The foray into 5G is one linked to both the inevitable promises and prices of progress. This week, Eamonn Holmes came under fire for suggesting that we would be wrong to totally disregard theories around 5G and a possible link to the Corona Virus outbreak. Whilst this was indeed irresponsible, given his platform, a lack of evidence, and during such a time of mass confusion and change, my heart went out to him – as should yours.
It is a messy world out there and today, even more so. Firing rebuttals using only insults and dismissive labels, ironically casts the opposition in the same category of speculation, judgement and assumption. Instead of responding with the ritual humiliation and round of sackings, perhaps it would be better to engage around constructive communication and debate, over the accusatory and highly personal finger pointing that fuels the culture of outrage.
There is clear interest in such a topic, and especially when that interest may be misinformed, surely the response should be to run more investigative pieces detailing the pros and cons and ins and outs of such technologies. To fill the void with clarity, information, evidence and discussion, from both sides. Instead of returning to segments on banana bread.
The safety of 5G as a technology, and whether or not 5G is linked to the current Corona outbreak are two different topics, and not to be confused. Concerns around 5G existed even before the pandemic. It is natural to have concerns around a novel implementation, as we have experienced many times in the past – with claims that transpire to be both unfounded and validated, in ways that we don’t always expect, when illuminated by the headlights of hindsight.
‘Lies, damned lies and statistics’: Evaluating the Evidence
When evaluating the evidence, there are a multitude of things to take into consideration beyond the conclusions drawn – first and foremost is the source itself. Is it a study or a persuasion piece (sometimes there is grotesquely little difference), where does the study come from, who is it funded by, what are the conflicts of interest and have they been clearly stated i.e. agenda / mission / purpose behind the hypothesis.
Next is the value of the study itself – is it a large or small scale trial, are the subjects animal or human, how has the data been collated, what are the limitations of these methods and have they been recognised, finances and other limitations aside, is this the best possible method and does it meet the gold standards, how has the data been analysed and manipulated, what assumptions have been made and not accounted for in doing so, is it peer reviewed, is it a meta-analysis, what questions does this leave and how can this be brought forward and improved, where have the results been published – i.e. natural human error, quality and critical review of every detail of the results and extrapolations.
Science and Cell Phones (Radio Frequency Radiation)
Cellular networks rely on signals carried by radio waves (part of the electromagnetic spectrum) transmitted between an antenna or a mast on your phone. Electromagnetic radiation has both natural and man-made sources – it’s emitted by sunlight, mobiles, television and radio to name a few.
RFRs are the high frequency electromagnetic radiation emitted from wireless devices or data transmission, and EMF is the measurement that can be taken to see what the magnetic field levels are from various things including power lines, transformers and circuit breaker boxes.
2G through to 4G (what we currently use), relies on microwaves. The latest cellular technology: 5G, will use these microwaves in addition to millimeter waves. These higher frequency waves allow more devices to have access to the internet at the same time, and at faster speeds. As we progress in a way that is increasingly reliant on such technologies, this is fast becoming a necessity.
Millimeter waves still fall into the non-ionising radiation compartment of the Electromagnetic Spectrum. According to Physicist and cancer researcher Robert Grimes, ‘non-ionising radiation lacks sufficient energy to break apart DNA and cause cellular damage, unlike UV rays from the sun, which lie further up the electromagnetic spectrum’. And are therefore safe at the levels set.
On the other side of the table, is Dr Joel M. Moskowitz phD. He is director of the Centre for Family and Community Health in the School of Public Health at the University of California. He has been translating and disseminating the research on wireless radiation and its health effects since 2009. He also acts as an unpaid advisor to the International EMF Scientist Appeal and Physicians for Safe Technology.
Writing for the Scientific American, Dr Moskowitz argues that, as much of the research his team conducts is publicly, and not privately funded, this gives them a greater ethical responsibility to translate the literature, which is often not as accessible as is desirable to the populace at large. This crux of his argument against the implementation of 5G, is that our current safety regulations are based on outdated measurements and research, which poses greater risks moving forwards.
The research he is referring to, is based on behavioural changes observed in rats in the 1980s, which concludes that Radio Frequency Radiation (RFR) poses some health risks. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted exposure limits designed to protect us from the short term heating risks associated with RFR based on these results. The FCC is an independent agency of the US government that regulates communications by radio, TV, satellite and cable.
However times have changed since the 1980s and new research is now available, including over 500 studies that have found potential health effects from RFR at levels lower than the current limit. As a result of these papers, more than 240 scientists who have published peer-reviewed research on the potential hazards of EMF signed the International EMF Scientist Appeal, calling for stronger limits to be instated at both national and international level.
Another limitation of the 1980s research on which current limits are based, looked into the frequency of the carrier waves, but neglected other factors like signalling properties, pattern and duration of exposure, and signal characteristics (pulsing, polarisation etc) – ‘differential effects, all of which impact the biological health risks of the exposure’ according to Dr Moskowitz.
Have I dug through all 500 studies and analysed them using the criteria above? No. Is a cohort of 240 scientists a large enough number to make an impact on the global stage? Not sure. But the status quo would suggest not. However, Dr Moskowitz states that this cohort of signatories arguably represents the majority of experts on the field of EMF, having published over 2000 papers and letters on this topic alone.
He and others have also signed the 5G appeal, arguing that instead of rushing in to deploy 5G or forgoing it altogether, we should demand that the government fund the research needed to adopt and update biologically based exposure limits that protect our health and safety, first.
