A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation

New York Times: Microwave News Article Archive (2004 - )

November 20, 2018

How does a New York Times reporter justify a grossly misleading headline on a story of major importance?

Usually we could only speculate, but in one recent case, thanks to a health advocate’s persistence, we have a peek at the rationalizations and distortions in play.

The headline sits at the top of a story by William Broad, a staff writer, reporting the release of the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) final report on its $30 million, ten-year animal study of the cancer risks associated with cell phone radiation.

November 9, 2018

Much of the press coverage of the final NTP cell phone/cancer report was lousy. This time, the NTP seems to have wanted it that way.

Reporters were given very little notice to join the NTP teleconference on the release of the report. Nor was there much time to prepare a story for publication.

I received an email at 10:45 am on October 31 for a teleconference at 2 pm that same day. Many reporters missed the advisory and the call. Editors had little time to assign the story.

Attendance on the teleconference was spotty.

September 6, 2018

Challenges NYTimes report (below). “No microwave weapon that affects the brain is known to exist.”

September 2, 2018

“Strikes with microwaves, some experts now argue, more plausibly explain reports of painful sounds, ills and traumas than do other possible culprits — sonic attacks, viral infections and contagious anxiety.” (Front page, print edition, September 2.)

December 5, 2016

Geoffrey Kabat offers a remarkably apt critique of his own writings with his answer to the question, “Do Cell Phones Cause Brain Cancer?”:

“The problem with research in this area is not that it is worthless but that all too frequently it is interpreted naively and uncritically and used for partisan rather than scientific purposes.”

That’s from his new book, Getting Risk Right. It may be the only thing he gets right in the whole book. Hard to say because after reading the chapter on cell phone radiation, we couldn’t slog on much further.

June 10, 2016

On May 31, the New York Times ran a piece in what it calls “The Upshot” on the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) cell phone animal study. The column is a regular feature in the Times that seeks to give readers context for stories in the news. This one was titled “Why It’s Not Time to Panic About Cell Phones and Cancer.” It was written by Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Carroll outlined reasons for his skepticism over the cancer results, calling the $25 million NTP study “imperfect.” This prompted a response from Ron Melnick, who led the study’s design team before he retired in 2009. In an eight-point rebuttal, Melnick corrected what he called “numerous and misleading statements.” The full text of his letter is reprinted below.

June 1, 2016

One common criticism of the new NTP cell phone cancer study is that, unlike the male rats, there was no significant increase in tumors among female rats.

For instance in its latest assault on the NTP results, the New York Times is running a comment by a pediatrics professor in Indiana, in which he states:

“It’s also odd that...

May 31, 2016

Senior managers at the National Toxicology Program (NTP) released the preliminary results of their cell phone radiation study late last week. They were so concerned about the elevated rates of two types of cancer among exposed rats that they felt an immediate public alert was warranted. They considered it unwise to wait for the results to wend their way into a journal sometime next year. Not surprisingly, the NTP report generated worldwide media attention.

There were some startling reactions. Both the American Cancer Society (ACS) and Consumer Reports immediately shelved their long-held, wait-and-see positions. In a statement issued soon after the NTP’s press conference, Otis Brawley, ACS’ chief medical officer, called the NTP report “good science.” Consumer Reports said that the new study was “groundbreaking” and encouraged people to take simple precautions to limit their exposures.

However, much of the mainstream media saw it very differently. The Washington Post ran its story under the headline, “Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer? Don’t Believe the Hype.”

January 1, 2016

In August 2014, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued and then rescinded precautionary advice on the use of cell phones. See our story, “CDC Calls for Caution on Cell Phones, Then Gets Cold Feet.”

Today,* Danny Hakim, an investigative reporter at the New York Times, has published a behind-the-scenes look at what was going on at the time, based on more than 500 pages of CDC internal documents, including e-mails, together with follow-up interviews. His story,...

