Emotions should not play part in health warnings

Friday, July 25, 2008

A big car company wanted to sell more cars, naturally, so it spent a lot of time and money doing market research. Sitting down with customers, it found they were interested in better gas mileage and better safety ratings.

Logically, then, the company introduced a new line of cars with better gas mileage and safety ratings. Thousands were left unsold when it was time to roll out the next year's models.

Another company wanted to sell more cars, naturally enough, so it introduced a small, retro-styled car that, while it also had good gas mileage and safety, also looked like it would be fun to drive.

It's sold a million copies and is still going strong.

What was the difference?

The first company assumed that major purchases are made under the influence of the brain's cortex, where we do our conscious thinking. The problem was, buying decisions are more influenced by what marketing guru Dr. Clotaire Rapaille calls the "reptilian code," or "thinking" that is done by the cerebellum and brain stem, where our instincts and emotion rule in the interest of survival.

The second company bought into Rapaille's theory, while the first company did not.

We have to wonder if a prominent cancer researcher hasn't fallen prey to his reptilian brain.

Dr. Ronald B. Heberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Insitutute, issued a memo to about 3,000 faculty and staff Wednesday, urging them to limit cellular telephone use among their children and themselves because of the risk of brain cancer.

Heberman admits he has no hard data to support his warning, relying on early, unpublished data.

"Really, at the heart of my concern is that we shouldn't wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later," he told The Associated Press.

That sounds like his cerebellum and brain stem talking.

If his cortex were involved, he would have noted that a multitude of studies have found no overall increased risk of brain tumers among cellular phone users.

Among them is a 2008 University of Utah analysis of nine studies, including some Heberman cites, covering thousands of brain tumor patients.

The biggest study tracked 420,000 Danish cell phone users, including thousands who had used the phones for more than 10 years, and found no increased risk of cancer among those using cell phones.

But those are simply scientific studies that can't compete with sentiments like those expressed by Devra Lee Davis, director of the University of Pittsburgh's center for environmental oncology.

"The question is, do you want to play Russian roulette with your brain," she said in an interview over her cell phone. "I don't know that cell phones are dangerous. But I don't know that they are safe."

We can think of a lot of reasons the modern digital cellular telephones should be limited, including the tendency to annoy those around us, as well as those of us who endanger others on the road while we drive and chat on the cell phone.

And we can certainly not argue with parents' unwillingness to let their children take part in a long-term bio-electronic experiment.

But shooting from the hip certainly doesn't do anything to boost the credibility of scientific researchers.

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