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Mobile/cell-phones and cancer

Why Devra Davis wants the world to hang up and take notice

December 12, 2015

Ian Cuthbertson

American scientist Devra Davis has an impressive record in public health, helping to expose the dangers of tobacco, asbestos and passive smoking. Next on her list? The always-on, every-present mobile phone.

When I meet Devra Davis in the foyer of a waterfront hotel in Sydney’s Woolloomooloo, there’s a moment when her siege mentality shows. The tireless American campaigner on the dangers of mobile phone radiation, who believes they should be used at all times as far from the body as possible, is posing for photographs with clunky retro handsets. She always carries three types with her in her handbag, including these comically colourful old-school models. Asked by the photographer to hold one to each ear, she baulks. “Don’t make me look like Mickey Mouse,” she says. “I don’t want to look like a quack.”

Though the science in her 2010 book, Disconnect: the Truth About Mobile-Phone Radiation, has been questioned, even pilloried, by some experts in the field, Davis is not an ill-informed fraud shouting her way around the world. In fact, she has a long and distinguished career in science behind her, including 10 years as a board director at the US National Academy of Sciences. There, she oversaw the evaluation of the evidence on the likes of tobacco and asbestos. “While we waited and continued to evaluate the issues, millions of people were exposed,” she says.

Davis, 69, was involved with the first efforts to discourage smoking in the indoor environment because of the dangers of passive smoking, and notes that Australia was a world leader on this issue. “At the US National Academy of Sciences I saw how long it took for us to say, ‘Maybe there shouldn’t be smoking in the environment of children’,?” she says. “At one point, 70 per cent of surgeons in the US smoked,” she adds, sounding justifiably incredulous.

Mobile phones, Davis says, are like tobacco in that they are widely used. “But, unlike tobacco, mobile phones play very valuable roles in society. They have transformed our ability to respond to emergencies and for us to communicate with each other at any time, from anywhere. On the dark side, mobile phone technology has also enabled terrorist groups to communicate with one another


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