Legislation, Litigation or Appropriation?

The cover of the latest “Skeptical Inquirer” prompts us to go back and review the testimony of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing held on Monday, September 14, on the health effects of cell phone use. Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) noted he had called the hearing at the request of Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and commented:

[It] is not the intention of this subcommittee to create undue alarm. But one thing that we’ll want to discuss today is whether we need more NIH research in this area and how that research should be conducted. Our expert witnesses will also discuss if there are precautions we should be taking now to reduce our exposure to cell phone radiation in case these fears turn out to be well-founded.

I’m reminded of this nation’s experience with cigarettes. Decades passed between the first warnings about smoking tobacco and the final definitive conclusion that cigarettes cause lung cancer. If more people had heeded those early warnings or if we could have established the link between tobacco and cancer more quickly, many lives would have been saved. We don’t know yet whether cell phone radiation poses a similar danger. I hope today’s hearing will begin to address that question.

Sen. Specter (and we’ve added links to his statement):

The subject was brought to my attention by a distinguished doctor who has written extensively on cancer, Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. And he wrote a book on cancer which I found to be very illuminating. [Anticancer] I’ve had a couple of bouts with Hodgkins and was fascinated to hear Dr. Servan-Schreiber’s views on sugar and white flour feeding into cancer. And if you’ve had chemotherapy a couple of times, you look into any conceivable source to minimize the risk.

This was an appropriations hearing, so the core issue was money for research, and the portions we watched were not alarmist. Still, when a hearing starts out with comparisons to tobacco, you have to look around the room (or the IP log) for representatives of the litigation industry.

And … here are some headlines prompted by the hearing:

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