Joel Moskowitz is the director and principal investigator at the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, Berkeley. Though trained in mathematics and social psychology, Moskowitz spent the bulk of his career in tobacco control and now makes outlandish claims about the cancer risks associated with WIFI and cell phone use.
Moskowitz Pesters California’s Department of Public Health
In 2010 the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) drafted a guidance document summarizing the potential cancer risks associated with cell phone use and how to mitigate them. Based on “several studies,” the CDPH claimed that people diagnosed with certain types of brain cancer were more likely to have used cell phones for 10 years or longer, though the department admits that the overall risk of developing brain cancer from any cause is very small.
The guidance document was never released because California officials feared it would cause unnecessary panic, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines that superseded the state agency’s warnings.
Moskowitz first learned of the CDPH’s guidance document in 2013 and filed a request to see it in January 2014 under the California Public Records Act (CPRA). He tried twice more that same year, then relayed his story to a reporter at the New York Times in September 2015. The Times reporter also requested to see the guidelines, but the CDPH denied all four requests.
Like any good science denier, Moskowitz claimed that there was a conspiracy between big government and big business at work, saying “It would have to be purely political to deny distributing [the guidance document]…Science supports this.” With the help of the Environmental Law Clinic at UC Berkeley, Moskowitz sued the CDPH in May 2016 in Sacramento’s Superior Court to release the document. The CDPH argued in court that releasing the guidelines would stir up panic and mislead consumers about the risks of cell phone use, but to no avail. The judge in the case ordered the document released in March 2017.
Berkeley City Council Buys Moskowitz’ Conspiracy Theory
In May 2015 the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to require all cell phone retailers to display warning signs that mobile devices may cause cancer. Naturally, it was Moskowitz’ testimony that swayed the council’s decision, in which he claimed that the public had a “right to know” about the potential danger associated with cell phone use. Moskowitz also served as a scientific advisor to the city council during this period.
CTIA, the trade group for the wireless industry, said the warning signs were at odds with the available science and violated retailers’ first amendment rights to free speech, because they were ideologically motivated.
Moskowitz vs. The National Cancer Institute
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) agrees with the wireless industry on the science, and has thoroughly debunked all claims that cell phones cause cancer. Central to NCI’s analysis is the fact that cell phones utilize the radio-frequency spectrum, as do broadcast television, AM/FM radio and microwaves. These technologies have been in use for decades, but cancer deaths in the United States continue to decline. As a result, If there were a relationship between cell phone use and cancer, scientists would have detected it long ago. NCI’s position on the issue is supported by very large studies which also failed to find a link between cell phone use and cancer.