Book News: Book News: The 4-1-1 on Cellular Safety
Calvin Reid -- 2/19/01
Cell phones, science and the politics of public health

In This Article:

As conflicting reports about the health risks of cell phones are released almost weekly, Carroll & Graf is publishing a controversial book by the former director of an industry-funded study of cell phone radiation that contends that the industry itself has suppressed data that would indicate the presence of such risks.

Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age by George Carlo and Martin Schram offers an account of the science and research surrounding cell phone radiation, and accuses both the cell phone industry and the Food and Drug Administration of withholding health data about the technology. Carlo, former director of the Wireless Technology Research project for seven years, offers a cautionary tale about how public health policy is shaped, with corporate business interests, federal regulatory agencies and public health scientists battling over the interpretation and dissemination of highly complex scientific research.

Carlo, a fellow of the American College of Epidemiology and a veteran public health scientist, claims that his project's detailed laboratory and epidemiological studies found that cell phone radiation can cause genetic damage to human blood cells; not only breaking down their DNA, but also disrupting the body's ability to repair damaged cells.

In a telephone interview with Carlo and his co-writer Schram, a veteran Washington D.C., journalist, Carlo told PW that the breakdown of DNA into "micronuclei" is considered to be an early marker of cancer. He also asserted that this DNA breakdown can lead to tumors, birth defects and immune system problems. In a series of recommendations outlined in the book , Carlo urges cell-phone consumers to use headsets with their phones and prohibit their use by children under the age of 10. Carlo has written two scientific works on cell phone radiation (both for Wolters Kluwer), but this new work is the only trade book available on the dangers of cell phones.

The first cell phone went on the U.S. market in 1984; by 1993, when Carlo was named to direct the Wireless Technology Research Project, there were 15 million Americans with cell phones. There are now an estimated 103 million Americans with cell phones and as many as 500 million users worldwide. The WTR was a $25 million research effort originally proposed and funded by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association to examine the affects of cell phone radiation on human health. Nevertheless, despite the current claims of its former research director, the CTIA ( maintains that, "After years of substantial research, scientists and governments around the world continue to reaffirm that there is no public health threat from the use of wireless phones." The site also offers additional information that challenges Carlo's claims about cell phone radiation.

Carlo told PW that he originally viewed the WTR as an opportunity "to do some good" in a long-neglected research area of public health. However, he said he soon found that the CTIA viewed the study more as an opportunity to reassure a multibillion dollar cell phone marketplace in the wake of growing health concerns and a proliferation of lawsuits focused on possible links between cell phone use, cancer and brain tumors. The result of this clash of interests, Carlo charges, was continuous internal warfare between himself and the CTIA leadership over the scope, funding and conduct of the WTR's research. All the while, Carlo said, the FDA dithered, offering conflicting support to both sides.

The problems between Carlo and the CTIA erupted publicly in late 1999 after Carlo retracted a WTR report delivered earlier that year that claimed cell phones were indeed safe. New and more disturbing research, Carlo told PW, delivered later that year, superseded the earlier reports. He left the WTR in 2000.

"I wanted to follow the science," said Carlo, explaining his original interest in taking on an industry-funded research project. "But I underestimated the need to follow the politics and PR.," said Carlo. "This has been an important illustration of how our system d sn't work. When profits and politics clash over public protection, the free market d sn't protect its customers."

Schram blasted the FDA--which also claims there is no evidence of health risks from cell phones--for examining and then ignoring Carlo's research, describing agency officials as "watchdogs who didn't watch, or who watched and didn't bark." Carlo contrasted the CTIA's response to the WTR research with that of the corporate response in Europe where, he said, the mobile phone industry has cooperated with regulatory agencies to offer warning labels and information pamphlets on the issue.

Carlo also challenges the interpretations of two studies published this past December in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine that found no link between cell phones and cancer. He said his own research had gathered similar data, and he emphasizes that a careful reading of the material indicates that it is inconclusive. He also points to a German study released in January that d s link cell phones use and eye cancer. Carlo maintains that the incubation period for tumors and cancer are so long that research studies will have to continue for many years before anyone can make a creditable claim about the ultimate safety of cell phones.

