How to properly read a scientific paper? Adolescent brain tumours and mobile phones

----- Original Message -----
From: Magda Havas
Sent: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 8:03 AM

For distribution:

August 17, 2011. Scientific documents published in peer-reviewed journals are intended to be read by scientists with specific areas of specialization. A layperson, a journalist and even a scientist?who specializes in a different field?may find reading and comprehending such a document difficult. Critiquing such documents is what we teach university students. Once they learn how to decipher a scientific paper and decompose a scientific study, they no longer need to rely on the opinion of others about that document. Teaching students how to think for themselves is one of the roles of a university professor.

I recently read Mobile phone use and brain tumors in children and adolescents: A multicenter case-control study, published in June 2011 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. What is in the abstract of this publication and what has been quoted by the press is not a fair and honest representation of the findings of this study.

If you want to know what is really happening with cell phones and cancer ? you need to learn how to read between the lines. That is what scientists do. They go beyond the abstract and read the document. They examine the results and compare their own conclusions to those of the authors'. Some authors who are dealing with controversial, contentious, politically charged issues or those who have a bias?financial or otherwise?may deemphasize a finding to minimize backlash directed at them or their study. But, if the authors are honest, the document will provide the truth?sometimes buried between the lines?for other scientists to find. The truth is out there. You just need to learn how to find it.

Let s examine the Röösli study and see what it really says. Click here for PDF of study.

The results in the abstract of this study, which is what most people read, state the following (emphasis and comments in square brackets [] are mine):

Regular users of mobile phones were not statistically significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with brain tumors compared with nonusers (OR = 1.36; 95% CI = 0.92 to 2.02).

Children who started to use mobile phones at least 5 years ago were not at increased risk compared with those who had never regularly used mobile phones (OR = 1.26, 95% CI = 0.70 to 2.28).

In a subset of study participants for whom operator recorded data were available, brain tumor risk was related to the time elapsed since the mobile phone subscription was started [notice no odds ratio is provided] but not to amount of use.

NO increased risk of brain tumors was observed for brain areas receiving the highest amount of exposure.

Based on these results it was natural for the authors to conclude the following:

The absence of an exposure-response relationship either in terms of the amount of mobile phone use or by localization of the brain tumor argues against a causal association.

Any parent, doctor, policy maker, journalist reading this would conclude that cell phone use by children?based on the conditions in this study?is unlikely to be harmful and indeed may be 'safe.'

But is this what the study showed or is the abstract misleading by omitting adverse outcomes?

To read more visit: http://www.magdahavas.com/2011/08/15/adolescent-brain-tumours-and-mobile-phones/

Dr Magda Havas

Informant: Iris Atzmon


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