Tag Archives: science

Scary Mobile Phones and Cancer

A friend on Facebook shared this:

Thermographic images of a headf before and after using mobile phone, from "GreenMedInfo" Facebook page

This was my comment in reply:

You’d get the same sort of thermographic image after drying your hair with a hair dryer: all it’s showing is that your head is a bit warmer! In the case of the mobile phone the warmth is probably mostly because you’ve had your hand (holding the phone) to your head preventing it from losing heat naturally: the phone itself doesn’t produce that much heat. As for the radiation it produces, it’s the same sort of radiation you get from a candle (but at a wavelength we can’t see, like the invisible infra-red warmth from a candle).

To get a risk of causing cancer we have to go to shorter wavelengths like the deep ultra-violet in sunlight that can cause skin cancer, and beyond to X-rays and gamma rays because at these wavelengths electromagnetic radiation has enough energy to break up molecules and damage cells in our bodies (which is why X-rays are used in radiotherapy to kill cancer cells).

There’s quite a good explanation of the various possible effects of radiation on our bodies in Sense About Science’s booklet at http://www.senseaboutscience.org/data/files/resources/8/MSofRadiation.pdf

A few years ago the International Agency for Research into Cancer did classify mobile phone radiation as possibly causing cancers but Cancer Research UK point out that this means there is some evidence linking them but it is too weak to draw strong conclusions from and that “the vast majority of existing studies have not found a link between phones and cancer, and if such a link exists, it is unlikely to be a large one”.

Because people get cancers anyway, and we all do so many different things in our lives, if you do enough studies on anything you can probably find a correlation between that activity and cancer in some group of people you happen to choose even if the activity doesn’t actually cause cancer: this can be because there’s some other cause (e.g. with mobile phones it might be that mobile users tend to have more stressful lives and the stress could be a factor) or it could be pure chance. I bet if you did enough studies of hair-dryer users you’d find some who have more cancers than others!

It Is Rocket Science!

Helen Keen is a wonderful comedian. As the Guardian says:

Keen’s a perpetually inquisitive character whose comedy is fuelled by her childhood obsessions with space exploration. Harnessing a sharp comedy sensibility to an arsenal of fascinating facts, she’s a treat for anyone who matches a sense of humour with an inquiring mind.

Helen is just one of the amazing acts at our upcoming seasonal spectacular show, In The Geek Midwinter, “an evening of music, comedy, science and storytelling” (Dec 10th, Reading South St, tickets are a bloody steal, honestly I don’t know how we can make such a great show so cheap, it’s ridiculous).

Radio 4 is repeating the first and second series of Helen’s show It Is Rocket Science starting this coming Wednesday at 23:15. If you didn’t catch it first time around, why not give it a listen, fall in love with it, then head over to the Reading Arts website while we still have some In The Geek Midwinter tickets left.

Pop-Sci Book Club : The Philosophy of Science

Pop Sci Book ClubThe Pop Sci Book Club is a simple idea: read top popular science books and share your thoughts with other enthusiasts. It’s hosted by Kash Farooq on his ever wonderful blog, The Thought Stash, and I can’t think of many more enjoyable ways of expanding one’s mind.

The latest book for discussion is Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction by Samir Okasha, chosen by my good friend and neighbour Stephen Henstridge.

If that appeals then head here for links to buy the book and to join the discussion.

Do your bit. For science!

I want to share this email I got from my good chums at the local branch of the British Science Association. They bring a lot of top sciencey goodness round our way, and they could do a lot more with a little help.

The British Science Association envisages a society in which all walks of life are able to access science, engage with it and feel a sense of ownership about its direction.

Our lively branch is made up entirely of volunteers, holding events throughout the year, as well organising an annual Reading Science Week. Each month we host a Cafe Scientifique in partnership with the University of Reading.

We are looking for general volunteers to appoint for specific positions on the committee. If you are interested in getting involved in the branch please get in touch with the branch chair, Immy Smith.

We are also seeking a Reading Science Week coordinator, which is a bigger role. Reading Science Week is a popular celebration of science in the Thames Valley area, and comprises evening and weekend events for all ages, helping to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers with a fun and inclusive programme.

For full details of the role, person specifications and contact details please see the relevant section of the British Science Association website:

http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/thames-valley-branch-looking-new-reading-science-week-coordinator

There is an application deadline of the 31st August, so please send a CV and covering letter to the branch chair before this date if you are interested.

The Thames Valley Branch look forward to receiving expressions of interest for joining the committee, or Reading Science Week coordinator applications.

