Supplement to "Voodoo Science" reading

Bob Park, the author of the chapter from "Voodoo Science" that you're reading, writes a weekly column about physics & current political news, called What's New. I have saved a few items relevant to the power lines reading.

Friday, 9 Feb 01    

CELL PHONES: NO DAMAGE TO DANES' BRAINS. A study of more than 420,000 Danes, from 1982 through 1995, that was reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found no link between cell phone use and brain cancer. That should settle the issue, but it won't. As one famous Dane said four hundred years ago: "Methinks it is like a weasel." Dire EMF warnings continue to be issued. A local TV station just alerted people to beware of the metro - some subway cars have fields as high as a Gauss! That's no where near as deadly as the bubble gum stuck to the seat.

NOTE: 10000 Gauss = 1 Tesla, so a Gauss is extremely small.

Friday, 9 Mar 2001   
EMF: POWER LINES MAKE IT BACK INTO THE NEWS -- SORT OF. When the National Cancer Institute released its 1997 study showing no link between residential exposure to EMF and childhood leukemia, there was reason to hope power line paranoia might at last die (WN 4 Jul 97). Certainly, no tort lawyer would take it to court again; it's mostly cell phones now (WN 9 Feb 01). But in the UK, a report by the National Radiological Protection Board found a trace of a pulse. Headed by Richard Doll, the first to implicate tobacco smoke in lung cancer, the report said SOME studies have found a POSSIBLE small risk from exposure to fields FAR stronger than most people are ever exposed to, but no plausible mechanism exists. Even this wimpy statement was enough to elicit a "we told you so" from the fear-mongers.

Friday, 23 Mar 01   
EMF AND CANCER: TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL? Consumer groups and politicians in Rome have charged that the likely cause of a cancer cluster around the Vatican is a high-powered radio transmission tower used by the Church to spread the holy word.

Friday, 31 Mar 02   

EMF: CALIFORNIA PREPARES TO RESURRECT THE POWER LINE SCARE. It's been more than 20 years since it was first claimed that power lines induce cancer. In 1995 the APS Council stated that such conjectures "have not been scientifically substantiated" ( A year later, the National Academy of Sciences concluded the same thing (WN 1 Nov 96). In 1997, a National Cancer Institute epidemiological study found no detectable EMF/cancer link (WN 4 Jul 97). Not a single lawsuit based on health effects of EMF has ever succeeded. Yet, California's Department of Health Services, inexplicably turned to three obscure scientists in the Department to "review" EMF studies. Without any new evidence, the three "are inclined to believe that EMFs can cause some degree of increased risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease and miscarriage." Their review has not yet been released to the public. When it is, it will start this whole thing up again.

Friday, 19 Mar 02   
MASSAGING: SOMETIMES A MASSAGE MAKES YOU A DIFFERENT PERSON. According to the New York Times, Lee Schroeder, an LBNL official, characterized Ninov's misconduct as "some data had been massaged." It's not the first time this soft word has been used at LBNL to describe fabrication of data. A biophysicist named Robert Liburdy who had played a prominent role in the debate over whether power lines are linked to cancer, was the only scientist who could find direct evidence that EMF has any effect on living cells. In 1995, however, the APS "Statement on Power Line Fields and Public Health," , pointed out there simply was no plausible interaction mechanism. After the APS issued its statement, LBNL initiated an investigation of the Liburdy claim. Finally, in 1999, Robert Liburdy was fired for "massaging" data. Liburdy acknowledged that he had omitted some data for "illustration purposes," but in one case investigators found he had omitted 93 percent of the data that did not agree with his hypothesis. To call that a "massage" is like calling Michael Jackson's cosmetic alterations a "nose job."

Friday, 27 Jun 03   
POWER LINES AND CANCER: DEAD HORSE IN HAMPTONS FLOGGED AGAIN. Long Island turns out to be just like the rest of world: power lines don't cause cancer there, either. That is the not entirely unexpected result of a large study, to be published next Tuesday. The study began in 1996 and studied the exposure of over 1000 women to magnetic fields; no correlation with breast cancer showed up. Does this result reassure the local activists? Not in the least. "I don't think anyone should be satisfied," the president of a local activist group told the Associated Press. "I think we need to push on."

Friday, 26 Sep 03   
MAGNETIC THERAPY: HAVE WE GOT NEWS FOR YOU! IT DOESN'T WORK. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week, "Effect of Magnetic vs Sham-Magnetic Insoles on Plantar Heel Pain," reports that a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial of 101 adults diagnosed with plantar heel pain found no significant difference in outcome between use of active vs sham magnets. It was carried out by capable physicians from the prestigious Mayo Clinic. They even got the right answer. So what's the problem? The problem is the huge cost to society of disproving claims for which there was no evidence to begin with. Next we will learn that the Fish and Wildlife Service is funding a study of New York sewers to look for alligators.

Friday, 20 Feb 04
FEAR FACTOR: DO ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES DAMAGE BRAIN-CELL DNA? Well, they did back in 1989 when Paul Brodeur wrote his first New Yorker article claiming 60 Hertz magnetic fields induce cancer. They stopped doing it in 1997 when the National Cancer Institute released the results of a massive epidemiological study that found no hint of a link between EMF and childhood leukemia. But if you wait long enough, all issues recycle. Now, researchers at the U. of Washington claim to have found breakage of DNA strands in the brains of rats exposed to 60-Hz magnetic fields like those produced by hair dryers and other appliances. It's a wonder any of us have made it this far. But don't toss out the toaster yet. These claims keep coming up, but rarely survive. Let's at least wait until someone repeats the work.

THE AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY (Note: Opinions are the author's, and are not necessarily shared by the APS, but they should be.).