Reporting the gaps

The BBC’s headline ticker is currently running with:

Experts refuse to rule out long-term mobile phone use causing cancer.

Damn those experts! They simply refuse to make long-term health predictions on recently-developed technology. What is wrong with these people!?

The article itself concentrates on the long-term health worries, all of which are entirely speculative, and is heavy on lung-cancer/smoking comparisons:

He said: “We can’t rule out the possibility at this stage that cancer could appear in a few years’ time.

“With smoking there was no link of any lung cancer until after ten years.”

He said the problem during the study was that there had been very few people using mobile phones for over ten years.

Cancers do not normally appear until ten to 15 years after exposure.

The last sentence is weird. Exposure to what? Radioactive materials? Do you think the reporter is confusing different types of radiation?

And this is with a decent study that’s pretty conclusive in its analysis that using mobile phones for ten years isn’t dangerous, a fact you’d think might be newsworthy.

Science reporting by non-science-reporters always tends towards ‘scientists don’t know anything’. If it’s a health study that shows no effect, it’s a tentative conclusion. If it does show an effect, it’s an obvious common-sense result. If it’s new evidence that contradicts previous research, it’s impossible to know what to believe. What do you mean, you can’t win?