Go on. Science isn’t going to outreach itself, you know.

Inside Science

BBC Radio 4 - Inside ScienceI’ve just listened to the first episode of Inside Science, Radio 4’s new science magazine programme. It’s really very good, but then the series has as presenters three of my very favourite people – Alice Roberts, Lucie Green and our recent guest at Reading SITP, Adam Rutherford.

Obviously one episode isn’t much to go on, but the format and the kind of issues covered remind me of Australia’s The Science Show, and that’s no bad thing. On that programme Robyn Williams (38 years in the job and, incidentally, uncle to Ben Goldacre) is great at covering the science but he is also hot on the politics that attach to so many science stories. And while he is a pom, I hear in his pieces a very Australian intolerance for bullshit. He and his ABC producers seem much more willing to criticise their government’s policies than does our national broadcaster.

Inside Science fills the Thursday afternoon slot left by the now cancelled Material World. As much as I liked that programme, I was an infrequent listener. It seemed to me a much cuddlier creature than The Science Show, and less interesting for that. In Adam, Alice and Lucie, Inside Science has three first rate science communicators and three passionate advocates for science. I think we can expect good things.

It looks like subscribers to the Material World podcast will automatically get the new show in their feed, at least for now. The new podcast isn’t showing up in my iTunes search yet but you can subscribe via these links here.

UoR BioBlitz – 7th-8th June

How synchronicitous. Last night I was watching Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and friends doing their back-garden BioBlitz survey and thinking “That looks like fun, I should get the kids doing that”, when this landed in my inbox:

BioBlitz - University of Reading

Are you interested in biodiversity? If so, come and join us as we identify as many species as possible over 24 hours…

BioBlitz at University of Reading Whiteknights Campus, 7th and 8th June 2013, where people come together to identify as many species as possible. We are bringing together scientists, naturalists, local community groups, students and the public to learn about the vast biodiversity on Whiteknights campus. How can you get involved? Everyone is welcome to this free event; take a look at our events page to see what activities are happening over the 24 hours. Join us on one of our guided walks, help us with ID in the lab, come along to a lecture about local wildlife or just visit the environmental fair.

www.uorbioblitz.co.uk

A Skeptic’s Guide to Science and Health Reporting

I’m a little late to this but I think it’s worth sharing. The Science Media Centre was asked by the Leveson Inquiry to come up with some Guidelines for Science and Media Reporting, and here is their submission:

The following guidelines, drawn up in consultation with scientists, science reporters, editors and sub editors, are intended for use by newsrooms to ensure that the reporting of science and health stories is balanced and accurate, They are not intended as a prescriptive checklist and of course shorter articles or NIBs will not be able to cover every point, Above and beyond specific guidelines, familiarity with the technicafities and common pitfalls in science and health reporting is invaluable and every newsroom should aim to employ specialist science and health correspondents, Wherever possible the advice and skills of these specialists should be sought and respected on major, relevant stories; the guidelines below will be especially useful for editors and general reporters who are less familiar with how science works,

  • State the source of the story – e.g. interview, conference, journal article, a survey from a charity or trade body, etc. – ideally with enough information for readers to look it up or a web link.
  • Specify the size and nature of the study – e.g. who/what were the subjects, how long did it last, what was tested or was it an observation? If space, mention the major limitations.
  • When reporting a link between two things, indicate whether or not there is evidence that one causes the other.
  • Give a sense of the stage of the research – e.g. cells in a laboratory or trials in humans – and a realistic time-frame for any new treatment or technology.
  • On health risks, include the absolute risk whenever it is available in the press release or the research paper – i.e. if ’cupcakes double cancer risk’ state the outright risk of that cancer, with and without cupcakes.
  • Especially on a story with public health implications, try to frame a new finding in the context of other evidence – e.g. does it reinforce or conflict with previous studies? If it attracts serious scientific concerns, they should not be ignored.
  • If space, quote both the researchers themselves and external sources with appropriate expertise. Be wary of scientists and press releases over-claiming for studies.
  • Distinguish between findings and interpretation or extrapolation; don’t suggest health advice if none has been offered.
  • Remember patients” don’t call something a ’cure’ that is not a cure.
  • Headlines should not mislead the reader about a story’s contents and quotation marks should not be used to dress up overstatement.

It strikes me that these guidelines are as useful to us consumers of the news as to its writers. If a health story in your newspaper doesn’t tick all of these boxes, it might be best to view the claims with some scepticism.

(Hat-tip to the estimable David Spiegelhalter)