A major review of cell phone cancer risks is at the center of an ongoing controversy over whether it is biased and should be withdrawn.

The new paper by some of the most prominent members of the RF–health community contends that epidemiological studies do not show an increased risk of brain tumors or acoustic neuroma associated with the use of mobile phones. That is, cell phones are cancer safe.

Titled “Brain and Salivary Gland Tumors and Mobile Phone Use: Evaluating the Evidence from Various Epidemiological Study Designs,” the new paper is a detailed look at the literature and includes a meta-analysis of many of the studies that have been completed over the years. The lead author is Martin Röösli of the University of Basel in Switzerland.

The paper is slated to appear in the 2019 edition of the Annual Review of Public Health, which is scheduled to be published in the spring. The paper was posted online on January 11.

Röösli has four coauthors: Maria Feychting of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute; Joachim Schüz, a senior manager at IARC in Lyon, France; Italy’s Susanna Lagorio; and the U.K.’s Minouk Schoemaker. Both Röösli and Feychting are members of ICNIRP; Feychting is its vice chair.

Four of the five, all except Röösli, worked on IARC’s Interphone project, a 13-country study of cell phones and cancer. They were part of the faction that maintained the results do not show a link.

In 2011, a panel assembled by IARC —Röösli was a member— disagreed and used Interphone as part of its rationale for classifying RF radiation as a possible human carcinogen (2B).

At the close of the panel meeting, there was talk of a minority report by those who disagreed with the 2B designation. But it never happened. The Annual Review paper fills that gap, though it’s a bit late as many are now asking IARC to reclassify RF radiation as a probable human carcinogen (2A), or even as a known carcinogen (1) in light of the NTP and Ramazzini animal studies.

In December, Australia’s Rodney Croft, another member of ICNIRP, published an analysis that had the same general objective. It is less sophisticated than the new review, and many say that it is flawed.

These disputes are shining a spotlight on the workings of ICNIRP at a time it is under growing scrutiny. A team of reporters is working together on a project called “Investigate Europe: The 5G Mass Experiment,” a series of articles published across the continent on the health implications of the 5G rollout. The German affiliate coined the phrase, “The ICNIRP Cartel.”

Berkeley’s Moskowitz: A Biased Review

Michael Jerrett of UCLA, a member of the Annual Review’s editorial board, solicited the review paper. His expertise is on exposure assessment and his recent research has addressed air pollution as well as behavior and obesity.

When Röösli submitted the manuscript last August, Jerrett worried that the authors had overstated the no-risk case and asked Joel Moskowitz at UC Berkeley to take a look and offer an informal peer review. “The paper is the most biased review of this topic that I have [ever] read,” Moskowitz replied. He urged Jerrett not to publish it, telling him that doing so would be a “disservice to public health.”

Moskowitz, an epidemiologist who tracks RF and health developments on his Web site, Electromagnetic Radiation Safety, has long believed that there is sufficient evidence to adopt precautionary policies and to limit exposures. Ten years ago, he was a coauthor of a meta-analysis that found “possible evidence” linking mobile phones to cancer.

Jerrett asked for another external review of the manuscript and later sent all the comments to Röösli with a request for revisions.

Jerrett and UCLA colleague Jonathan Fielding, the editor of the Annual Review of Public Health, referred a recent query from Microwave News about the peer review process to Jennifer Jongsma, the director of production and the associate editor-in-chief of all 50 Annual Reviews, which cover assorted scientific topics from analytical chemistry to virology. She told me that the two external reviewers “well represented” the views of what she called the “counter group.” She went on to describe what happened next:

“The authors made several compelling arguments in their response to this extensive feedback to justify their causal determinations, and then they revised the manuscript to present a more nuanced interpretation of the evidence base.”

Moskowitz says that he was never sent the revised manuscript for a second review. Jongsma told me that neither of the outside reviewers was asked to take another look and that the decision to publish was made by the Editorial Committee on its own. Asked whether members of the Committee have had experience with the RF issue, Jongsma answered yes, without offering any specifics.

When Moskowitz learned a couple of weeks ago that the paper would be published after all, he was appalled. He wrote and asked Jerrett and Fielding “to consider retracting” it. Moskowitz explained:

“In my opinion, this meta-analysis and review paper does not reflect the state of the science. Furthermore, publication of the paper in this form would contribute to industry efforts to manufacture doubt about cell phone radiation risks and impair public health harm reduction efforts.”

I asked Moskowitz, How extensive were the changes made to the original draft? He declined to answer, citing the confidentiality of the peer review process, however informal it might have been. He did comment that, “The paper that is posted online is biased to minimize evidence of increased risk.”

Stung by the renewed criticism, Fielding and his two associate editors have prepared an introduction to be included in the print edition when it appears in May. They write, in part:

“[S]ome experts may still feel that the authors’ conclusions are biased toward the null. These strong differences of opinion suggest that interested readers should consult the many referenced publications to help them make up their own minds about a public health impact.”

There are 120 publications in the review paper.

I did what Fielding is suggesting. It ishardly reassuring. See my companion article, “The Precarious Case Against Precaution.”