About a month ago, I read what is probably the best article of 2011, “Do Cellphones Cause Brain Cancer?” (link). The author, Siddhartha Mukherjee, does an incredibly thorough job detailing exactly why assessing cancer risk is so fraught with unknowns. A sample:
There are certainly methods in epidemiology to counteract the biases created by selective memory: Interphone researchers could have initially identified a cohort of high-volume cellphone users and of nonusers, and followed them over time to determine who developed or did not develop cancer. Such a study — called a “prospective trial” — would certainly erase the biases of memory. But it would be logistically impossible to perform. Since the rates of brain cancer are small, about 6.5 cases per 100,000 persons, a trial of this design would need to follow an enormous cohort of cellphone users — hundreds of thousands of participants — to record even a few cancers. And where on earth would you find the nonusers for the study? In most nations, cellphone usage is so common that finding 500,000 people who will not use phones for a decade is hard to imagine.
The New Yorker has an excellent article taking a detailed look at an oft-neglected part of people’s day: The commute. At a general glance, talking about how bad traffic was is up there in terms of the worst conversation starters out there. However, the article contained many passages that made me smile in their particular relevance. Take for example the art of honing your transportation minutiae:
The commuter takes on compulsive attributes. Some people decipher where on a subway train it is best to ride, for optimum exiting, and, therefore, where to stand on the platform, by a particular pay phone or blackened patch of gum. On the E train, Rossi knows where she should be—the front positions her best for Penn Station—but she prefers to be farther back, where it is less crowded. Also, she never boards any train’s first or last car. “If there’s an accident, they’re the first to go off the track,” she said.