The New York Times has issued a major correction to a recent column on wearable technology and cancer, clarifying that no credible evidence exists of a link between the two.
The piece, authored by columnist Nick Bilton, appeared in the Styles section of the Times on Thursday and almost immediately stirred controversy for giving weight to the idea that wearables may cause cancer. The correction states that the piece “gave an inadequate account of the status of research about cellphone radiation and cancer risk.”
“Neither epidemiological nor laboratory studies have found reliable evidence of such risks, and there is no widely accepted theory as to how they might arise,” the correction read.
The column quoted Dr. Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician and alternative medicine proponent who has been widely known to be an alarmist about carcinogens. The Food and Drug Administration has also warned him about his practices. After the piece published, New York magazine published an article entitled “23 More Things Dr. Joseph Mercola Has Said Will Give You Cancer.”
The Times said in the correction that, considering Mercola’s background, “More of that background should have been included, or he should not have been cited as a source.”
Numerous media outlets ran stories debunking Bilton’s column. Slate called the article “fear mongering” while Wired called it “an attack on science.” The Verge invoked a meme from the show Futurama with an article headline of “The New York Times’ smartwatch cancer article is bad, and they should feel bad” adding in the subhead “Cram it, Bilton.”
Times public editor Margaret Sullivan also criticized Bilton and his editor for the article as well as its headline, which she said “felt like click bait.”
The entirety of the correction can be found below.
Addendum: March 20, 2015
The Disruptions column in the Styles section on Thursday, discussing possible health concerns related to wearable technology, gave an inadequate account of the status of research about cellphone radiation and cancer risk.
Neither epidemiological nor laboratory studies have found reliable evidence of such risks, and there is no widely accepted theory as to how they might arise. According to the World Health Organization, “To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.” The American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all said there is no convincing evidence for a causal relationship. While researchers are continuing to study possible risks, the column should have included more of this background for balance.
In addition, one source quoted in the article, Dr. Joseph Mercola, has been widely criticized by experts for his claims about disease risks and treatments. More of that background should have been included, or he should not have been cited as a source.
An early version of the headline for the article online — “Could Wearable Computers Be as Harmful as Cigarettes?” — also went too far in suggesting any such comparison.