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Cell Phone Use Tied To Changes In Brain Activity 191

Takichi writes "The New York Times is reporting on research linking cell phone use and increased metabolism, with high statistical significance, in the areas of the brain close to the antenna. The study was led by Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and is published (abstract) in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The impact, good or bad, of the increased stimulation is speculative, but this research shows there is a direct relationship between cell phone signals and the brain that warrants further study."
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Cell Phone Use Tied To Changes In Brain Activity

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  • Unsure (Score:3, Funny)

    by MikeDirnt69 ( 1105185 ) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @09:11AM (#35289142) Homepage

    The impact, good or bad, of the increased stimulation is speculative (...)

    I'm speechless!

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by somersault ( 912633 )

      It doesn't look like they even used a control group of people doing nothing, people just talking, people talking with the phone on the other side of their head, etc. From the pics all you can tell is that basically a lot of the brain is more active after an hour on the phone, not just the spot next to the antenna. Why are researchers so clueless?

      • Hmm okay actually having read the article and not just looking at the picture, the results are more interesting, but I'd also like to know what happened if they tried the same thing with the left phone rather than the right. It could be something as simple as the phone gets warmer, increasing the rate of chemical reactions on that side of the brain.

        • Re:Unsure (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @09:44AM (#35289368) Homepage
          There is a real disconnect between the single picture and the article text. The picture posted in the NYT shows increased diffused uptake, perhaps a predominance on the right side (the side with the active cell phone) but it's anything but obvious. From all of the chatter surrounding the article, I hope to hell that the actual quantitative results are better founded and the picture just isn't very useful.

          TFA claims that the study is high quality and if they can get reasonable results from 47 people, they had to see a substantive difference. Still and all, it's a relatively easy experiment to repeat and I assume that is in progress as we speak. I'd like to see some better controls (both left and right active, a determination of how repeatable the fMRI values are in a given person over a couple of hours just to name two off the top of my head).

          As everyone has been taking great pains to note, this doesn't show anything but a putative effect of putting an active cell phone next to your head - it's neither good nor bad and it's not necessarily due to the radio emissions (that's an assumption).
      • Re:Unsure (Score:5, Informative)

        by commodore6502 ( 1981532 ) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @10:13AM (#35289662)

        >>>It doesn't look like they even used a control group of people doing nothing

        Yes they did.

        >>>people just talking

        Yes they did.

        >>>people talking with the phone on the other side of their head

        Yes they did.
        It helps if you actually READ the article, since the researchers tested the phone on both sides of the head, with the phone turned off, and with the phone turned on, and observed the brain only reactived with the phone turned on (and on whichever side it was located).

        >>>Why are researchers so clueless?

        They are not.
        You however are.
        Sorry but you posted the post, and I'm just responding in kind.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by somersault ( 912633 )

          Yeah, I might one day learn to RTFA properly. Still, they only tested with the phone on the right side switched on, they didn't do the left. Considering it was far more than just the part near the antennae that was active after the hour with the phone on, I think it would have been better to test both sides, maybe even try the phone at the front too.

          • by foobsr ( 693224 )
            quote from TFA: "Dr. Volkow said that the latest research is preliminary and does not address questions about cancer or other heath issues, but it does raise new questions about potential areas of research to better understand the health implications of increased brain activity resulting from cellphone use."

            And what further conclusion do you think one could draw if one did a test with the 'left side switched on' as well?

            IMHO, this is obviously piloting for a broader approach to raise funds.

            • And what further conclusion do you think one could draw if one did a test with the 'left side switched on' as well?

              To see if the effect really was strongest at the point closest to the antenna, or if that was just a coincidence.

