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: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 7:12am

    This chart doesn't contain enough information to show anything. It doesn't even show the Magnitude of the wave. It also doesn't discuss aliasing effects.

    The article linked to also doesn't explain anything substantive about it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 7:33am

    I still need help with torture.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 7:42am

    Maybe people are claiming they leave their brains hanging out, unshielded most of the time.

    If that's so, it is a major concern. But it's still unrelated to 5G

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 7:47am

    Nobody gave a damn when 4g became a thing but many crazies have come out to armwave about 5g. I present to you the Wingnut Postulate:

    The insanity of the response to something new is directly proportionate to the insanity of the hype of said thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    radix (profile), 13 May 2020 @ 8:22am

    Protesting "harmful" EM waves by standing out in direct sunlight all day.

    Galaxy-brain stuff right there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 9:42am

    when you have idiots putting out bullshit, it's always those equal idiots who believe it! why do so-called journalists not bother now to check anything before putting it into print? do they think it helps to make them a more needy member of the profession or community or does it just get them a bigger idiot rating, so they end up with more 'press'? surely it cant give them a bigger salary, can it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 13 May 2020 @ 11:02am

    That's one way to tank your credibility

    If that is what passes for 'science' and 'journalism' in the New Republic then I'd say they have made pretty damn clear that they cannot be trusted to get either of those right, and can be filed right alongside the 'Bigfoot and Elvis plan relief concert' tabloids as 'willing to post batshit insanity if it gets attention'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 13 May 2020 @ 12:00pm

    Just to mention.

    Long ago there was a Conspiracy theory..
    Many person Claimed they could prove it, but bohting happened after that point. Nothing ever appeared in the news or anything..

    Then it was found out to be true.
    High tension wires(high power Lines) that run across the Open lands, and farming areas...DO CAUSE THINGS TO HAPPEN..

    1..The Electromagnetic field around the lines can be carried into the ground, as well as make Fences, Electrically charged. Artists have been having allot of fun.

    https://visitmarple.co.uk/photos/albums/uploads/new/arthurproctor/BoxLights11007011.jpg

    The science behind this has been around along time, but no one would admit to it, and I DONT think the power corps wanted people to know/care about it. Because the farmers tried a few things...LEGALLY, they could run a few ground wires and create enough power to power Quite a few things. AT NO COST.
    The idea of letting a Electrical or magnetic field happen to you All day, everyday, is not in contention. These folks have lived it, and it CAN cause problems.

    So,
    Can we find people who understand High Freq radio waves..Like those Old MW towers used in the past, that would warm your body in winter, as it Slowly Cooked your insides.. Or do we find an Good/honest physics person...and discus this..
    Or listen to the politicians that Be leave that if you Dont pay attention to it, its not happening.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      NoahVail (profile), 13 May 2020 @ 12:08pm

      Re: Just to mention.

      Can we find people who understand High Freq radio waves..Like those Old MW towers used in the past, that would warm your body in winter, as it Slowly Cooked your insides

      A millimeter wave, directed microwave energy weapon causes pain by heating the water in a human target's skin - which is as far as it can penetrate.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 3:08pm

        Re: Re: Just to mention.

        Lie

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • 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

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 9:40pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

            At what power level?

            1mW 1GW 1MW?

            There's a difference between a thousanth of a watt and a billion watts

            1 billion watts is a wmd and a milliwatt is a laser pointer

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 14 May 2020 @ 2:25am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

              "1 billion watts is a wmd and a milliwatt is a laser pointer"

              To most conspiracy theorists the simpler logic applies. That's why the CEO using a laser pointer to make his point to shareholders is really a Dark Lord wielding a Lightsaber and mindfscking the attendees.

              People who dearly want the world to make more sense by putting some malicious agency in overall charge often try to skip the inconvenient details which would render that explanation implausible. And hold as heretics those who try to nitpick using observable fact and causality.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2020 @ 7:59am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

              "At a cell site, the total radio frequency (RF) power that can be transmitted from each transmitting antenna depends on the number of radio channels (or transmitters) that have been authorized by the Federal Communications Commission and the power of each transmitter. Although the FCC permits an effective radiated power (ERP) of up to 500 watts per channel (depending on the tower height), the majority of cellular or PCS cell sites in urban and suburban areas operate at an ERP of 100 watts per channel or less."

