Full text of epidemiologist Dr. Devra Davis’ talk: ‘What Brain and Sperm Share and Why Care’ at TEDxJacksonHole conference.
Notable quote from this talk:
‘Poor cellphone reception, weak bars? Don’t use your phone. It can give you 10,000 times more exposure than when you have a strong signal.’
Dr. Devra Davis – American epidemiologist
I’m here to talk to you about something that at first may sound like a Saturday Night Live routine, but it’s really not. It’s a matter that merits the most serious attention. Two of the fastest, fastest working and fastest growing parts of the body: the brain and sperm. But what they have in common is something on which the future of our species depends.
How many of you know that one in six American couples is unable to have a child when they want to? How many of you know that last year the birth rate in this country dropped the most that it ever has in recent history, according to the CDC, 3% in a single year?
Now, I want to let you in on a dirty secret. Phones are not tested in the way they are used. They’re tested in a holster, away from the body.
You may remember the diesel engine scandal, Volkswagen engines, which were revealed to be rigged so that when the engine was hooked up to a computer, it automatically reduced the emissions. And as a result, when the engines were running in the real world, they emitted a lot more pollution. The results of that are evident in European cities today, where you’ve got smoke and pollution because those cars are on the road.
So what happened?
You could rig the test, but you can’t rig the real world.
Now, the French have done something different; they often do. They’ve tested phones in real world conditions. That means they actually tested them next to the body. And they did something amazing. They took 400 phones off the shelf, put them through a test system, and they found that nine out of ten phones failed to pass the current European standards.
You can see the bar there showing you that when the Apple iPhone five was tested, according to the manufacturers, it easily passed the test. When it was tested with five millimeter distance, it still passed. But when it was tested directly next to the body, you can see that it exceeded the standard by more than double.
Now, would you want to fly an airplane that had 20 year old safety standards? And yet the safety standards for our phones today are based on tests that were developed 20 years ago. They were developed for military and medical uses with people who didn’t speak too much. Six minutes an average call. That’s how our phones are in fact tested today off the body. Not realistically.
Now, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation decided to test phones under real world circumstances. And their premier newscaster, investigative journalist Wendy Mesley, put together a six figure investigation going to the FCC approved laboratories in the United States with the three most popular phones. And this is what they found.
[Voiceover: This is a special edition of Marketplace. Most of us carry our phones next to our bodies. And why wouldn’t we? Science tests and the hidden message in your cell phone. So the tests are all done; tests are all finished and the number exceeded the limit. It went up significantly with each one of the phones. That’s right. The phones exceeded the safety limit when they were moved right against the body, the radiation absorbed increased three to four times.]
That’s right, three to four times when phones were tested, the way you all have been using them until today.
When you have a phone in your pocket, it’s a two way microwave radio. It’s sending and receiving a signal a handshake 900 times a minute. And so long as it’s on, whether you’re using it or not, it’s sending that microwave signal. And this is why the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation decided to do the testing.
Now what about the US?
Well, this video shows you what’s in your phone right now, those phones that you’ve been carrying. You can see here that if you go to your home screen and you click on your Settings there, and from Settings you click on General. And from General you go to the top to About and from About, you go all the way down to something you’ve probably never seen called Legal. And yes, when you click on Legal, you get to RF exposure. And when you click on RF exposure there you see it. You read through all of that and it tells you that when phones were tested, they were kept 5 millimeters away from the body.
Now, 5 millimeters is not very big distance, but it’s big enough to make a huge difference in how much radiation gets into you. And that is why you’ve all been warned. You just didn’t know it.
We think we can do a better job. And that’s why I’m delighted to be here with you in the TED audience tonight to talk about how you can take more precautions. We know in Jackson Hall because the town council passed a resolution in 2010 letting people know about cell phone safety.
And if you happen to live in Berkeley, you know about it because the city of Berkeley has passed a right to know law. But otherwise, you’re out of luck unless you know how to operate your phone.
Now, let’s go back to those fast-moving sperm. They are fast. They’re amazing. They grow at a rate of 90,000 times a minute. 90,000 cells a minute are produced in the natural way. They can swim when they’re made the equivalent of from Los Angeles to Hawaii at 10 miles an hour. It’s really quite amazing.
Why do you need so many of them?
Because we want the healthiest sperm to survive. We want the survival of the fittest. Of course, you may wonder why you need so many of them. And you can see here they don’t really swim in a direction. And you know, the reason you need so many is really quite simple. Sperm don’t know how to ask for directions.
Now, the fast cells of the brain are even faster than the sperm. They grow at a quarter million neurons a minute. And at birth, the baby’s brain is a marvel of metamorphosis. It is 100 billion neurons at birth, it’s a third of the size of an adult. And by the time that baby has reached two years of age, their brain is 80% the size of an adult.
While it’s grown in size, the brain of a baby is not fully myelinated. Myelin is fat. Fat is critical to the functioning of neurons. It protects the neurons with a fatty sheath that insulates them from damage and actually is thought to be critical to the development of impulse control and judgment. Which is why it won’t surprise those of you who survived teenagers to understand that myelination is not complete until the mid 20s.
When we look at what we know about both the sperm and brain, they’re both fast and fatty. And the fat is really important because fat has been called a natural hazardous waste site. It attracts a lot of organic garbage to it.
And one of the things we know is that toxic agents can get into fat. They’re attracted to it, and they can get either through the skin or through inhalation. A toxic agent can get into the body where it can be distributed. And all of the agents on the screen behind me solvents, ionizing radiation, metals and pesticides are tracked into fat.