessity of purchasing the latest cellphone model.
Why is cellphone radiation more dangerous to children and
DD: A young child's brain has a
thinner skull and the brain contains more fluid.
fluid or fat in any material, the more it absorbs microwave
radiation. In addition, the earlier in life you can get
children hooked into needing this stimulation, the stronger
the tie they will have to these devices.
BJ: What types of legislation in
other countries have already either passed or have been
introduced to outlaw advertising or selling cellphones to
children and teenagers?
DD: In particular, recently
Belgium has banned the sale of a cellphone to a 7-year-old.
Turkey has banned ads and advertising to children. So has
France for children under 12. India has bans in certain
areas. In Bangalore, you cannot sell a cellphone to someone
younger than 16. So in different parts of the world, they've
taken different steps.
You can go to our website and click
Worldwide Advisories to see what other countries have
But the reality is, cellphones
have to be used safely. They are today like cars and trucks
- we can't live without them, but we certainly wouldn't give
a car or truck to a toddler to drive.
Why are we thinking
it's perfectly okay to give a device that the World Health
Organization has said is a "possible human carcinogen" to
infants and toddlers, and for that matter, schoolchildren?
My colleagues and I just
Review Strengthens Grounds for Concluding that Radiation
from Cellular and Cordless Phones is A Probable Human
Carcinogen) where we conclude, based on new evidence published
since the WHO did its assessment in 2011, that cellphone and
other wireless radiation should be classified as a "probable
Now, engine exhaust and lead and DDT are
classified as "possible" human carcinogens and based on
that, governments have policies all over the world to
restrict exposure, particularly for children, but for
BJ: What is the most difficult
obstacle you've found in trying to bring more public
awareness to this issue?
DD: The close-mindedness of my
scientific colleagues has sometimes been utterly
That the most prominent scientists, very
respected people, are so close-minded because they are also
human and addicted to these devices. That's been the most
difficult thing to deal with.
But we're winning on the
science because we're not making this stuff up.