As well as independent scientists, other organisations have weighed in. Two commonly cited sources from the 5G opposition, are the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which classified RFR as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’ in 2011. And a 2018 study, in which $30 million was spent by the US National Toxicology Programme, citing ‘clear evidence’ that two years of exposure to cell phone RFR increased rates of cancer and DNA damage in rats and mice.
In the latter 2018 study on rats and mice, the animals bodies were exposed to radiation from mobile phones for 9 hours a day, every day for 2 years, starting before they were born. Interestingly, while male rats were found to develop a type of cancerous tumour of the heart, no such link was declared for the female rats or mice. Dr Frank De Vocht, who helps advise the government on mobile phone safety says “although some of the research suggests a statistical possibility of increased cancer risks for heavy users, the evidence to date for a causal relation is not sufficiently convincing to suggest the need for precautionary action.”
Part of the problem lies in the difficulty of drawing definitive conclusions around long term impacts, especially in a clinical trial format, and especially where human over animal subjects are concerned. This is partly why the health hazards of smoking prevailed unsupported by ‘sufficient evidence’ for as long as they did. Because most studies can at this stage, only wave the red flag of ‘potential’ to harm. We must not forget that an absence of evidence does not mean ‘no harm’ or ‘no benefit’, it means an absence of clinical information to validate the argument as of yet. It means we are all enrolled in life’s next clinical trial, but at least with smoking there was perhaps, some greater degree of choice.
In the interim, not much has changed. The FDA recently wrote to the FCC stating that ‘no changes to the current standard are warranted at this time’, and that the “NTP’s experimental findings should not be applied to human cell phone usage.” The FDA argues that “the available scientific evidence to date does not support adverse health effects in humans due to exposures at or under the current limits”. The IARC has prioritised RFR to be reviewed again within the next five years, when it may or may not be reclassified.
However, as Dr Moskowitz notes, the FDA did not go on to support their decision by conducting a formal risk assessment of their own, nor a systemic review of the current research of RFR and biological effects. Potentially things they should have considered and updated before rolling out the technology on such a mass scale, for the foreseeable future. His story, as told by him, sounds like one of guerrilla warfare – with small independent and publicly funded scientists rallying against an overpowering and unstoppable institution that has already made up its mind. However other journalists and scientists alike, have publicly disagreed.
There are other factors to consider in the installation and application of 5G – it requires more antennas due to its limited reach (the waves travel shorter distances), therefore they will be placed every 100 to 200m. It also employs new technologies such as ‘active antennas capable of beam forming, phased arrays, and massive multiple inputs and outputs (MIMO)’, which will pose new benefits, as well as novel challenges for measuring and evaluating exposure.
The converse argument, is that having more transmitters allows each one to run at lower power level than previous 4G technology, which means that the exposure from 5G antennas could be lower. In terms of the risk of heating (microwaves generate heat in objects they pass through), the Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has deemed the effects ‘at the levels present in the community’ to be negligible and therefore not of concern to date.’
The WHO (what, where, when, why…)
In 2014 The WHO said that ‘no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use’. However, together with the International Agency for Research on Cancer, they have classified all RFRs (of which mobile signals are a part), as ‘potentially carcinogenic.’ Admitting that ‘there is evidence that falls short of being conclusive that exposure may cause cancer in humans’.
For reference, eating pickled foods and using talcum powder are classed in the same category, and it lies below the carcinogenic risk posed by consuming alcohol and eating processed meat. Although it should be equally noted that there was a time when alcohol and meat were not classed as such themselves.
It’s not hard to see why such a paper trail is hard to follow, translate, impact and therefore care about. The bureaucracy can be long, boring, is rarely transparent, requires contextual knowledge, learning and a lot of time that many of us feel we cannot afford. As a result, we are left with the warring opinion pieces written mostly to persuade than discuss.
The FT recently shared a piece on the pressing need to de-politicise bodies such as The WHO, offering a neutrality that would earn trust and co-operation. It is a sentiment that should be replicated across the board.
Science, a(nd) Religion
Every new technology presents both risks and benefits that need to be acknowledged and evaluated, although we have a habit of doing this in the process of applying them. Perhaps the price of novelty is worth it, under the promise that they will lead to the development of solutions for the very problems that they cause.
At the extreme end, information is harmful and can be weaponised, especially in times of high emotional intensity. But it is still healthy to question and communicate, or look to solve contributing factors at the root of the issue over suppression and censorship. Science itself is also not free from social or political ties and the re-classification of cannabis is a fair representation of that, with it still being classed as a Schedule 1 drug in the US, unethically limiting research into its therapeutic potential in spite of a multitude of evidence to suggest that this should not be the case.
In the mean time, it is nice to remember that we all worship something. It is easy to brush off ideas that don’t fit the narrative off the bat – as we have historically done with the theory of evolution, the shape and position of the earth, or the discovery that invisible microbes cause disease. We can be open to testing and reviewing our stance by working from first principles and continually refining the hypotheses amongst the continuous input of new, evidence-based data, ad infinitum.
Having compassion for other perspectives, entertaining them, and being curious about their sources and extrapolations is helpful, because as natural as it is, ‘when we judge another, we do not define them, we define ourselves’. Even the most bat shit topics are worth a gander when they help us understand why both others and ourselves might see the way we do, at any given point in time.
The media have a responsibility to the public, and that is supposed to be to communicate the facts. Part of the reason confusion prevails and dominates across the board is because of a lack of transparency, neutrality, long-termism and accessibility on the issues that matter. People have lost trust in the notion that authority is reliable, or is to some extent there for their protection, as well as increasingly losing interest in the detail, as a result of feeling that their voices will not be heard or consulted anyway.
All great truths begin as Blasphemies – George Bernard Shaw