March 20, 2015

The New York Times went into damage control mode yesterday after Nick Bilton, a tech columnist and a rising star at the newspaper, suggested that precaution is the best approach to the use of cell phones and wearable electronics.

No sooner had Bilton’s column hit print than Margaret Sullivan, the Times’ Public Editor, chastised Bilton for his naive analysis. (It was posted on the Web a day earlier.) Sullivan targeted the lack of “sophisticated evaluation of serious research.”

March 18, 2015

“After researching this column, talking to experts and poring over dozens of scientific papers, I have realized the dangers of cellphones when used for extended periods, and as a result I have stopped holding my phone next to my head and instead use a headset.” What happened next? See our follow-up.

December 1, 2014

”Still worried about power lines and cancer? That’s so retro, says the New York Times. You’re just stuck in the 1980’s.  

This is what the “newspaper of record” wants you to know about the risk of childhood leukemia from power lines: A “fairly broad consensus among researchers holds that no significant threat to public health has materialized.”

The full message is told in a new 7+ minute video, produced by the Times’ RetroReport, which boasts a staff of 13 journalists and 10 contributors, led by Kyra Darnton. The video even credits a fact checker. What was missing is the common sense to do some digging when reporting on a controversial issue.

July 8, 2014

Today’s New York Times revisits the EMF controversy, with reporter Kenneth Chang looking back at a Science Times story about power-line EMFs and cancer that ran in July 1989.

Both now and then the Times quoted David Carpenter. Here...

October 19, 2011

Cornell biologists may have made a breakthrough in understanding why some people are electrosensitive. They report in Nature Communications that humans as well as many other species descended from a type of fish that lived some 500 million years ago which had a "well developed electroreceptive system." A possible implication is that some of us, like sharks and rays, may be able to detect very weak electric fields and perhaps a subset has an electroreceptive system that has gone awry....

April 14, 2011

Next Sunday, the New York Times Magazine will feature a long piece titled "Do Cell Phones Cause Brain Cancer?" by Siddhartha Mukherjee (it's already on the Times' Web site). It's a well-written article, as might be expected by his well-received book, Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. Yet an important part of the story is missing: the politics of cell...

March 31, 2011

People undoubtedly love their cell phones. Yet there are also undercurrents of concern. Today's New York Times devotes more than a half-page to an article on strategies to protect against possible health risks. In "Cell Phone Radiation May Alter Your Brain. Let's Talk," Kate Murphy outlines ways to reduce radiation exposures —from using a headset or speakerphone (a good idea) to pendants and shields (save your money). The story has been both the #1 most e-mailed and the #1 most...

February 4, 2009

Tara Parker Pope, who writes the "Well" column in the New York Times, has picked up the UCSD cancer cluster story in her online blog. This will likely focus national attention on the cluster and how the university deals with it. (See post immediately below.)

June 13, 2008

In a follow-up to her column, "Experts Revive Debate Over Cellphones and Cancer," published last week, Tara Parker-Pope, a health reporter at the New York Times, invited Louis Slesin, the editor of Microwave News, to talk about cell phones, radiation exposures (SARs) and the growing concerns over tumor risks. You can listen to the eight-and-a half-minute conversation on the Times Web site. You can also add your comments to the more than 180 that have already been posted on the Times blog, "How Much Radiation Does Your Phone Emit?"

June 3, 2008

Today's New York Times features a column by Tara Parker-Pope on cell phones and brain tumors, "Experts Revive Debate Over Cellphones and Cancer." As of this afternoon, it is the most popular story (most e-mailed) on the Times Web site.

July 10, 2007

We don't spend much time writing about microwave ovens, but the "Really?" column in today's New York Times science section prompts a few comments.

The columnist, Anahad O'Connor, asks whether people face a radiation risk from standing too close to a microwave oven and concludes that it's "not dangerous." That's about the same finding reached a couple of years ago by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) —see "Microwave Myths" which appeared in its newsletter, Nutrition Action.

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