US Press Continues To Help Prop Up Bullshit 5G Conspiracy Theories

from the ill-communication dept

On one hand, we have wireless companies trying to insist that 5G is some type of cancer-curing miracle (it's not). On the other hand, we have oodles of conspiracy theorists, celebrities, and various grifters trying to claim 5G is some kind of rampant health menace (it's not). In reality, 5G's not actually interesting enough to warrant either position, but you'd hardly know this reading the US and UK press.

While the wireless industry's 5G hype machine has quieted somewhat during COVID-19 (though I'm still waiting for some marketing department to suggest it will easily thwart the pandemic), the folks on the conspiracy-theory end of the spectrum have only gotten louder. To the point where they're not only burning down cell towers in the UK, but putting razor blades and needles underneath protest posters on telephone poles:

"OpenReach workers were told to take care after blades and needles were found behind protest signs. It comes amid a rise in the number of attacks on engineers, fuelled by a conspiracy theory wrongly linking 5G and coronavirus. There were 68 incidents of verbal and physical abuse since 1 April as opposed to 42 for all of 2019, OpenReach said.

Just to be clear: you're protesting the unscientific claim that 5G puts public health at risk by... putting public health at risk?

While it's hubris to insist we know everything about wireless' impact on human health, the science we do have points to a very clear conclusion: 5G isn't going to hurt you. In fact, in many ways 5G is potentially less harmful than previous iterations given that the millimeter wave spectrum being used in many cities can barely penetrate walls, much less human skin. Glenn Fleishman, who has covered wireless networking for decades, has one of the better pieces on the subject, here.

A lack of supporting evidence hasn't stopped news outlets like the New Republic from running inflammatory pieces like this one insisting that 5G poses a serious threat. In it, the outlet interviews a mom who believes her family's health is being put at risk due to nearby 5G signals, based entirely on a handful of "evidence" the news outlet treats very, very seriously:

"Her husband and children, she told me, trusted she was doing the right thing. “If anyone thought I was crazy, they didn’t say so,” she said. “I didn’t know much about this topic before Crown Castle placed that antenna. Then I read the science, and now I know more than I ever wanted to know. We live with involuntary 24/7 radiation, even in my children’s beds as they sleep."

One of the studies that prompted her concern was a 2018 report by the National Toxicology Program, a branch of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. Commissioned by the Food and Drug Administration to examine the human health risks of cell phone radiation, NTP researchers placed lab rats in “reverberation chambers”—metal boxes resembling microwave ovens—and, over a period of two years, exposed certain rats for nine hours a day, every day, to EMFs of the type that flow ubiquitously from Wi-Fi hubs and cell sites into our laptops, iPads, smartphones, and, of course, our bodies.

But that study, which insisted there was "clear evidence" that cell phone radiation in male rats can cause cancers and precancerous lesions in the heart and brain, doesn't actually prove what it claims it proves. Ars Technica in particular has done a good job debunking the study, noting repeatedly that the study was "riddled with red flags" and not peer reviewed. In fact the study is so controversial, the control study rats -- which weren't exposed to any radiation at all -- died earlier than those that weren't. In short it doesn't show what 5G conspiracy theories claim it does. Like, at all.

There's numerous other problems with the New Republic piece, outlined well by Joel Hruska at Extremetech, who concludes:

"This is not a piece of journalism. It’s a piece of propaganda written by an author who knows exactly how to create a solid-seeming article, to feed a line of argument he’s been making for a decade using the same rhetorical techniques and half-disclosed facts. The New Republic is in desperate need of a science editor."

For numerous reasons (a lack of competent and well compensated health and science editors and reporters being among them), this is a cycle of conspiracy and dysfunction we just can't seem to escape from. As we've noted more times than we can count, most of the "supporting science" critics of 5G say "prove" that 5G is a health hazard does nothing of the sort. Such as this 20 year old chart by physicist Bill Curry, which conspiracy theorists repeatedly insist proves that human tissue damage increases with the rising frequency of radio waves:

But several reports, including this lengthy New York Times piece from last year, have repeatedly shown that the chart isn't, and has never been, accurate:

"It doesn’t penetrate,” said Christopher M. Collins, a professor of radiology at New York University who studies the effect of high-frequency electromagnetic waves on humans. Dr. Curry’s graph, he added, failed to take into account “the shielding effect.” You Make the Call: ‘Moving Forward With the American Dream’ in New Jersey Dr. Marvin C. Ziskin, an emeritus professor of medical physics at Temple University School of Medicine, agreed. For decades, Dr. Ziskin explored whether such high frequencies could sow illness. Many experiments, he said, support the safety of high-frequency waves."

You'll still see the chart, and the debunked study from the National Toxicology Program, tossed around as gospel anyway -- largely because, as Jonathan Swift wrote as early as 1710: "falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it."

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: 5g, conspiracies, conspiracy theories, health, journalism, radiation
Companies: the new republic


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread


  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 3:32pm

    Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

    Millimeter waves penetrate into the human skin deep enough (delta = 0.65 mm at 42 GHz) to affect most skin structures located in the epidermis and dermis.

    Millimeter wave dosimetry of human skin


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories
.

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.