A Short Critique of Disconnect
By Lorne Trottier
Disconnect is an alarmist and conspiratorial account of the issue of cell phones and health. Far from sticking to the facts, Disconnect totally misrepresents key findings of some of the most important cell phone studies. If you are expecting an objective review of the often confusing scientific data in this area, you should avoid this book.
Disconnect focuses almost exclusively on studies that support its alarmist conclusions while either ignoring or falsifying information about studies showing no harm. Most of these studies used a poor methodology and/or have not been replicated in follow up studies. Disconnect completely ignores the fact that most of world's major public health organizations do regular expert reviews of the scientific literature. Virtually every one of these expert reviews has come to the same conclusion as the World Health Organization "that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields".
Instead, Davis implies that there is a massive worldwide conspiracy to discredit alarmist studies. The book is full of anecdotes about disappearing data, funding cuts, and alleged threats. This is the stuff of a Hollywood conspiracy movie. Such a massive conspiracy, involving some of the world's most prestigious health science organizations, is simply not plausible.
Major misstatements in Disconnect
There are so many things wrong in Disconnect that it is difficult to know where to begin. The book is full of errors and misstatements. We will review a few of the most blatant examples.
Early in Disconnect, Davis gets some facts on basic physics wrong. She states: "Electromagnetic waves ability to travel depends on how long they are. The faster a wave oscillates and the smaller it is, the shorter the distance it can reach." A first year physics student could tell her that all electromagnetic waves follow the inverse square law. The frequency has no effect on distance.
She devotes a whole chapter of the book to defending Dr. Hugo Rüdiger, who was found guilty of scientific fraud - the most serious offence in science. Rüdiger's studies purported to find that cell phone radiation can cause DNA damage - important if it were true. The evidence against Rüdiger is pretty damning: clear evidence his data was "cooked", his results could not be replicated in a follow up study, two guilty verdicts in investigations by the University of Vienna. Yet Davis spins these damning facts into an elaborate whodunit claiming that Rüdiger was the victim of an elaborate conspiracy and frame-up. This is simply not credible.
Davis claims there is "good" evidence that cell phone radiation causes reductions in sperm health and male fertility. She ties together a disparate collection of poorly conducted studies, some of which have failed attempts at replication. She sums up these dubious studies with this bold claim: "We must remember that we live in a world in which some continue to believe evolution itself is a sort of preliminary theory."
Cell phones and brain cancer
Perhaps the most devastating criticism that can be made about Disconnect is that it totally misrepresents key findings of some of the most important cell phone studies. A prime example is the claim by Davis that all studies of cell phone use for a period of more than 10 years have found an increased risk of brain cancer. This is false; several important studies find no harm. The studies that Davis refers to are so called "case control" studies, and most of them were the work of a single Swedish researcher, Dr. Lennart Hardell. Hardell's studies have been widely criticized. These types of studies are less reliable because they depend on memory to assess past exposure. People diagnosed with brain cancer and healthy controls respond to a questionnaire in which they are asked to remember how much they used their cell phones. Recall is known to yield different estimates than actual phone records. Therefore uch studies are subject to so called "recall bias". Davis does not even mention this key weakness.
The most important of the case control studies was Interphone, which reached the following conclusion: "Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phones. There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation. The possible effects of long-term heavy use of mobile phones require further investigation." In this study, the authors discuss the considerable evidence for recall bias that they found. The overall conclusion of "no increase in risk" is the key finding.
A Danish study of 420,000 cell phone users is one of the most important. It was a "cohort study", and it was based entirely on actual medical and cell phone records. Because it is based on objective data, it did not suffer from any "recall bias". Davis gets most of the major facts about this key study completely wrong. For example she says it "included only two cases that had used a phone for a decade". The real number of users for a decade or more was 53,204 (42,549 for 10 - 14 years, 10,655 for 15 - 21 years). No increase in brain cancer or any other illness was reported for any class of cell phone users including the long term users.
Davis has a section entitled "My Unpublished Result" on the incidence rates for brain cancer. Davis acknowledges that overall incidence rates have not changed. But she claims to have "unpublished results" that show a "real increase…in young adults" - who are the heaviest users. She claims that studies that "look at growing rates of brain tumors in young persons remain under review" and have not been published. This is false. Contrary to what Davis claims, at least 4 studies have been published for brain cancer incidence by age group. None shows any increase for any age or sex group that is linked to cell phone use. For example, a Danish study looked at brain cancer incidence rates by age group in 5 Northern European countries. No significant change in brain cancer rates were found for any age group. A recent US study came to a similar conclusion. In science, "unpublished results" rank lower that self published articles, which are at least published.
Brain cancer is one of the rarest forms of cancer. For example it ranks at #15 in Canada. There are more that 4 billion cell phones in use worldwide. The absence of any change in the incidence of brain cancer is the simplest evidence against any connection with cell phones. Davis' mangled commentary on these brain cancer studies are the most blatant examples of the many misstatements in Disconnect. There are simply too many to cover here.
Disconnect is highly selective in focusing on studies that support its alarmist point of view, it rejects contrary studies accepted by the majority of mainstream scientists as the product of some vast conspiracy, and it completely misstates the findings of key studies that find no harm from cell phones. It is at odds with the conclusions of mainstream expert groups such as the European SCENHIR: "It is concluded from three independent lines of evidence (epidemiological, animal and in vitro studies) that exposure to RF fields is unlikely to lead to an increase in cancer in humans". Disconnect is designed to bamboozle and scare the lay reader, not to inform. A more complete review of Disconnect with references can be found on the web site emfandhealth.com.