How Big Wireless Made Us Think Cell Phones Are Safe—While Selling Millions of Them

by Vins
Published: Updated:

A study conducted by Kaiser-Permanente and published in December 2017 in Scientific Reports followed hundreds of pregnant women in the Bay Area and found those who were exposed to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) produced by cell phones and wireless networks were three times more likely to have a miscarriage, with 10.4% of the women with the lowest amount of exposure still miscarried. The possible effects of EMR exposure are controversial and massive because “from a public health point of view, everybody is exposed,” said lead investigator De-Kun Li, “if there is any health effect, the potential impact is huge.”

Given the extreme potential for such a colossal public health crisis, where is the public debate on this issue? In an investigation into the telecom industry published in The Nation, researchers compare the telecom industry’s “war-gaming” tactics and public relations playbook to that of big tobacco and the fossil fuel industry in the 1960s and 1980s. The wireless industry has “war gamed” science by playing offense as well as defense: funding studies friendly to the industry while attacking studies that raise questions. This strategy amounts to a major win for the industry, because the apparent “lack of certainty” helps to reassure customers that exposure to these devices is not harmful. Thus, when studies have linked wireless radiation to cancer or genetic damage, the industry spokespeople can point out that other studies disagree. And this technique has paid off immensely for the industry. When this issue was first being raised in the 1990s only six out of every 100 people had a cellphone; as of 2016, a whopping 95 out of every 100 now use a cellphone.

The corporate news media’s biased coverage and the industry’s neutralizing of this safety issue has potentially created a public health crisis not only in America but also around the world. The dangers of ERM from cell phones should lead to serious concerns about the proposed revolutionary transformation of society dubbed the “Internet of Things.” As Wi-Fi and Blue Tooth technology becomes increasingly prevalent so too will exposure to ERM.

The independent press has been advocating for discussion of this public safety information for years. Public health activists recently found some success. On December 13, 2017 the California Department of Health (CDPH) released its first guidelines on “How to Reduce Exposure to Radiofrequency Radiation for Cell Phones.” Dr. Joel Moskowitz, from UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, is part of a large group of published scientists working on radio frequency health effects, responded to the CDPH recommendations,  “The science is a lot stronger now, but you would not think that reading from this document. It’s underplayed.’’ He and his fellow scientists are calling for much stricter safety standards and protective measures by government agencies.

Although local media might announce the findings of a few selected studies, as the San Francisco Chronicle did when the Kaiser study was published, the norm for corporate media is to report the telecom industry line, i.e., that there is not enough evidence to prove that Wi-Fi and cell phone radiation causes cancer or other medical problems. Such was the case, for example, when the Wall Street Journal published an article in February 2018, titled “Why the Largest Study Ever on Cellphones and Cancer Won’t Settle the Debate.” Similarly, in May 2016, the Washington Post published an article titled “Do Cellphones Cause Cancer? Don’t Believe the Hype.” As Hertsgaard and Dowie’s Nation report might suggest, corporate coverage of this sort is partly how the cell phone industry remains successful.


Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie, “How Big Wireless Made Us Think That Cell Phones Are Safe: A Special Investigation” The Nation, March 29, 2018,

“California Department of Public Health Leads in Recommendations for Cell Phone Radiation Protection,” Physicians for Safe Technology, December 16, 2017,

Student Researchers: John Michael Dulalas & Bethany Surface (San Francisco State University) and Shannon Cowley (University of Vermont)

Faculty Evaluators: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University) and Robert Williams Jr. (University of Vermont)

Editor’s Note: For previous Project Censored coverage of this topic, see “Accumulating Evidence of Ongoing Wireless Technology Health Hazards,” story #14 in Censored 2015.