Sat. Oct 1st, 2022
Photo of a transmission tower.

Wireless technology has a long history of fears based on vague accusations that it causes health problems and claims that some people are “electrosensitive.” Those fears were perpetuated by a handful of ambiguous studies that suggested possible links between cell phone use and cancer, but most of these studies had significant problems. And numerous other studies found no connection.

Nevertheless, the gradual arrival of the next generation of wireless technology, 5G, has rekindled health fears in some quarters. And while arguments against 5G have been circulating for months, they seem to have found a new focus thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, with rumors of a link between the two seemingly inspiring people to set fire to base cell phone towers.

Same as it once was

Radiofrequency radiation has a relatively low energy and cannot break chemical bonds. Like the near microwave frequencies, it can heat tissues. But we are not aware of mechanisms other than heating by which radiation at these wavelengths can damage human tissue. And, as noted above, there is no population-level evidence to suggest that radiation from these sources poses any risk.

However, one of the challenges of this work is that technology changes quite regularly. Since the introduction of the iPhone, we’ve seen Wi-Fi use two different frequencies and multiple protocols, while cellular service has gone from EDGE through 3 and 4G, and we’re now witnessing the rollout of 5G. In fact, the introduction of 5G sparked a new wave of concerns that it brought health risks that previous generations did not have. After all, a higher bandwidth means more power, right?

Not exactly. Wireless communication involves trade-offs to get as much information as possible over a limited connection while minimizing power consumption. Some of the means to do this include reducing the error rate or compressing the transmitted data and not relying on the radio frequency energy. Others, such as beamforming, simply focus more of the available bandwidth where an active device is. They all take place in a context – mobile hardware – where increasing the power used for transmission is strongly discouraged.

5G will not change this. It broadcasts on different frequencies in some situations. But these frequencies are generally blocked by things like walls. And anyway, those frequencies are also low enough to keep molecules from falling apart.

What the… ?

If the pre-existing health concerns about 5G are not based on identified risks, then in reality the alleged connections to the coronavirus have even less potential basis. There seem to be two basic ideas floating around about how 5G signals are related to the coronavirus. The first, while completely evidence- and mechanism-free, is at least somewhat plausible: 5G signals somehow suppress the immune system, increasing the frequency or severity of infections.

The second, completely detached from reality, is that the radio frequency signals of mobile services somehow produce the virus itself. Of course, no mechanism is postulated for this, because it is completely impossible. The fact that the coronavirus genome is clearly related to a family of similar viruses is never explained.

In either case, the only “evidence” offered in support is the timing of the 5G rollout versus the appearance of the coronavirus in some locations, as well as maps comparing the locations of 5G services to the locations with the highest incidence of SARS. – CoV-2. Neither makes sense as proof. 5G was present in various locations for a while without the appearance of coronavirus.

The rest is only partly coincidental. The early 5G deployments have all taken place in urban centers, where high population density has exacerbated the spread of the virus. But many cities without 5G service have also had a high incidence of the virus. Within the United States, the virus is now present in many rural areas.

Why would it make sense not to hold anyone back?

So even a cursory look at the evidence would indicate that these ideas are ridiculous. Still, that hasn’t stopped some people. Unfortunately, among those “some people” who spread rumors about coronavirus-5G, there were also celebrities, who generally have a wide reach. And if celebrities are involved in ridiculous health claims, you probably could have predicted that the connections would be traced back to Goop.

Of course, medical conspiracy theories often circulate widely without celebrities being involved, so it’s impossible to say whether they in any way inspired the attacks on mobile hardware. Since early April, the UK has seen 30 cases of vandalism targeting mobile network hardware, including several arson attacks. People who work on the hardware are also victims of bullying.

Some have attributed the spread of the conspiracy theories online to state-sponsored disinformation campaigns. However, those campaigns wouldn’t work if they didn’t find a large audience of people willing to believe misinformation without checking for evidence.

Correction: The earlier network technology was EDGE, not LTE.

By akfire1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.