According to an Associated Press report,
a state legislator from Maine has introduced a bill that would attach a
warning label to cell phones. The proposed warnings would feature bold
red text warning of the danger of brain cancer, and feature an image of
a small brain. There’s one small problem with all of this: there’s
little evidence that cell phones increase the risk of brain cancer.
I think Ars hits the nail on the head with this point:
As with any scientific consensus, there are dissenters, and the AP
article features them prominently. These include the retired director
of a cancer research institute, who bases his claims on unpublished
data, and a report from an organization called the BioInitiative
Working Group, which includes scientists who research this topic. The
AP reporter, however, didn’t appear to have bothered to evaluate the
Bioinitiative document; doing so would have revealed a selective and,
in some cases, misleading view of the current biomedical literature. In
short, the report doesn’t appear to be a reliable guide to the
scientific literature, making its conclusions suspect.
Although the National Cancer Institute is given the final say (no
apparent risks at this time), the article highlights one of the
weaknesses of traditional reporting. In attempting to provide a sense
of balance, it uncritically provides space to those who dissent from
the prevailing consensus, which is likely to confuse those who haven’t
dug into the scientific literature.
(Presumably in an attempt to humanize the report, it also presents the
opinion of a Maine cell phone user, even though there’s no indication
that the individual is in any way especially informed about the topic.)
The whole article is here.
Science reporting is just plain different than politics or human interest reporting, because one side has a preponderance of evidence, and the other has some well meaning, but often really uninformed folks. The Daily Show probably drove this point home best with Walter vs. the Large Hadron Collider. I know, people get uppity when you bring out the term scientific consensus and start talking about the conspiracy of science. After 400 years of scientific concensus that the Earth revolves around the Sun, 1 in 5 Americans still believes that’s a conspiracy of science.