              Human Exposure to Radio Frequency Fields: Guidelines for Cellular Antenna Sites

              This output level is a bit less than you imagined I guess.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 1:37pm

      Re: Just to mention.

      Like those Old MW towers used in the past, that would warm your body in winter, as it Slowly Cooked your insides..

      Citation required, like autopsy reports on cooked transmitter engineers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 3:37pm

        Re: Re: Just to mention.

        Why don't you go stand over there in front of that F15 while I stroll on over to the cockpit and flip on the radar - mmmkay?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 5:00pm

          Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

          You do not know the difference between medium wave, that is frequencies in the hundred KHz range, and radar up in the 10's of Ghz. Go and learn something about radio before believing every scare story that you read. Besides high power radars might be dangerous when you are within a foot or two of the aerial, but that is not relevant to 5G, which has nowhere near the same power outputs.

          If I wanted to feed your paranoia i would point out that microwave overs operate in the same frequency band as WiFi.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2020 @ 8:05am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

            Did you not deny the claim that microwaves can heat up the human body? Granted, it was a smartass reply - but get over it.

            "Millimeter wave radar is used in short-range fire-control radar in tanks and aircraft, and automated guns (CIWS) on naval ships to shoot down incoming missiles. The small wavelength of millimeter waves allows them to track the stream of outgoing bullets as well as the target, allowing the computer fire control system to change the aim to bring them together."

            Weapons systems

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2020 @ 8:35am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

              Microwaves can cause heating is a meaningless statement when it comes to safety, as it is watts per meter squared that matters, and that depends on radiated power, beam width and distance from the antenna. Its like 1Kw of heat in a small room will keep you warm in winter, while 100Kw in the same room turn it into an oven that will cook you quickly.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2020 @ 9:33am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

                It is meaningless so it does not occur - got it.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  bhull242 (profile), 14 May 2020 @ 9:31pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

                  That’s not what they said, and you know it. “It’s meaningles”s just means that: it is of no consequence whether or not it occurred or not. In this case, the statement, “microwaves can cause heating,” is meaningless (at least on its own) when discussing the safety of 5G. Radiated power (not to be confused with consumed power), wavelength, beam width, distance from the source, and the surroundings are necessary factors to account for.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2020 @ 5:50am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

                    The post that replied to the following asked for a citation, implying disbelief.
                    "Like those Old MW towers used in the past, that would warm your body in winter, as it Slowly Cooked your insides"

                    It was followed by my smartass comment, the intent of which was to point out that there is indeed heating that occurs.

                    Then I was told about frequency allocation, use and distribution, etc which is of no relevance, but ok. I liked the paranoia accusation, that was a nice touch.

                    Then the acknowledgement that heating does indeed occur was labeled as "no consequence". Umm, ok then. There is no consequence to misstating the facts. I would have to sorta agree with this.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    • icon
                      bhull242 (profile), 15 May 2020 @ 7:32am

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

                      The key part being denied was “as it slowly cooked your insides”. I don’t see where anyone denied the warming entirely.

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    • icon
                      bhull242 (profile), 15 May 2020 @ 8:05am

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

                      I believe there is some confusion here. Let me summarize the sequence of events as I understand them.

                      ECA said a bunch of things that are nonsense, including this:

                      Like those Old MW towers used in the past, that would warm your body in winter, as it Slowly Cooked your insides..

                      That is, they specifically alleged that people’s insides were cooked by old transmission towers in the past. An AC—reasonably believing this was nonsense—asked for a citation for that specific allegation. You saw an implicit denial that such radiation cannot cause heating at all, and so made a smartass comment pointing out that heating does occur. The first AC defended their comment by saying that that fact was meaningless, pointing out that in the specific circumstances alleged, the other factors would make any heating not only no further than skindeep but also negligible. You made a smartass remark implying that that was equivalent to denying that fact. I then pointed out that that’s not what “meaningless” means, and you said that I was saying that misstating facts is of “no consequence”.

                      Here’s the thing: I fail to see where the first AC misstated any facts. They never denied that heating occurs at all. They were specifically arguing against the proposition that some particular technology used in the past would and actually did have a significant heating effect on humans’ insides, and you don’t appear to dispute that disagreement based on other things you’ve said. Basically, between you, the first AC, and myself, none of us have actually disagreed on any material facts here.

