• INTERPHONE again – story from the “down under”

"Question Everything" is one of the mottos of the SUT (photo Kirsti L)

In November 2010 I have spent 2 weeks in Australia at the Swinburne University of Technology (SUT) in Hawthorn/Melbourne. The reason was to familiarize myself with the workings of the laboratory of Andrew Wood at the Brain Research Institute of SUT. I have been appointed an Adjunct Professor at SUT and in July 2011 I will come to Andrew’s lab for an 8-months sabbatical to study effects of mobile phone radiation on stress response in human endothelial cells. In this research I will be using exposure equipment, constructed by Vitas Anderson, which allows observing behavior of cells during the exposure to mobile phone radiation. In the 2002 study published in DIFFERENTIATION, showing induction of stress response in human endothelial cell line, we were not able to see what is happening with cells during the 1-hour exposure to mobile phone radiation. The exposure system provided by Vitas will allow it.


Street in Hawthorn close by to SUT campus (photo DL)

During my stay in Melbourne, on November 22, the Australian Centre for RF Bioeffects Research (ACRBR) has organized the Science & Wireless 2010 event (SW2010). This yearly Community Interaction event, which ACRBR organizes since 2007 (http://acrbr.org.au/CommunityInteraction.aspx), is the great discussion forum where scientists, as well as the  representatives of the industry and of the mobile phone users, can present their views and discuss the current issues related to mobile phone health safety. This event is a very good example of how the discussions between various groups of stakeholders can, and should be, facilitated. 

In November 2010 the topic was, as could be expected, the final results of the INTERPHONE. The event consisted of three presentations and a panel discussion – all of which are available on the ACRBR website: http://acrbr.org.au/sw2010/Default.aspx.

All of the three presentations were very interesting. However, the most interesting were some parts of the final panel discussion (http://acrbr.org.au/sw2010/Default.aspx?section=Panel).

After publication of the INTERPHONE research in spring 2010, there was a lot of discussion about the quality of this study. Many, including myself in this science blog, have pointed out that the weaknesses of the study design put in serious doubts the validity and usefulness of the final conclusions of the INTERPHONE. Others were of a different opinion.

During the panel discussion an epidemiologist from the Monash University has asked why the INTERPHONE study was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, a journal that is not counted among the best. Why such eagerly expected study was not published in some better journal, like e.g. Nature. The answer from Bruce Armstrong, leader of the Australian part of the INTERPHONE has confirmed that also INTERPHONE researchers were well aware of the shortcomings of the study. Bruce said that “…we did not think that anyone would accept it…” and later “…let’s face it, its not the world best paper, it is also bloody long…” and later “…we did not think that New England Journal of Medicine would have given it the time of day because it is just too complicated and too inconclusive…” (this part of Bruce’s answer is at the time-point of  09:24 of the discussion panel video http://acrbr.org.au/sw2010/Default.aspx?section=Panel).

This nswer, and some other comments during the discussion, has prompted me to ask the question whether epidemiology will ever be able to give us reliable answer about the induction of cancer that is very rare, few to less than 20 cases per 100.000 people. I also asked whether the money would be better spent on non-epidemiological studies (my question and subsequent Bruce’s answer start at time-point 44:50 of the discussion panel video http://acrbr.org.au/sw2010/Default.aspx?section=Panel). To my understanding, Bruce Armstrong, in his response to my comment has agreed that what we need now is more basic laboratory research to find out whether the biological effects are real or just artifacts.

What is more, and what I have pointed in my comment, that such “scientifically imperfect”, and largely due to this “inconclusive”, study as INTERPHONE is and will be used by the various funding agencies to justify refusal of funding for further research. Scientists applying for new studies will likely hear that there is no sufficiently proven evidence of health risk and, therefore, further studies on biological effects are unnecessary. I have been getting such answers… This, unfortunately, might be the real “scientific” long-term impact of the INTERPHONE.

Melbourne Yarra river banks by night (photo DL)

3 thoughts on “• INTERPHONE again – story from the “down under”

  1. “I would not want to be a heavy user of a mobile phone,” Prof Armstrong said. “People might be shocked to hear that the evidence does seem to be coming more strongly in support of harmful effects.”

    his video interview

  2. Dear Quirino,
    You are absolutely correct. Journal editors can influence what opinions are presented in their journals. Peer-review can be also abused to fit someone’s agenda. Beeing too critical is not always welcome.

  3. Dear Dariusz,
    The INTERPHONE study has more holes than a spaghetti strainer. I think that good epi studies are possible, but must be prospective not retrospective. Wrote a critical comment to IJE about INTERPHONE, but my letter (Asher Sheppard coauthor) was not accepted for publication. You cannot be too critical of poor published papers; the publisher or the editor will block your comments. We live in an era of make believe.
    Best wishes,
    Q. Balzano

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