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It was the weeds that bothered him.

Bill Jefferys points to this news article by Denise Grady. Bill noticed the following bit, “In male rats, the studies linked tumors in the heart to high exposure to radiation from the phones. But that problem did not occur in female rats, or any mice,” and asked:

​Forking paths, much?

My reply: The summary of the news article seems reasonable: “But two government studies released on Friday, one in rats and one in mice, suggest that if there is any risk, it is small, health officials said.”

But, yes, later on they get into the weeds: “Scientists do not know why only male rats develop the heart tumors, but Dr. Bucher said one possibility is simply that the males are bigger and absorb more of the radiation.” They didn’t mention the possibility that variations just happen at random, and the fact that a comparison happened to be statistically significant in the data is not necessarily strong evidence that it represents a corresponding pattern in the population.

Bill responded:

Yes, it was the weeds that bothered me.

Overall, then, yes, a good news article.


  1. Joe Nadeau says:

    The size argument can be tested. Good science leads to testable predictions. The size of males and females can be measured and the increased risk should be proportional in some sensible way. So if the authors propose size, they should be obligated to test their hypothesis. That said, I suspect other explanations, including the stats issues, are in play, including sex-specific differences in DNA and cellular repair as well as other physiological mechanisms. Bottom line: make and test prediction.

  2. Thanatos Savehn says:

    Of Scythes and Weeds: I suspect Andrew has some insight re: this: … or so I hope. Or more likely, I’m just in the midst of the KNN chapter and over-thinking things.

  3. Mark Phillips says:

    As a medical physicist, let me assure everyone that the difference in heart sizes leading to more of the radiation being absorbed is not a very plausible explanation. The wavelengths are so large compared to a rat heart, that the absorptivity won’t be affected. If organism size is a big factor, then maybe we should only use small people to clean up after radiation accidents–after all, they will absorb so much less radiation.

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