Communication, reading, listening………….and understanding!?!

Posted on June 16, 2011


This post is related to cell phones, cancer and the Monograph Programme…..again. I thought I’d apologize in advance even though I will not actually be talking about cell phones…or about cancer…really.

As a scientist we all have to go through courses to improve our communication with our colleagues, the lay public, funding organizations and the media (presumably this is not limited to scientists since some people manage to get rich by talking about talking). They all stress more or less the same things and I guess it is now abundantly clear to everyone that communication is difficult and it takes a lot of thinking and work (which are not necessarily the same thing) to write a good (lay) summary or communicate the main findings and caveats of a study to others.

Never mind. As I mentioned in an earlier post I was contacted by a number of journalists about the IARC 2B Classification. Although most of them seemed well-informed and nice chaps,  an to my surprise, fair amount of journalists (or I presume they were) actually had only one question to ask. Or well, more of a sneer really.

“Now with this WHO study, what do you think NOW about your study saying there was no link between brain cancer and cell phones? WELL?”

The first one kind of took me by surprise, since well…The IARC Monograph Programme is not a study. For those who are unfamiliar with the process, it is an evaluation of existing scientific evidence by a group of invited experts. As such, the study I published with Drs Burstyn and Cherrie (link) was considered together with all other available studies, including the INTERPHONE study and those from the Hardell group. All the advantages, disadvantages, caveats and interpretations of all studies were discussed and, based on all data, an (almost unanimous) decision was made.

Now this is not too difficult to understand. It is a fairly straightforward process. And all it takes to figure that out is to just read a press release from the first word all the way to the end. So that is what I did (again), just to check that some communication person had completely screwed it up and I missed that. And this is what it says:

“…a Working Group of 31 scientists from 14 countries has been meeting at IARC in Lyon, France, to assess the potential carcinogenic hazards from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.”


And without quoting the whole press release (which can be found here) it further included the following:


“The Working Group considered hundreds of scientific articles; the complete list will be published in the Monograph. It is noteworthy to mention that several recent in‐press scientific articles(4) resulting from the Interphone study were made available to the working group shortly before it was due to convene, reflecting their acceptance for publication at that time, and were included in the evaluation.”


Now we are all busy people, but one would imagine that people trained at communication (at least that’s what I would imagine) would know the importance of information and would bother to read something (yes, from front to back), especially a press release which in itself is already a short summary for said people, before charging ahead?

Or maybe I am just be underestimating the power of “The Deadline” in the fast and the furious world of the media….