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June 07, 2005


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I have often wondered about the generation of EMR from these lines, of course the wavelength is enormous, and I don't know how long a stretch of line would have to be in order to propagate a wave; 1/4 lamda I would think.

Don't be so quick to shoot the messenger. The opening paragraphs that you quote, and call a "sensationalist story", is in fact an accurate summation of the results of the paper itself.

And I quote:

"Results: Compared with those who lived > 600 m from a line at birth, children who lived within 200 m had a relative risk of leukaemia of 1.69 (95% confidence interval 1.13 to 2.53); those born between 200 and 600 m had a relative risk of 1.23 (1.02 to 1.49). There was a significant (P < 0.01) trend in risk in relation to the reciprocal of distance from the line. No excess risk in relation to proximity to lines was found for other childhood cancers."

Even the headline, that there is a link, is also the conclusion of the paper.

Quoting again: "Conclusions: There is an association between childhood leukaemia and proximity of home address at birth to high voltage power lines, and the apparent risk extends to a greater distance than would have been expected from previous studies."

Skeptico, what is indisputable here is that the media story is no more "sensationalist" than the research report itself.

Also in Guardian Life is a leader headlined 'living with risks' which makes the same point as you, Skeptico: 'It looks like an eye-grabbing statistic... But it must be handled with extreme care.'

A quote from that article:

'The problem, however, is that the existence of even such relatively small differences can be enough to set off vigorous protest movements. This is in spite of the warnings of attaching too much significance to the findings - as the BMJ article suggests, it is as likely that other factors may have caused the higher incidence of leukemia. "Before activists begin blowing up power pylons, a bit of perspective might help," Dr Watts notes.'

I hadn’t seen that later Guardian article – thanks for pointing it out. You can read it here.

Blue State:

What is at all sensational about the paragraph you quoted? Perhaps you misunderstand the statistical use of the term "significant"?

That said, I actually think that your point is true as often as it's not. Public Health type work tends to be at least as much about politics as it is about science,
and the two aren't always a good match.

I didn't say it was sensational. I said the article quoted by Skeptico was accurately paraphrasing the results published in the paper.

The article said: "Those living within 200 metres of the overhead cables were 70% more likely to develop the disease than similar children living more than 600 metres away."

The study said: "Compared with those who lived > 600 m from a line at birth, children who lived within 200 m had a relative risk of leukaemia of 1.69".

Skeptico called the article "sensationalist" and "scare mongering". He presumes that the story is a media beat-up, and those willing to read "the actual study", would find different conclusions.

That's flatly contradicted by the evidence, which shows the report was a straight treatment of the resulst and conclusion, and therefore no more sensationalist than the study itself.

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