Friday, March 1, 2024

#2742: Devra Davis

There is no credible evidence that cell phones increase the risk of brain tumors or any other forms of cancer, and no plausible mechanism by which they could be doing so – there is, in other words, evidence of neither correlation nor causation. But the myth that there is an association is a persistent one – fear sells, even though the basis for the fear-mongering is nothing but speculative pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, now matter how crazy the conspiracy theory or brand of pseudoscience may be, it is possible to find some authority figure that can lend the idea, however outlandish, a sheen of legitimacy by virtue of their credentials (without, of course, having any more credible evidence than their usually less coherent followers).


For the purported association between cell phones and cancer, perhaps the leading “authority” on the conspiracy side is Devra Davis, an epidemiologist, toxicologist, author, founder and director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, and former professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh. Davis has also served on several governmental and non-governmental organizations, before founding and assuming the position of president of the insane pseudoscience group the Environmental Health Trust, an organization devoted to trying to argue that (and pushing pseudoscience apparently indicating that) mobile devices, WiFi, 5G, and other radio-frequency systems pose a health risk to humans and a risk to the environment, despite being in direct conflict with all credible evidence, scientific consensus, and reason. Indeed, Davis has a history of being careless with facts and evidence in her other works, too, and even of engaging in other straight-out conspiracy nonsense.


Her views on cell phones are summed up in her book Disconnect: The TRUTH About Cell Phone RADIATION, What the INDUSTRY Has Done to Hide It, and How to PROTECT Your FAMILY (capitalization in the original). In the book, Davis focuses on studies (mostly shoddy) that appear to support its alarmist conclusions while deliberately ignoring or falsifying information about studies showing no harm and dismissing them as products of a vast, industry-led conspiracy on the grounds that they reach a different conclusion than the one she is looking for. And accuracy really isn’t Davis’s strong suit: “if you examine only those studies that have analyzed people for a decade or longer you find one thing: Every single one of them shows that long-term heavy use of cell phones has increased the risks of brain tumors”, says Davis, citing the rantings of one infamous Swedish alarmist (Lennart Hardell) as well the large-scale Interphone study, whose conclusion, in direct contradiction with how Davis describes it, was that “[o]verall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phone”. And that example is merely one illustrative example of her style, and not the most egregious one. Here is an even-handed review of the book.


So Davis is aware that the current science is pretty clear that there has been no increase in brain cancer after cell phone use becamewidespread. In response, Davis claims to have unpublished research “taking a more sophisticated look” and that you should trust instead. And perhaps because dimly aware that appealing to mysterious unpublished studies is less than convincing, and because the massive lack of evidence for the purported association (and the clear and unambiguous evidence for no association) is a sore point for Davis, she tends to just lie about the existing evidence: In a 2016 episode for the Australian TV program Catalyst, for instance, she brazenly and completely falsely just asserted that “every single well-designed study ever conducted finds an increased risk of brain cancer with the heaviest users [of mobile phones]”. The claim was quickly refuted by real scientists, but some damage to the public was likely already done: despite being full of nonsense, Davis and her rants are frequently cited by people who don’t know much about the science or evidence, including major media outlets.


In her book, she also tries to defend, by inventing an elaborate conspiracy and appealing to a putative frame-up, the results of Hugo Rudiger, who was found guilty of scientific fraud and whose results could, once the fraudulent parts were removed, not be replicated. A signifant part of the book is also devoted to desperately pushing the decidedly evidence-anemic idea that cellphones are a threat to male fertility, discussed in some detail here (the few studies that ostensibly supports the idea have notoriously failed to replicate). She falsifies physics, too: “[e]lectromagnetic waves ability to travel depends on how long they are. The faster a wave oscillates and the smaller it is, the shorter the distance it can reach”, says Davis.


Davis’s ideas had, not surprisingly, a significant impact during the Covid pandemic. Though not herself explicitly linking 5G to Covid symptoms, Davis vocally asserted, without evidence, that 5G wireless technology poses health risks. Her nonsense was used as an alleged source of authority e.g. in Sacha Stone’s new-age conspiracy film 5G Apocalypse: Extinction Event.


Diagnosis: Though she lacks the wild-eyed incoherence of most anti-cellphone activists, Davis has plenty of paranoia and conspiracy allusions to offer. What she doesn’t have, is evidence, science or a care for facts, accuracy or accountability. It is probably no exaggeration to call her one of the leadings proponents of pseudoscience in the US, and her influence is disconcerting.


Hat-tip: Lorne Trottier @ Sciencebased Medicine

1 comment:

  1. And she was also an expert speaker on climate change.....
    It must be difficult not being part of the big corporation shills and bringing the real truth to the masses. LOL