Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Degrees of danger: cells and dumbness

It takes one's breath away. Still, in the year 2010, articles keep appearing about a possible connection between cell phone use and brain cancer! This in spite of the sheer obviousness of the elementary fact that radiation from cell phones simply cannot do such a thing.

Here's a mental experiment. Imagine your head is a giant, coal-fired power plant somewhere on the plains of America. Suppose someone (a hater of coal power?) walks up to an outside wall of the plant and slaps it with his hand, as hard as he can. Do you expect the slap to affect the plant in any way? Even come close to affecting it? Of course not - the energy of the slap is, one might say with a certain understatement, rather inadequate. So it is with cell phones and the brain.

Here are some numbers: To mess up the molecular bonds inside brain cells enough to cause mutations, thus maybe causing cancer, you need big-time radiation such as x-rays, gamma rays and ultraviolet radiation. They have energies greater than 480 kilojoules per mole. Green-colored light emits photons with a power of 240 kJ/mole, and it can't quite break certain molecular bonds in our eyes. A cell phone emits radiation of less than 0.001 KJ/mole - 480,000 times weaker than UV light!

Next time you come across cell-phone radiation on the beach, kick sand on him. He can't do a damn thing about it.

Scare-mongers (and journalists) are relying on a "better to be safe than sorry" theory of public health. But such a theory is being misused when it makes no sense.

All of this draws me to an item I noticed in a recent "Scientific American." The magazine says Conservapedia, an online encyclopedia run by conservative lawyer Andrew Schlafly, implies that Einstein's theory of relativity is part of a liberal plot. This sort of thing could impel me to pontificate on the inverse relationship between conservatism and intelligence, but let's be positive. After all, isn't it rather suspicious that Albert Einstein actually hated fascism?

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