        • by daenris ( 892027 )
          Actually they didn't use a separate control group, or switch the sides of the phones. Here's the relevant bit from the actual paper:

          All participants had 2 scans performed on separate days using PET with 18FDG injection under resting conditions. For both scans 2 cell phones, one placed on the left ear and one on the right, were used to avoid confounding effects from the expectation of a signal from the side of the brain at which the cell phone was located. For one of the days both cell phones were deactivat

          • no control for RF vs just being "on" (e.g. in airplane mode)... may have nothing to do with wireless/RF radiation at all...

    • Well thankfully we know the report is completely bogus because repeatedly over the last decade various slashdotters have rabidly and repeatedly insisted, despite lots and lots of evidence to the contrary, this is impossible because all of the radiation is completely blocked by skin and therefore impossible to interact with anything other than skin.

      Goes to show what has become common today, popular ignorance is still ignorance.

      • *facepalm*

        Hey, look, there goes jesus on a triceratops!

      • The heat from the phone could have some effect, just like the heat from a laptop on a lap decrease the sperm quality

      • "Goes to show what has become common today, popular ignorance is still ignorance."

        This study does absolutely nothing to show that the increased brain activity is caused by radio waves. It could just as easily be due to the sound entering only one ear. If they had controlled for such obvious alternate causes, this "study" might have actually demonstrated something interesting. But since they didn't... it didn't.

        • They did say the sound was muted, actually.
          • I replied to this once already, but Slashdot seems to have misplaced my reply. Weird.

            Yes, you are correct. I did not see "(sound muted)" the first time I read the abstract.

            It is too bad, in a way. I was all set to point out that while the brain activity was correlated to the EM field strength, it would likely have also correlated strongly with auditory processing, since a lot of it happens in the temporal lobe right by the ear.

            Ah, well. At least it shows that I was practicing my critical thinking.
    • by Meski ( 774546 ) *
      Increased metabolism?

      Cell phone use linked to weight loss!!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The link to not [POPUP] reading this post and getting cancer isn't fully [AD] analyzed and might be actually both ways. Also we're [BANNER] not sure why would a post prevent or cause cancer. Technically [POPUP] we're just at the start. We'd appreciate if someone funds our study into the [AD] posts-cancer link.

    I hope you feel better informed. Thanks for your time.

    • Yes this is a POOR article. The Summary I submitted was better:

      LINK - []

      "47 participants had pairs of Samsung cell phones strapped to their heads, one on each side. The phone on the left ear was turned off, while the one on the right received a 50-minute recorded message. This phone was kept muted so that the subject didnâ(TM)t know which phone was on, and also to prevent stimulation of the brainâ(TM)s hearing

      • by tobiah ( 308208 )

        The sciencenews article was shorter and better explained the research paper, but what I'd really prefer is to be able to read that paper. Anyone have a link for a free version?

  • by lennier1 ( 264730 ) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @09:18AM (#35289198)

    Why bother?
    With all that electromagnetic pollution our great-grandchildren will be born with at least three arms anyway.

  • Cell phones are making us smarter and here's the proof! I always knew that first world countries excelled due to an unknown unfair advantage!
    • First world countries? You don't travel much do you.
      Phones conquered the entire planet years ago.

  • The end of the abstract points out that no clinical significance of this finding is known.
    It seems to me that the result could be caused by the slight heating of the brain due to absorption of some of the RF energy. I wonder what would happen if they re-did the study but used earmuffs instead of cell phones.
  • by polyp2000 ( 444682 ) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @09:33AM (#35289298) Homepage Journal

    I've lost count of the time I've looked at my mobile seconds before it is about to ring.
    This is completely unscientific, but I am convinced my brain has "learned" to recognise the
    electromagnetic interference caused by the phone just before its about to ring or receive a message.

