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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Research Integrity? New Study Linking Cell Phones and Cancer



A new Swedish study reports an increased risk of brain cancer in people who use cell phones for extended periods of time.

My take
Having spent much of my career in cellular I always felt there was a little too much truth in a lawsuit in the early 1990's from a woman who had brain cancer the size of her cellphone.

The business I was in was a little too adamant, but who wouldn't be if it would kill your business. In this case, a rush to defend themselves against the lawsuit could be self preservation more than anything. I remained unsure.

I kept a mobile mounted phone until last year
I for one always used a bag and a mobile mounted phone for the reason of keeping the RF (radio frequencies) away from my head. I didn't get a portable until last year. I still don't talk excessively on it.

The Study
Here's what the Swedish study said:

Number of people involved:
2,200 cancer patients, 2,200 healthy patients
What they found:

Those who heavily used wireless phones had a 240 percent increased risk of a cancerous tumor on the side of the head where they used their phone, they reported.

What was heavy use of wireless phones?

2,000 or more hours, or about one hour per day for 10 years.
The need for better research

The effect of preconceived notions on researchers is a proven fact.
That is why double blind studies and independent verification are so vital to accurate research.

The lack of such studies has always bothered me. If a company funds a researchers work and the researcher makes the company look bad...research dollars go elsewhere.
There are few who are willing to bit the proverbial hand that feeds them, although there are some.

Researcher bias

But there is also this thing of researcher bias.
Take the same group of rats. One set of researchers THINKS the rats are dumb and the other group THINKS they are smart. The "smart" group makes it through mazes faster even though there is no genetic difference in the rats. (I'll have to pull out my old psychology book to find the study.) Why?

Teacher bias

Since I relate everything to teaching, what about teacher bias? We've all seen it happen. A teacher who mistakenly thinkgs that a class is "bright" and gets so much more out of the class than anyone dreams and likewise.

Why does this happen?

The power of the preconceived notion

We all have our preconceptions. I am always careful to build up my classes. To find the good. To repeat the good. I've seen far too many kids get mislabeled.

Unfortunately, a mislabel is as powerful as a label and kids often live up to it.

My own sister was "mislabeled" as dumb in fifth grade and it took us until 10th grade to find out about her learning disability. She just graduated with highest honors from Savannah College of Art and Design with her masters in Graphic Design. All A's in College. Mostly C's in Middle School. Hmmm.

She thought she was "dumb" and so did the teachers!

I hate labels!
Hate is a "bad word" but here it is appropriate. We label things to organize categorize things for our minds so that we can simplify and make sense of them. "Jock." "Geek." "Dumb." "LD." "ADHD."

Some descriptions of a child or their condition are necessary. But beware, lest the child BECOMES their condition or their behavior. Children are children, not diseases!

The power of one child!

Children are beautiful wonderful things. They are unique and lovely. They are like my roses. Each one is different and has a different part of the bush (or my table) to adorn.

Take care not to label them and put them in a box that they cannot grow out of! Take care not to label classes or they will become what you say.

Preconception Questions Remain
Sometimes when I'm talking about a class in the teacher's loungue and I say:
"They are wonderful and bright. I love teaching them. Their averages are so high. They are very bright."
Other teachers will ask me which class and be surprised at my description. I'll hear a response like,
"I had always heard they were lazy and have found it to be true. They don't do well for me."
Watch your thoughts and words for they are often prophetic

I guard my attitudes and thoughts about classes.

When they exhibit a behavior I try to remember that it is a BEHAVIOR and not THE CLASS. I work on changing the behavior to get at the brilliance and innate excitement that I believe is in each child!

Are all my children brilliant? No, not in terms of IQ, perhaps. But these children aren't their IQ scores. They aren't their grades. They are people who desperately need to be educated.

My Conclusions on Cell Phones and Research

I wouldn't throw your cell phone in the trash quite yet. As always, I will continue to temper my cell phone usage and use my landline phone for lengthy phone calls. I've never thought that wattage and RF was very good for you.

A little question of RF
Of course, now the US is covered in RF -- wi fi, cellular, broadcast TV. It would be interesting to see unbiased studies on the effect of RF in the atmosphere and cancer rates.

Just a question: As we wi-fi our schools are there any studies of increased RF on growing children?
Research and Socio-Political Influences

I will continue to look at research for what it is... a decision making tool. I rarely change habits based on ONE study but when you see multiple studies emerge you can usually see a pattern.

I am saddened by the recent trend of socio-politico influence on research results. If a researcher goes in with an open mind and finds answers contrary to political thought, they are ostracized. (If you follow global warming, you'll see this to be true with how Bjorn Lomborg was treated after he published his book The Skeptical Environmentalist. I have an uncle with PhD in Evironmental Engineering who has opened my eyes to this!)

The same thing happened with eugenics prior to World War 2 -- people who disagreed with eugenecists were ostracized. The center of eugenics research was none other than Germany who set out to kill the "feeble minded." Where were the dissenters? What atrocities and shame? Research supported eugenics. How?

You see this happening in everything from Intelligent Design/ Evolution, to Global Warming/ Global Freezing. Scientists have lost their ability to be objective and disagree in constructive, meaningful ways. Some sites that debate these subjects resort to non-scientific profanity and downright rudeness. As a teacher and educator, it disgusts me that adults do not know how to disagree and still be friends.

The integrity of research, the integrity of politicians, the integrity of information is meeting with increasing skepticism from both me and my students.

The future of research integrity.

I certainly hope that there is a way to institute more research integrity in the future. I'd like to see industry and government pool resources in an account that funds research. The researchers should not know the source of the funds and are commissioned to find "the real" answers. Multiple researchers conduct the work using double blind studies and outside statistical analysis.

If we REALLY care about knowing truthful answers to the cell phone cancer question, the use of social tools in the classroom, or any questions that haunt modern society, we will scrutinize how we conduct research!

This should apply to even Web 2.0. Although I see how well it works and am an advocate, what if all research is funded by Web 2.0 startups. I'm sure how the research will turn out!

What if all of the research was funded by a typewriter company? a copier company? a particular software vendor? an anti-technology group?

In Conclusion
So, as I've given you my Spring Break thoughts on a topic which I've been pondering for a while. I hope you take away these thoughts:

  • Scrutinize research and try it, but go with your gut. Research can be flawed, your gut is USUALLY your best guide.
  • Beware of having preconceived notions about children or classes.
  • Never label a child or a class.
  • In your sphere of influence, speak out for the integrity of research.
  • Model an effective ability to disagree with those who see differently from you and show it to your students. (Leave caveman tactics in prehistory.)
  • Be open minded but skeptical. Be a truth seeker even if others are not!

I'm getting ready for Monday and what lies ahead with my students! I'm getting excited!

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