"I wouldn't have been interested in the book if Carlo hadn't been the cell-phone industry's head researcher for seven years," said Carroll & Graf executive editor Philip Turner , who acquired the book to bolster C&G's current affairs list. Turner said the first printing is 35,000 copies. He also noted that there are myriad lawsuits filed in several states that claim cell-phone health risks, and as many as 122 cell-phone companies have been cited as defendants. Stories on the C&G have appeared in the Washington Post, and Carlo was interviewed on the Today Show this past December. Turner said Carlo is scheduled for C-Span's Washington Journal and CBS's Early Show but no dates have been set.

"I never intended to write a book on this," Carlo told PW, "but the science was being spun and consumers were being misled." He was quick to note that all of his share of the book's royalties will go to Children of Choice, a charity that supports single mothers. Carlo told PW, "I don't want anyone to think I'm trying to capitalize on this."

Quinn Is Back with a Buzz, But Minus the Gorilla

A novel that continues to sell briskly nearly a decade after its first publication is exceptional but not rare. Neither is a novel that spawns sequential novels, a movie, a Web site or yet another book describing how that first novel evolved. Rare, however, is a novel whose protagonist is immortalized in bronze and set upon a pedestal at a university campus. Unique and strange indeed is the fact that this revered protagonist, this creation and mouthpiece of author Daniel Quinn, happens to be a silverback gorilla. You can call him Ishmael.

According to the author, his novel Ishmael, first published by Bantam 10 years ago, still sells an average of 80,000 copies per year in trade paperback. It's no stranger to booksellers. "We've had Ishmael on our recommended shelf for virtually its entire history, and it's still selling well for us," Buster Keenan of Boulder Bookstore in Boulder, Colo., told PW. "You have to keep Quinn's books in stock because there's a tremendous word-of-mouth with them." While Quinn's two subsequent novels (The Story of B and My Ishmael) and two nonfiction books (Providence and Beyond Civilization) sell steadily, none have come close to Ishmael in fervor generated and copies sold.

Quinn is hoping that his latest novel, After Dachau, edges closer to his personal best that is Ishmael. While his core readership will be heartened to find that After Dachau is philosophically linked to his earlier novels, a few might be disgruntled by its departure from his usual narrative form. Quinn took this risk in order to carry his ideas to an audience that has "steered clear of books about sagacious apes." This time there is no gorilla, no guru, no central teaching character. Instead, the protagonist himself discovers what is central to all of Quinn's books, "the secret that nobody wants to hear about," essentially, how our civilization is killing the planet.

Quinn is not averse to risk. He raised more than a few eyebrows last year when he decided to forgo the possibility of the six-figure advances he'd gotten in the past and instead signed with Context Books for no advance at all (Hot Deals, June 12, 2000). Quinn's gutsy gamble may be auspicious, for this independent press appears to be on a roll. Context Books has a mere handful of books out after its first year in the market, and critical acclaim is piling up. Context's Assorted Fire Events, a short story collection by David Means, is a finalist for the National Book Critic's Circle Award; and Derrick Jensen's naturalist, philosophical memoir A Language Older Than Words is nominated for the Quality Paperback Book Club's New Visions Award and made the Jan./Feb. Book Sense 76 list.

The American Bookseller Association's Carl Lennertz directly credits Context's founder and publisher for getting his books out to booksellers and starting a word-of-mouth buzz. "Beau Friedlander has been generous with reading copies, which is so essential," Lennertz told PW. "The indie booksellers have to read 'em to love 'em." Those reading copies seem to be paying dividends--Lennertz gave PW early notice that After Dachau will make the March/April Book Sense 76 list.

Quinn is quite pleased with his publisher (whom he affectionately calls his "pit bull") and happy to have a three-book deal with Context. "Beau cares deeply about his authors, and this is what makes him a joy to work with," said Quinn. Booksellers also appreciate Friedlander's commitment to the books he publishes. Paul Ingram of Prairie Lights Bookstore told PW, "Beau's a hugely energetic publisher, a guy who's not shy about beating the publicity drum--which is what we like."

Will the sales of After Dachau tread closely upon the heels of that impressive gorilla? The early thumbs-up from independent bookstores indicates that readers are already impressed. Carey Spain of Montclair Book Center in Montclair, N.J., offered this: "If it has a modicum of the success that Ishmael did, then it'll be a good seller for us."
--Julie Mayeda