I know, I know, that is a vicious stereotype and I haven't read every single thing Lady Gaga has said regarding science, some of which might be correct, and then compared it to every speculation someone might have overheard Shermer say somewhere, which might have been incorrect - and because I have not been able to do that sort of comparison, some fringe pseudo-science apostates will claim it is entirely possible that Lady Gaga knows more about cell phones than Michael Shermer and therefore I am big ol' repressive science media if I do not give them equal time. So here I go.
At Scientific American, Shermer takes on the cell phone cancer issue and says there is nothing to worry about. Physics is not his strong suit but clarity is, so Shermer notes that proving a negative ('there is no evidence') is impossible and that ramping up alarm over nothing would be bad. Certainly entire industries have been built on alarms that turned out to be unwarranted if you are on one side, like the Y2K bug, or prevented the problem if you are on the other, namely that worrying about Y2K prevented Y2K meltdowns (see The Doomsday Lobby: How Hype And Panic Impact Science Funding for a pretty aggressive book author's more vitriolic beliefs on the matter).
Cell phones are tricky business, though. Supposedly, Lady Gaga has some assistant or another hold the phone away from her ear when she talks - hey, since I am not a pop star I just use a wired ear piece but to each his/her own. She says she is worried about brain cancer. She also thinks walking too much is bad for her and has assistants carry her when she exceeds her daily self-prescribed limit, so her beliefs are suspect, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while so I will give her a chance on the cell phone stuff.
See that phone? It is rotary dial, making her the favorite pop star of hackers everywhere but her claim that low frequency electricity cannot harm her, though the microwave range can, may get her a fail from science fans.
Does Gaga have a point about cell phones and is Shermer wrong? As Shermer correctly notes, cell phones don't emit enough energy to break the molecular bonds inside cells but obviously there is more to biology than that. Gaga seems to want to err on the side of caution, though smoking, drinking and cocaine are not exactly in the clear when it comes to harmful effects on the body so I am not sure why she honed in on cell phones.
Gaga apparently under the influence of cell phones in this interview.
Some commenters at Scientific American had an absolute field day teeing off on him and one mentioned an article on a site called Microwave News that was skeptical of the physics rationale of one of the world's foremost skeptics yet delighted by Lady Gaga's nonsensical statement so I decided to look into it myself - they're an anti-cell phone advocacy group so calibration is warranted, much like it should be when reading science from Union of Concerned Scientists or Pepsi, but we have to assume there is some research on their side just like with those corporations.
Shermer did not claim all energy is free of risk (see today's X-rays linked to increased childhood leukemia risk) just that cell phone radiation is too low to break molecular bonds - accurate. But as I mentioned not the whole story because there are residual effects we may know understand yet and it comes down to managing risk. Well, there is managing risk and then there is over-managing risk. If you never get in a car, your chances of dying in a car accident are obviously mitigated and we could save almost all lives lost in car accidents by lowering the speed limit to 5 MPH but that is not really practical.
Should we agonize over cell phone radiation that is orders of magnitude lower than natural UV rays? It depends. A commenter rightly notes that molecular bonds aren't the only concern, perhaps a maybe inability to repair that may one day be linked to cell phone radiation is, but it seems to be picayune. 'The science is unclear' is the mainstay of anti-science types who insist their pet position is right and Big Science is hiding something. Noting third and fourth order effects and attributing them to cell phone radiation is not valid.
Obviously we are talking about scale when it comes to energy. I don't know a single physicist who wants to live next door to a large utility plant or a tower - the brain is a magnificent device but it runs on inductance so high voltage power lines and the accompanying fields can make a difference when people are too close for extended periods - because that level of potential disruption is unclear some caution is warranted. But it's math so simple even Lady Gaga could do it and cell phones are nowhere close.
Shermer's detractors will note that the energy may cause biological disruption but the actual direct energy from 10 years of cell phone usage is far less than I will get walking from my car to a grocery store this afternoon.
Thanks for your concern, Gaga, but since you also bought ghost hunting equipment and have aides check venues for evil spirits before performances, I hope you can understand why Shermer wins again. Otherwise, the Gaga 'it is unclear' rationale means I also have to give equal time to this woman who claims you stole her daughter's soul.
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