Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99 per year.
Subscribe for Full Access

FOR WHOM THE CELL TOLLS: Why your phone may (or may not) be killing you



“Everything emits invisible waves, which kill you” could be an update to the old aphorism “everything kills you.” Nathaniel Rich’s article in the current issue of Harper’s Magazine investigates cell-phone radiation. Industry lobbyists insist that everything emitted by cell phones is innocuous—but can we trust them? Should we all be wearing headsets or even not using certain electronic devices at all?

In the past decade, hundreds of experiments have been conducted to determine whether cell-phone radiation might have any effect on human health. Rich’s article attempts to make sense of such baffling findings as these:

  • Exposure to cell-phone radiation hampers one’s ability to fall asleep. Exposure to cell-phone radiation makes one sleepy. Exposure to cell-phone radiation has no effect on sleep patterns.

  • Cell-phone radiation slows one’s cognitive reaction time. It makes one think faster. It has no effect on cognitive ability.

  • Cell-phone radiation reduces sperm count and sperm motility and increases the number of abnormal sperm. Cell-phone radiation does not harm the testicles.

  • Exposure to cell-phone radiation leads to single- and double-strand breaks in DNA and to numerous other forms of genetic damage. Exposure has no significant effect on DNA. The negative (no effect) studies outweigh the positive, and the reason the incriminating studies showed anything at all was that they were poorly, even incompetently, designed.

  • The brain of a child absorbs a much greater amount of radiation from a cell phone than does the brain of an adult. No, it does not. The absorption rate is twice as high, but only for children under eight.

  • The majority of studies on cell phones and human health have received funding from the telecommunications industry. Industry-funded studies are significantly more likely than independent studies to show that cell phones are safe.

To read Rich’s report in its entirety, click here to subscribe. By subscribing to the magazine, you will gain immediate online access to this article as well as all of the articles in the complete 160-year archives of Harper’s Magazine.

More from

“An unexpectedly excellent magazine that stands out amid a homogenized media landscape.” —the New York Times
Subscribe now