Is telecom industry so desperate that it calls for a desperate measures?

In my previous blog I criticized ‘Letter to the Editor’ published in Bioelectromagnetics journal. In it the authors bluntly attacked the IARC Working Group experts for their incompetence. Significantly, one of the co-authors of this ‘Letter to the Editor’ is Dr. Mike Repacholi, former Head of the WHO EMF Project and Chairman Emeritus of the ICNIRP.

Somewhat simultaneously, with the publication in Bioelectromagnetics, was published in ‘The Indian Express’ an interview with Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee. The title of this interview-story is “No link between mobile phone radiation and cancer, says Padma awardee doctor“.

In this interview Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee calls for an unprecedented action by IARC – to remove cell phone radiation from the list of human carcinogens. Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee is not calling for new review of the scientific evidence, he is bluntly calling to trash the work of IARC Working Group. It is again, as in Bioelectromagnetics journal but this time in daily news journal, calling the IARC selected experts – incompetent.

The IARC Working Group was a group of 30 scientists with a diverse opinions on the health effects of cell phone radiation. However, all of them were and are experts in the effects of cell phone radiation with years of research behind them. They overwhelmingly voted the cell phone radiation as a potential carcinogen – 27 experts out of 30 voted for this classification – I was one of them. It was responsible thing to do.Calling the experts incompetent shows how desperate the telecom industry is.

Since its inception in May 2011, classification of the cell phone radiation as a possible human carcinogen was like “bone in the throat” of the industry. Immediate ‘spin’ of the industry spokespersons was that IARC experts had not enough evidence to classify cell phone radiation as a human carcinogen. This was, according to the industry the good news. The industry did not bother that the classification as possible carcinogen indicates that the experts saw enough of the warning signs of carcinogenicity to issue a warning – classification of cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen. This should have been recognized by everyone as a call for action, for more research to determine the size and the scope of the potential danger and, for time being, implementation of the Precautionary Principle.

After May 2011, the IARC classification was used by the grassroots movements to pressure governments around the world to act and to limit human exposures to cell phone and cell phone-like radiation. Apparently these grassroots movements were sufficiently successful and the telecom industry wants to put end to it.

Now the telecom industry seems to use “hired guns” to put pressure on the IARC to revoke classification of the cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen. It is irresponsible thing to do. Dr. Mike Repacholi was one. Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee is another. Time will show who is next.

In the interview with Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee it is interesting to see that he is calling to remove cell phone radiation from the IARC list of carcinogens. It is an error but is it done on purpose? Might be so, because then the call is more appealing to the general public. It is the same story as with the telecom industry saying that cell phone radiation was not possible to classify as a carcinogen. Now it is call to remove it from the list of carcinogens, where, to be exact, it is not listed – it is a possible human carcinogen. Did, after all, telecom industry consider the cell phone radiation as a “carcinogen”, because of IARC classification?

Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee is a scientist and an accomplished popular science writer, liked by different award committees. This he is. However, he is not an expert in the effects of cell phone radiation. That is why to me his call is rather “cry wolf” than a serious to consider call of scientific expert…

Then, there is a very puzzling statement  from the cancer expert of Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee caliber. Quote from ‘The Indian Express’ article:

In a recent article in The New York Times he had argued that the drastic increase in cellphone usage does not mirror incidence of brain cancer, neither is the radiation emitted by cellphones of the nature that can directly damage DNA.

Apparently Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, in his zest to give a lesson to IARC and to deserve praise of his sponsors, , he has forgotten what the cancer latency is and what the co-carcinogen is.

How fast cell phones took off, with currently over 6 billion users, is not comparable with the speed how cancer develops. It takes tens of years for cancer to develop and be diagnosed. That is why Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s argument of the lack of correlation between cell phone usage and rise of cancer is simply unscientific and more exactly – ridiculous. He is making himself a laughing stock.

As to the argument that cell phone radiation cannot cause DNA damage,as a scientist I would not rush to such conclusion. Cell phone radiation appears to generate in cells the very active chemically molecules called “free radicals”. Free radicals, if appearing close by DNA molecule can damage it… So, the DNA damage is certainly not direct but might be indirect… Another possibility is that some other factor causes DNA damage and cell phone radiation only helps to enhance or to fix this effect. Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee should remember these too, before he jumps to premature conclusions.

It is not the last “hired gun” to attack IARC classification. There will be more. I hope that IARC will “stick to its guns” and not allow persons with unscientific reasons to meddle with the established IARC classification procedures.


Dr. Mike Repacholi’s ‘Letter to the Editor’ was sponsored by German telecom industry and Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s lecture in Delhi, India, was sponsored by Indian telecom industry.