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  Talmyr, 15 May 2020 @ 4:17am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

                  Stand in a cold room wit a 100W bulb. Now try touching it. You see the difference?

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              bhull242 (profile), 14 May 2020 @ 12:43pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

              Heat up human skin, not the human body.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2020 @ 1:06pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

                Yes

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  bhull242 (profile), 14 May 2020 @ 9:25pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

                  Let me be clear: the amount of energy imparted by millimeter-length radio waves is not enough at the relevant intensities to cause damage. I doubt you’d even get so much as a fraction of a fraction of a degree Fahrenheit difference in temperature from even long-term exposure to 5G. And that’s setting aside the incredibly short range of 5G.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              bhull242 (profile), 14 May 2020 @ 9:34pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

              WTF does that have to do with dangers from radiation? Injuries from weapons guided by radar tells us literally nothing about safety of the radiation itself. Nothing in what you just said has any actual relevance.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2020 @ 5:56am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

                Each and every comment needs to address each and every point that you feel is relevant?

                I started out disagreeing with a comment which claimed there was no heating of the human body from radiated energy. That was it. Look at where this has gone - LOL

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  bhull242 (profile), 15 May 2020 @ 7:30am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

                  I understand that. I’m asking what that particular story—which doesn’t address the effects such radiation may or may not have on humans—had to do with the topic at hand at all.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2020 @ 8:52am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

                    The link provided in said prior comment was intended to show that fire control radar is indeed within the frequency range under discussion as the comment implied otherwise. Agreed, it was not very clear and did not address the comment adequately.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2020 @ 4:25am

          Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

          mmmkay, my ass.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 14 May 2020 @ 12:41pm

      Re: Just to mention.

      The wavelengths used for 5G cannot penetrate further than human skin. Any allegations of potential health effects (good or bad) from exposure to 5G that relate to anything other than the skin are completely baseless. Furthermore, since it’s not ionizing radiation, the worst that could happen is heat damage, and that has already been shown to not be an issue at the exposure levels being dealt with here. The amount of power used for these antenna is irrelevant. The Sun has far more power, anyways, even after factoring in distance.

      As for being cooked from the inside, that’s not how microwaves or radio waves work. Microwaves heat things from the outside in, not the other way around. Try heating some lasagna or pasta in the microwave. The outside will be substantially warmer than the inside. Since, again, human skin can block 5G, the same applies there. (Also, millimeter 5G has a lower frequency—and thus less energy—than microwaves, so they are worse at increasing heat.)

      Look, I understand high-frequency radio waves; there’s nothing scary about them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2020 @ 8:30pm

        Re: Re: Just to mention.

        Well, I guess they told me to call a liar a liar. People who understand the difference and continue to spout pseudoscience and nonsense about dangerous power levels are as guilty as the rest of it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2020 @ 5:59am

          Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

          What pseudoscience and nonsense was spouted and why do you think that?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            bhull242 (profile), 15 May 2020 @ 7:49am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Just to mention.

            I believe it was this:

            Like those Old MW towers used in the past, that would warm your body in winter, as it Slowly Cooked your insides..

            They wouldn’t really warm anything below skindeep, and they wouldn’t cook anything at all, so that’s almost certainly nonsense.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 4:01pm

    Working in technology, all I can say is that I am not really impressed with 5G anyway. 4G has about a 10 mile range and 5G has about 1000ft. Sure, it is significantly faster. But for cell phones, I am needing connectivity rather then speed. I could see potential for using it like an ISP in cities but it is likely going to be priced out of being an affordable option.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 9:04pm

      Re:

      But what if you need 8K video on your phone while downloading hundreds of git repositories? What then?!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 14 May 2020 @ 2:28am

        Re: Re:

        "But what if you need 8K video on your phone while downloading hundreds of git repositories? What then?!"

        You go get a high-paying job at the military or in research because apparently your eyes can distinguish detail at a range unmatched by most optical equipment, including satellites and you are more mobile by far than most electron microscopes. That's "what then?!".

        I humbly submit to you that on a 6" screen you are unlikely to see much of a difference between 480 and 8k resolution. :)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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)

Close

Add A Reply

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 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.