  • Does anyone actually hold a cell phone up to their head anymore? I certainly did from the early 1990s to about 2005 or so. But now? Using it in the car where I am is illegal so I've got a hands-free there. Often when I am travelling I will communicate via e-mail or text message (because they are the cheaper options). And when I am at my desk I use Skype more than anything else for both chat and calls (so I can still have both hands free for taking notes). I can't remember the last time I used my cell
    • Loads of people still talk on the phone for hours, holding it. I can't stand that either and I have a variety of hands free kit to prevent it as well. But judging from all the dipshits I've seen walking down the sidewalk all funny while talking on the phone, or driving like an asshole while talking on the phone (I look at the face of every driver it's convenient to look at in an attempt to gauge their emotional state, so I see if they're holding a phone to their head, and virtually everyone driving while ho

      • by lazarus ( 2879 )
        Good point. I warrant that the Slashdot crowd probably uses a cell phone in this manner less frequently than the general public. May be a good topic for a poll.
      • I hate cell phones so much, I average two cell calls a day, and spend less a minute. My 300 minutes per two months at $30 card have piled up to 2500 minutes thus far. My wife has 7000. I don't use phone to text, browse, take pictures or play games. The alarm is handy but other than that it's just a goddamn telephone to be shunned and marginalized.
  • by the_raptor ( 652941 ) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @09:36AM (#35289336)

    This study involved computer based analysis using PET scan data*. Similar studies have often been shown to have overstated or no real statistical significance**. With only 47 participants this study has, in my eyes, about the same validity as the average undergrad study.

    Unfortunately tomorrow it will be in all the newspapers to prove that cell phones cause cancer (ironically this study was done with ionising radiation, whose cancer causing effects are well known).

    * I am a pysch student and these studies are the ban of my existence. They mostly have the same validity for studying human behaviour as the old method of making shit up based on observation. However they seem much more "sciency" to funding committees.

    **,_Its_Wrong []

    • by Smegoid ( 585137 )

      With only 47 participants this study has, in my eyes, about the same validity as the average undergrad study.

      I'd love to know what kind of experimental psychology you do that typically runs so many hundreds of participants that you see 47 subjects as equivalent to an undergrad project.

    • by gTsiros ( 205624 )

      (ironically this study was done with ionising radiation, whose cancer causing effects are well known).

      wait, what? how did they get the cellphone to emit ionizing radiation?!

    • You have no idea what you're talking about. The abstract clearly illustrates their type I probability as at most .05 which is pretty standard.

      Using other figures from the abstract I approximate their type II probability using the following
      approximate critical t value (from the t-table in Wackerly's Mathematical Statistics) 1.96 for 46 df

      t confidence interval
      4.2 = 2.435 + 1.96*se
      implies se = .9005
      since se = (recall n=47)
      std. dev. = 6.1736 (approximately)

      The effect size (d)
    • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @03:00PM (#35292528) Homepage

      "This study involved computer based analysis using PET scan data*. Similar studies have often been shown to have overstated or no real statistical significance**. With only 47 participants this study has, in my eyes, about the same validity as the average undergrad study."

      I don't think any of those things mean what you seem to think they mean. *

      (1) On PET scan data not having "validity" -- skeptical. Citation needed.
      (2) On the linked article of science paper statistical shortfalls -- there are some good cautionary points in that article. The article does not say that similar studies have been shown to have "no real statistical significance" (in fact, just the opposite). I challenge you to point out specific statistical pitfalls (from your linked article) of which this abstract runs afoul? Because I don't see any.
      (3) 47 participants is perfectly reasonable, since the accepted number for a t-test as done in the study is considered to be 30 or more (hence generating an approximately-normal sampling distribution of sample mean results, per the Central Limit Theorem, assuming no outliers found in the obtained data). The strength of the evidence obtained is reflected in the calculation of P = 0.004 (which is super, super low, i.e., enormously significantly significant), not by your hand waving about what should count "in your eyes".

      * I'm a lecturer in college statistics.

    • Do you have some basis for saying that 47 participants is too few? If you think you do, then I urge you to do some more careful reading of your texts on power analysis. And I specifically urge you to read some of the many fine articles by statisticians on the evils of retrospective power analysis. The bottom line of all this is that once the study is done, and there are findings, it doesn't matter if it had too few subjects. Either the statistics are valid or they're not. In this case, they're... well

  • A major decrease in brain activity has been linked to using phones' "SMS" feature.

