Why cellular companies sponsor health studies

I recently wrote a column for Fin24.com looking at the science behind claims of electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) and news relating to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields and cancer. It’s a controversial issue and I could easily have made my article twice as long, but had to sacrifice some facets of the argument in order to keep things within column-length. One of the issues I wanted to address, but had to omit, was the logical mistake made by many who write-off studies on the topic of cellphones and health risks because those studies are paid for by mobile network operators.

As I suspected, the comments below my article on Fin24 were used to express the usual logically flawed arguments that pervade any discussion on the topic. I was accused of being paid by a cellular operator to write the article and was told that I didn’t understand the topic. Of course, the people accusing me of not understanding couldn’t explain where I went wrong – they just said I did. Someone also made the comparison between smoking and cellphone use.

It seems ridiculous to any thinking person, but the use of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields is often compared to smoking. People love pointing out that smoking used to be widespread and people didn’t understand the health risks until it was too late for many of them. That is true, of course, but the comparison is just silly.

For one, we do understand the risks of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields. Despite what some of the protestors will tell you, we can very accurately measure the output of radiation sources. A demonstration of this point was made by XKCD when the site published a chart of radiation dosage around the time of the Fukishima crisis in Japan.

If we couldn’t measure the output of radiation sources we wouldn’t be able to build cellular networks in the first place.

Times have changed since the 60s and companies have become more concerned with their futures. Car manufacturers spend millions on studies into the safety of cars – because it isn’t good business to sell things that kill people.

Only someone of questionable sanity would accuse the car manufacturers of evil intent and employing flawed scientific studies to trick the public. So why should cellular technology companies be any different?

I discussed this with Hans Vestberg, the CEO of Ericsson – one of the largest suppliers of cellular telecommunications – on one of his visits to South Africa. Vestberg told me what I expected to hear, that his company spends a lot of money researching the safety of its products because it would be stupid and unsustainable to sell things that hurt people.

My, how evil.

I'm a writer and broadcaster who also designs apps and strategies for disruptive startups in the financial world. Find out more on my about page.