It must be a slow news day because the New York Times has dusted off the bi-monthly cell phone scare story. It’s a pet peeve of mine, so I’m going to rant about it.
“Last week, three prominent neurosurgeons told the CNN interviewer Larry King that they did not hold cellphones next to their ears.”
Well the first problem is it’s Larry King. The second problem it’s neurosurgeons, a medical specialty prone to knowitallitis.
When you’re talking about damage to humans, there are two kinds of Electromagnetic Radiation: Non-Ionizing and Ionizing. The Ionizing type is pretty much everything with a wavelength smaller than the color purple. Ultraviolet, what causes sunburn, is ionizing electromagnetic radiation from the Sun. (Although you can also get UV from a sunlamp, it’s what makes a tanning bed work.) X-rays and gamma rays are also forms of ionizing radiation. It’s called ionizing radiation because the wavelength is so small it can knock electrons off atoms causing damage to the molecules that are part of your body. If you receive enough ionizing radiation the cellular damage can be fatal.
Fortunately for us, the chunk of the EM spectrum that cell phones operate in is the non-ionizing part. Non-ionizing EM radiation can also hurt you, but it does it by directly transferring energy, also known as heat.
Any radio wavelength can burn you if there’s enough power behind it. That’s how a microwave oven works. The magnetron in a microwave oven puts out 700 to 1500 Watts and the heat cooks the food. But that effect is nothing special to microwaves. ANY RF with that kind of power behind it will burn you. Try touching a 60 Watt light bulb while it’s on sometime. Oops, that hurt didn’t it?
That’s the claim about cell phones, that the RF from the phone heats your head and causes long term damage.
And it’s total bullshit.
The average adult human emits 95 Watts in infrared (the part between microwaves and visible light) all day long. A GSM cell phone emits, at most, two watts.
If the fraction of a degree of heating from a cell phone caused damage, how much damage must be caused by touching another human, something 47 times hotter than your cell phone? (I’m not talking about the heat from the battery, that’s much hotter as you know if you’ve ever had cell phone ear from a long conversation.) If heating from cell phone radio waves could cause damage then even standing next to another person would be deadly.
That 100 Watt light bulb in the bedside table lamp would be killing you.
Even worse, the Sun’s energy is about 1000 Watts per square meter at the Earth’s surface, (Give or take depending on latitude and elevation.) If the heat from a cell phone was dangerous, the Sun would be KILLING you.
Clearly we’re not all dead.
Feel free to hold your cell phone next to your head. It isn’t dangerous at all, unless you’re driving or next to me in a movie theater.