What Brain and Sperm Share and Why Care: Dr. Devra Davis (Transcript)

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.

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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.

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