A Silicon-valley engineer turned technology-health advocate, Jeromy Johnson discusses our attachment to technology.
This video is once again making the e-mail rounds. Some of you may have seen this before, and our discussion then. Such talks are found in the internet all the time. Of course, it is better to be safe than sorry, and so one may wish to take some precautions if the risk is substantial. But is it?
At every stage of human existence, humans had to judge the amount of risk they have to face, in order to exist and move forward. This was true for the hunter gatherers as well as the first people who learnt how to tame fire.
Is the radiation from smart power meters, cell phones, home wif-fi etc. dangerous, carcinogenic, or capable of causing nausea, sleeplessness etc, and incapacitate you as stated in these reports?
The main-stream professional and scientific organizations do not support the view that there is any risk from Wi-Fi radiation. Of course, the frightened public will immediately point out to examples of collusion between industry and scientific regulatory bodies. This can be significant in the USA where Capitalism is King. Nevertheless, when the professional and academic associations of a majority of countries say the same thing, I prefer to follow main-stream science instead of claims made by small, seemingly very concerned groups using anecdotal accounts.
So let us look at the science from the main-stream point of view.
The American Cancer Association, and other professional associations do not support the view that radiation from smart meters or cell phones cause cancer.
Smart Meters transmit the reading to the power company at frequent intervals (e.g., every hour or in full real time). See, for example, the ACA’s comments on smart meters.
The amount of radiation that we get from the sun at all frequencies is a usually many times higher than what comes from these devices and from cell phones. The sun radiates at low frequencies as well as at very high frequencies, and it is the very high frequencies (short wavelengths) that are most dangerous, compared to Wi-Fi and radio waves.
1. Johnson’s argument that the radiation density has substantially increased because of Wi-Fi is not correct. Typical cell-phone or smart-meter radiation is at 2.4 GHz which is about 12.5 cm. The sun radiates at wavelengths of 100 nanometers to about 1 mm strongly, and beyond into radio frequencies as well. So it is radiating in the Wi-Fi range as well. In fact, 52% of the sun’s radiant energy is in the near infra red and millimeter range.
A Wi-Fi wave of 12.5 cm is more than 10 million times larger than a micron sized cell in the body or in the brain. Think of a boat in the ocean, and a wave which takes a very long time to swell up because its wavelength is a million times longer than the boat. The boat merely gets gently lifted up, and nothing happens. It is only if the wavelength is comparable to the boat and turbulent (i.e., many short wavelengths and eddies mixed up with long ones) that the boat gets into trouble. So Wi-Fi radiation, which is largely monochromatic (single wavelength) near 12.5 cm cannot latch onto the electric circuits of the cell either due to size based electrodynamic effects, Q-cavity effects, or due to resonance effects unlike a cell phone which “picks up” the wave as it is constructed to have a circuit in resonance with the 12.5 radiation.
One may imagine that if the wave were very strong (i.e.,if it had a large amplitude), as wold be the case near a Wi-Fi tower, then its effect would be correspondingly stronger. This is in fact not so, as Einstein showed in 1905. Unlike with ordinary water waves or sound waves, it is the quantum theory that controls the interaction of radiation with matter, and here it is the frequency, and not the amplitude that matters.
2. The total number of cell phones and Wi-Fi sources in the world is over 5 billion according to some estimates. Such radiation is in my view a negligible increment over the existing background. But you can make your own estimates. Also, such cell phones have existed now for several decades. Scientists haven’t still been able to pin point any cases (e.g., of brain cancer) exactly linked to the illness and the presence of cell phone radiation – i.e., there is no evidence. There has been NO INCREASE in brain cancer while the amount of Wi-Fi has increased exponentially. In fact the incidence of brain cancer in the US has slightly decreased, over the years.
2. Of the 3 billion users, let us say we have perhaps a some thousands of people who complain of nausea, inability to sleep etc., as stated by this engineer Jeromy Johnson. He refers to a paper by an Australian Doctor Frederica Lamech published in 2014 in a fringe journal known as “Alternative therapies“. The report is anecdotal, and does not compare a group of patients with a control group. There are many such reports, published in “predatory” journals which have no scientific standing, and reveal poor “experiments” that are simply not up to scientific standards. We have the same problem in many environmental studies. A most notorious case is that of a Sri Lankan Psychic Lady from kelaniya publishing a paper with academics from the Rajarata University, claiming that kidney disease in the Rajarata is caused by arsenic acting together with residues of the herbicide glyphosate claimed to present in the hard water of the region. No evidence was presented, but a “hypothesis” was published in a predatory journal. The journal had no connection with a learned society or professional body, but it is maintained by a Chinese businessman who publishes what is sent to the journal as long as you pay a page charge, although there may even be a pretense of “peer review”..
Do you know of ANYONE who has faced the conditions described by Engineer Johnson that you can be ascribed to the use of a cell phone? Most people don’t.
However, let us we assume that there is actually a problem, and that 5,000 such people have been definitively identified, and that there are 5 billion sources of Wi-Fi radiation in the world. Then we have 5,000/(5 billion) = 5/5000,000,000 gives us one chance in a million that this is probably going to affect us within the next decade. There is a much bigger risk from second hand smoke, and an even bigger risk from fumes from motor vehicles, or falling in your bath tub. The risk for getting hit in the street by a car and dying is about 30 times higher (for New York, and much higher in Colombo or Cairo). Ten times more kids are killed in bath tub accidents in the US alone, compared to the 5000 that we assumed here. That figure may be contested. If so, any one is free to use their own figures and make the risk calculation, and do it in a more sophisticated way using advanced notions of probability distributions etc.
4. So, even if the fringe science reports are not up to standard, it is important to check if there is a danger, by carrying out good experiments with double-blind controls. The WHO has sponsored or carried out several such studies on the effect of cell phone radiation. In 2015, the European-Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks concluded that, overall, the epidemiological studies on cell phone radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation exposure do not show an increased risk of brain tumors or of other cancers of the head and neck region.
For Cell Phones and Cancer Risk click here
This is a WHO fact sheet that outlines the available evidence regarding use of cellular/mobile telephones and cancer risk, but does not indicate a definite risk. And yet this engineer seems to say that the WHO arrived at the opposite conclusion. So what he says is, in my view, incorrect.
5. The engineer Jeromy Johnson says that our body is electric, and that cells communicate by electric signals, and so this some how makes wi-fi dangerous. This is a truly naive argument.
Cells communicate using chemicals at the synapses of the neurons. The chemicals shoot across the synaptic gap when the tiny currents in neuron circuits exceed certain thresholds. Unless the thresholds are exceeded, nothing happens.
We can follow all the electric signals in the body using ECG, EEG and other such devices. Modern fitness trackers, wristbands, optical heart-rate monitors, photo-plethysmography devices etc are now quite commonplace. More sophisticated PET and brain NMR are also now available to clinical researchers. In-body telemetry, as attempted in using sensors which are a mere one millimetre in size (e.g., those named “neural dust”), may also be used to monitor organs in real-time, as well as their being using to stimulate nerves and muscles.
No one has seen any effects on these bodily electric signals, PET or NMR signals being affected when the cell phone rings. There is no justification for calling for a ban claiming a “precautionary principle”. In fact the correct use of the precautionary principle is to not to ban the product, but to take some simple precautions to minimize exposure if you have worries about the Wi-Fi radiation.
In my view, one should wait for reliable evidence, since the current estimated risk is about 1 parts in a million, instead of acting in fear, like the animals in the Dadabba Jataka.
*The author is a professor of Physics at the University of Montreal and a Principal Research Scientist in the Quantum Theory group of the National Research Council of Canada.