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I Think, Therefore I Am

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Rene Descartes, the French philosopher, is probably best known for coining the phrase “I think, therefore I am”. “And what’s this to do with mobile phones?” I hear you ask. The answer is that, as well as being a philosopher, Descartes is also widely regarded as having played an important role in developing what we now call the scientific method. That’s particularly important for understanding the debate around mobiles and health, which is a major focus for us here at the MOA.

The scientific method has four steps. The first involves observation and description of a phenomenon; second, it requires the formulation of a hypothesis to explain that phenomenon; third, the hypothesis is used to predict the existence of other phenomena or the results of new observations; and fourth, it involves the performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters, and properly performed experiments.

It’s that last bit that I want to talk about, i.e. the fact that for a hypothesis to be ‘proved’, or at least generally accepted, it has to be backed up by repeated experimental evidence that supports it. On our website, we cite the fact that a large number of studies over more than two decades have not shown any adverse health effects from mobile phone use. We don’t disguise that, from time to time, some individual studies don’t fit that pattern. But a single study doesn’t actually prove very much: to get scientific consensus requires repeated experiments showing similar results. That’s because there are several reasons -some of which would stump the brightest and most diligent researchers - why an individual study might produce an anomalous result. They include: errors in collecting or observing data; ‘confounding factors’, e.g. if you are trying to tell if something causes cancer, but lots of the people in your study are heavy smokers; and sheer chance. That’s why you need to look at the aggregate of as many studies as possible to get an accurate picture, not just take one or two in isolation.

That doesn’t mean that we should simply dismiss out of hand every study that doesn’t fit that picture. For one thing, that would be to ignore the concerns of normal, sensible, people, some of whom do worry about potential health effects of the technology. It would also be bad science. That’s why the industry continues to fund – at arm’s length – further independent research into this area. For now, though, the scientific consensus remains reassuring.

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Mobile Operators Association

The Mobile Operators Association (MOA) represents the four UK mobile network operators – EE (the company that runs EE, Orange & T-Mobile in the UK), O2, Three, and Vodafone – on radio frequency (RF) health and safety, and related town planning issues associated with the use of mobile phone technology.

The Economy and Society

Mobile telecommunications are vital for the UK’s economic competitiveness and in promoting social inclusion. There are now 89.9 million mobile subscriptions in the UK. In early 2015 61% of UK adults used their mobile phones for internet access. Tablet ownership is 54% of UK households, increasing from 44% in Q1 2014.