On March 22, 2018, journal ‘Environmental Research‘ published a peer-reviewed article: “Report of final results regarding brain and heart tumors in Sprague-Dawley rats exposed from prenatal life until natural death to mobile phone radiofrequency field representative of a 1.8 GHz GSM base station environmental emission” by Falcioni et al, with the lead author Fiorella Belpoggi, Head of Research at the Ramazzini Institute in Italy.
The study has been justly heralded as the largest to-date animal study examining the effects of cell phone base station-emitted radiation on rats.
The authors of the study stated that:
“…A statistically significant increase in the incidence of heart Schwannomas was observed in treated male rats at the highest dose (50 V/m). Furthermore, an increase in the incidence of heart Schwann cells hyperplasia was observed in treated male and female rats at the highest dose (50 V/m), although this was not statistically significant. An increase in the incidence of malignant glial tumors was observed in treated female rats at the highest dose (50 V/m), although not statistically significant…”
…and based on this result concluded that:
“…The RI [Ramazzini Institute] findings on far field exposure to RFR are consistent with and reinforce the results of the NTP study on near field exposure, as both reported an increase in the incidence of tumors of the brain and heart in RFR-exposed Sprague-Dawley rats. These tumors are of the same histotype of those observed in some epidemiological studies on cell phone users….”
Following the publication of Ramazzini study, various news media and website outlets informed that this peer-reviewed study not only strengthens the evidence of the NTP study but that the Ramazzini study is a “game-changer“. However. there is a problem with the Ramazzini study and calling it a “game-changer” might be premature.
Also, the “peer-review” label does not automatically mean that the science and its interpretation is good or even correct. From the experience of being journal editor (Bioelectromagnetics, Proteomics, Frontiers), I know very well how imperfect the peer-review is. In the opinion piece that was published in The Scientist Magazine, I have said:
“…The publication of a scientific study in a peer-reviewed journal is commonly recognized as a kind of “nobilitation” of the study that confirms its worth. The peer-review process was designed to assure the validity and quality of science that seeks publication. This is not always the case. If and when peer review fails, sloppy science gets published.
According to a recent analysis published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, about 67 percent of 2047 studies retracted from biomedical and life-science journals (as of May 3, 2012) resulted from scientific misconduct. However, the same PNAS study indicated that about 21 percent of the retractions were attributed to a scientific error. This indicates that failures in peer-review led to the publication of studies that shouldn’t have passed muster. This relatively low number of studies published in error (ca. 436) might be the tip of a larger iceberg, caused by the unwillingness of the editors to take an action.
Peer review is clearly an imperfect process, to say the least. Shoddy reviewing or reviewers have allowed subpar science into the literature. We hear about some of these oversights when studies are retracted due to “scientific error.” Really, the error in these cases lies with reviewers, who should have caught such mistakes or deceptions in their initial review of the research. But journal editors are also to blame for not sufficiently using their powers to retract scientifically erroneous studies…”
The journal editor has powers to select reviewers and by selecting reviewers the editor may, if wishes so, assure that the manuscript will be accepted or rejected.
Ramazzini study is, indeed, the largest animal study examining effects of radiation emitted by the base stations. And, indeed it is a peer-reviewed study. And… nothing more…
The claims by the authors that their study shows an increased risk of developing Schwannoma and glioma in male rats exposed for the whole life-time to radiation emitted by the base stations is not sufficiently supported by the data presented in the study.
Table 2 in the Ramazzini study presents Schwannoma data.
Closer look at the numbers in the last column of the Table 2, presenting percentage of animals that developed Schwannoma, puts doubt on the authors’ claim. The single statistically significant data point in the whole Ramazzini study might be just a “glitch”. The sham group had zero of spontaneous Schwannoma…
An explanation that male sham group had zero of Schwannoma because animals were shielded in the Faraday cage seems not plausible because female rats, in the Faraday cage, developed Schwannoma in the sham group.
The plausibility of the sole statistically significant data point in the whole Ramazzini study seems very low because in the NTP study it was needed exposure at SAR of 6 W/kg to induce sizable number of Schwannoma (6 out of 90 rats) and exposures at 1.5 W/kg and 3 W/kg did not yield sizable numbers of Schwannoma (2/90 and 1/90). Exposures in the Ramazzini study were dramatically lower than those in the NTP study. The highest level of exposure in the Ramazzini study was 50 V/m equaling ca. 0.1 W/kg, what is 60x less than the radiation level that in NTP study induced 5 Schwannoma in 90 rats. If the data of the Ramazzini study were to be correct then the NTP study should have seen much higher level of Schwannoma than it did.
The plausibility of the correctness of the data in male rats is further diminished by the data in female rats where the level of Schwannoma in sham group is over 3x higher than historically expected and where the data go “zigzag” and the highest level of female Schwannoma is observed in the lowest exposure group.
The authors of the Ramazzini study claim also that the exposures to base station radiation levels would cause increase of the risk of developing glioma. However, the look at the Table 3 also put doubt on this claim.
The female rats are claimed to gave glioma developed because of the radiation exposure and this is claimed to be supported by the NTP data. However, in the NTP study the male rats got glioma, not the female rats. While historical level of glioma in female rats agrees with what was observed in sham group, the result in male rats does not. In male rats historical data indicate 1.3% of the population of sham male rats should develop glioma but in the Ramazzini study the number is zero.
The plausibility of the glioma data, for female rats, is further put doubt when comparing levels of radiation exposure between the NTP study and Ramazzini study. If the Ramazzini data is correct then, in the NTP study, should have seen much more of glioma in female rats… but it did not.
The major problem of the Ramazzini study is the sensitivity of the assays performed at the extremely low radiation levels. While the total number of the animals in this study might be high, the numbers of animals in each experimental group are relatively small when looking for a rare disease at and extremely low level of radiation exposure. Spontaneous “appearance” or “disappearance” of a single case of disease from the experimental group has significant consequences. Comparison of the results of the Ramazzini study, performed at the extremely low radiation levels, with the results of the NTP study performed at much higher radiation exposure levels suggests that if the Ramazzini data is correct then the NTP study should detect much higher levels of Schwannoma and glioma than it did.
There is a very low plausibility that Ramazzini study data are result of base station radiation exposure levels. Appearance of the cases of Schwannoma and glioma. It is rather a “glitch” caused by the random occurrence of spontaneous cases of Schwannoma or glioma in experimental groups.