  • the question of course is if there is any health significance to minutely cooking your brain. the human body can take certain mechanical, chemical, thermal, radiation, or other abuses, with constant exposure, resulting in no changes whatsoever. while at the same time, other types of the same kind of abuses, to the tiniest of degrees, have serious health consequences

    the only thing you can really say is beware anyone who can say for certain that the effect is completely harmless, or definitely harmful. they a

  • i worked on a tour boat. i would go on the roof of the boat, and lie out in the sun... right under the rotating radar. i said i was a dumb teenager. i wonder if my testicles produce viable sperm...

  • Replace "cell phone use" with "wearing a hat" or "doing a crossword puzzle" or "seeing an attractive jogger while driving" or "playing BioShock". Don't lots of things increase the brain's metabolism? So what? My brain needs all the metabolism it can get! So the evil plot goes like this: 1) Show cell phones do something to your brain. 2) Become media darling. 3) Get on Dr. Oz. 4) Profit!
  • The 'increased metabolic rate' noted is trivial, and generally below the level of normal system variation (or variations tied to autonomic processes that we're not comprehensively aware 'static noise').

    You can get an order of magnitude more metabolic change in the visual processing centers by opening your eyes, for example. Temperature changes, interest level, even something as transient boredom can cause the metabolic rate in specific areas of the brain to fluctuate wildly.

    In fact, just the warmth

  • by bmo ( 77928 )

    >director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse

    Not to go all ad-hominem, but I'm just supposed to take some political hack's word for it?

    Also: 47 people in the study.


    Bad science leads to scare mongering at best.


  • This should be interesting for what happens next. James Burke said in Connections "Gut reaction is all you have to go on when you don't understand something and it's almost always dangerously wrong." This study is flawed in many ways and inconclusive in all ways but one. But no amount of scientific explanation and reality checking will prevent ignorant and uninformed people from drawing the wrong conclusions, making judgments, and passing laws based on those conclusions.

  • Maybe they were holding it wrong?

  • Do any Neurologists read /. ?

    Would a 2.4 micromole per minute change in glucose metabolism in the orbitofrontal cortex and temporal pole region be of any practical significance? What is the expected value and what is considered "normal" (perhaps not in the statistical sense) variation for glucose metabolism you'd see in a PET scan in this part of the brain in general?

    I get that the study shows that it is statistically significant (they use a two sample t-test and some version of ANOVA for multiple c
    • the metabolic change in and of itself is inconsequential. But the fact that, if true on face value, there *is* a difference means that *something* *may* be going on. What it is, may well also be unimportant... or not... this finding, if it holds up at all, is just the beginning... Personally, I am not sure that sufficient controls were done to be absolutely sure that the effect, if real, is due to RF radiation.

  • I didn't see anywhere where the researchers controlled for just general EM from the device that is "on", not specifcally RF at either 850Mhz or 1900Mhz (which they should also differentiate between). Does this happen when *any* electronic device, particularly those with CPUs, clocks, inductors, etc is on near the head?

    BTW, neurons are exquisitely sensitive to small variations in activity and firing rate of neighboring neurons. So the fact there is apparently NO PERCEPTUAL effect to these reported metabolic

  • I find a few issues with the paper itself: First, they claim that the E-field created drops off as 1/r^3 and use the far field approximation, akin to a dipole. However, a cell phone is not a dipole, and at the ranges in consideration, the field is likely to drop off more like 1/r. In addition, a look at their plots of the field with time, shows that there is a nearly uniform difference between the on and off measurements' points. While I can't claim that the results are false, I must take issue with the phy

He: Let's end it all, bequeathin' our brains to science. She: What?!? Science got enough trouble with their OWN brains. -- Walt Kelly