In 2016, I published with three cancer epidemiologists and biostatisticians, a paper that examined age and gender specific incidence rates of 19,858 male and 14,222 females diagnosed with brain cancer in Australia between 1982 and 2012, and mobile phone usage data from 1987 to 2012. We modelled expected age specific brain cancer rates (20–39, 40–59, 60–69, 70–84 years), based on published reports from case-control studies of relative risks (RR) of 1.5 (a 50% increase) in ever-users of mobile phones, and RR of 2.5 in a proportion of ‘heavy users’ (19% of all users), assuming a 10-year lag period between commencement of use and new cancer incidence.

We found no increases in the rates of brain cancer for any age group other than those aged 70+, but the increases in this age group commenced in the years before mobile phones were available in Australia. We concluded: “The observed stability of brain cancer incidence in Australia between 1982 and 2012 in all age groups except in those over 70 years compared to increasing modelled expected estimates, suggests that the observed increases in brain cancer incidence in the older age group are unlikely to be related to mobile phone use. Rather, we hypothesize that the observed increases in brain cancer incidence in Australia are related to the advent of improved diagnostic procedures when computed tomography and related imaging technologies were introduced in the early 1980s.”

Our results were consistent with studies showing the same lack of increase in the USA, New Zealand, the UK and the Nordic countries (see our paper for the references). A more fine-grained analysis of the Australian data published this year confirmed our findings

The Blue Mountains City Council west of Sydney, is currently being implored by  a small group of residents to somehow stop 5G mobile telephony coming to the area. I received requests for information from a councillor and “replied all” to a very long recipient list which I soon found out contained at least one anti 5G activist who soon got busy over several emails sending me a predictable litany of reasons why our study should be heavily discounted. I suggested that she might like to put her points in formal correspondence to Cancer Epidemiology, the journal which published our paper.

A fishy sociologist, employed by a university, funded by government favouring 5G

Sociologists strike

But I was highly amused by a section of her email that threw down triple gauntlets that a social scientist like me was not a “scientist”, that my work was “fishy” because I had once had a small grant from the mobile phone industry (21 years ago) to investigate the life-saving use of mobiles in emergency situations, and that I worked for a government-funded university and the government was supporting 5G.

She wrote:

“If you are a sociologist, which please understand is a noble profession, I am just wondering if that qualified you to be doing scientific research as when people find out you are a sociologist, wouldn’t that sort of take away a bit of credibility?

I am a little skeptical as to why you would do a research paper about phones use and brain cancers when you do say you did not get any funding for it (even though you have been funded before by Telcos for what i would regard as a large amount, if $23,895). Do you agree that people might think this is a little bit fishy, especially when you are not even a scientist but a sociologist. Even though you say you were not funded, aren’t you paid by the University which is in effect partially funded by the Federal Govt, which is pro 5G. So, even though you are not directly funded, you indirectly are by a group that is pro 5G. Sorry, this seems glaringly obvious to me but I may be wrong. Also, doesn’t it mean that your research is not really independent and you should be saying that rather than say you were not funded.?”

I replied:

“Your insinuation that my research was not independent is frankly offensive and profoundly silly. I repeat, it was NOT funded by anyone as funding was not necessary to simply analyse publicly available data.

If you or your associates were to repeat that in public, you would be making false and defamatory remarks. That would include any circulation of such comments by email which come to my attention.

The implication of your argument that, because I got  my salary from the government, that no one in a research institution that receives government funding can ever produce independent research on any matter because it somehow all reflects government policy, and, what … we all have our work scrutinized by an Orwellian committee to make sure it conforms to particular government policy (on here, 5G?) is beyond ludicrous.

You may be unaware, but I have spent most of my career researching and advocating for policy reforms in many areas (gun control, tobacco control, renewable energy etc ie: trying to get government policy changed). I have often been highly critical of government policy and governments.

So how do you begin to explain that I’ve had many government research grants, awards etc, if the research game is all about producing policy conforming research outputs that never challenge government policy?

This sails very close to conspiracy theory about universities researchers all being puppets of governments (which change far more often than many staff do in universities).  If that is your thing, I have nothing further to say to someone who seems attracted to such claptrap.

Similarly, your statement ‘you are not a scientist but a sociologist’ and your question ‘I am just wondering if that qualified you to be doing scientific research as when people find out you are a sociologist, wouldn’t that sort of take away a bit of credibility?’ are similarly offensive.

They suggest you are quite ignorant of what research is and the multi-disciplinary nature of research across all complex fields in medicine today.  I am an elected fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Science. The three other authors on my paper are all cancer epidemiologists. In 2008, I won the NSW Premier’s Cancer Researcher of the Year. My AO citation is  “for distinguished service to medical research as an academic and author, particularly in the area of public health policy, and to the community.”

A couple of weeks later, she replied, refusing to let go of her conspiracist bone:

“My apologies. You do work for the university and most people who have a degree of wisdom know that there is an increasing amount of control over university academia. One just has to look at the decreasing numbers of undergraduate studies to confirm this and the attacks against academics that may speak their mind. Whilst some free thinking academics remain, they are decreasing.”

In a paper I co-authored in 1998 looking at common themes in press reportage of anti-vaccination advocates, we identified cover up of vaccine risks by an unholy alliance of conspiracists in government, science and the pharmaceutical industry as dominant themes. It’s a meme which has a long history, invoked without fail by any interest group which fails to win arguments based on evidence. “All these reports are published by a global cabal of conspirators who push particular lines and suppress others. We are today’s Galileo’s speaking out against the modern church of science!” they plead.

The idea that universities in open societies have mechanisms that ensure all their staff never investigate or publish on any research question which might upset government or business interests is beyond preposterous and contradicted by oceans of examples across all fields of research. Those who persist in peddling this massively ignorant bilge deserve to have 10,000watt arc lights trained on their nonsense.