AÂ worriedÂ family-member sent me a link to this paper, published in Nature, which is supposed to make us scared, once again, of WIFI and mobile-phone emissions. I decided to have a close read, and reported back:
Well, it starts with the statement that “All types of man-madeÂ EMFs/EMR – in contrast to natural EMFs/EMR – are polarisedâ€. I supposeÂ Iâ€™d better not take for granted that you know what polarisation means.Â It means light (or any other wave) thatâ€™s travelling and aligned atÂ one angle, rather than scattered at many random angles. And itÂ proposes that all â€œman madeâ€ waves are polar, and implies that thoseÂ made in nature are not.
This is very obviously not true.
For example, the â€œman madeâ€ light coming out of your light-bulb is notÂ polarised, but the EMF emitted after a (natural) lightning strike *is*Â highly polarised. Also, because of Rayleigh scattering in theÂ atmosphere, the sunlight that reaches us is also substantiallyÂ polarised (i.e. the atmosphere filters out light at certain angles),Â not to mention sun that is reflected off any smooth surface, which isÂ completely polarised. If it werenâ€™t, polarised sunglasses wouldnâ€™tÂ work! So, if within the first paragraph, we have manifest untruths, I
do wonder whether itâ€™s worth Fisking the rest of it.
But I did find it amusing to note that in the paper itself, they didÂ admit how puny â€œmanmadeâ€ EMF is. Again, quoting DIRECTLY from the paper:
“Solar EMR intensity incident upon a human body ranges normally
between 8 and 24â€‰mW/cm2″
“intensity from a digital mobile phone handset upon a human head
during â€œtalkâ€ emission is normally less than 0.2â€‰mW/cm2″
Also, I love the fact that they have to admit that your immediate familyÂ emit greater EMF than any WIFI transmitter:
“radiation from every human body at normal temperature, have
significantly larger incident intensities and exposure durations on
any human than most artificial EMF sourcesâ€
Again, this is a direct quote from the paper you sent me 🙂
They admit that this is a problem for their hypothesis, that manmadeÂ EMF must, somehow, be dangerous, even though they have no statisticalÂ evidence for this. They beautifully beg the question by suggestingÂ theyâ€™ll propose to “explain theoretically why, even though man-madeÂ EMFs are puny, theyâ€™re rendered harmful by being polarised â€œinÂ contrast to the natural onesâ€. Firstly, theyâ€™re having to invent aÂ theoretical way to explain a problem that has no evidence ofÂ existence, and secondly, their â€œtheoreticalâ€ explanation has itsÂ foundation in a postulate that is empirically false (that there arenâ€™tÂ polarised waves in nature). Oh dear.
But donâ€™t take my word for it. In a throwaway comment, they admitÂ that, actually, yes, we experience plenty of polarised radiation inÂ nature:
“Unpolarized natural light can become partly polarized to a small
average degree after diffraction on atmospheric molecules, or
reflection on water, mirrors, metallic surfaces, etcâ€. But, hold on,Â they admitted that our exposure to sunlight is several orders ofÂ magnitude greater than our exposure to even close â€œman-madeâ€ EMFs, soÂ even if the â€œsmall average degreeâ€ of natural polarisation were true,Â it would still, in absolute terms, be as great as (or greater) thanÂ the man-made EMFâ€™s polarisation. In other words, 10% of a million quidÂ is more than 100% of a thousand quid!
I note that the reference for their admitting that natural EMF does,Â in fact, exhibit polarity, is a textbook. I used Google Books toÂ search that text-book, and was amused to find exercises within askingÂ the reader to calculate the angle of reflection off a lake whereby
100% of the sun would be polarised and so on. So the book discussesÂ blithely a common situation where youâ€™d be exposed to polarisedÂ radiation up to 120 times more powerful than holding a mobile phone toÂ your ear. Again, this is just using THEIR reference! And thatâ€™s with aÂ mobile phone which is, in turn, about 100 times more powerful than the
average wifi signal.
Thus, if you take this paper seriously, you should be 1200 times moreÂ worried about the polarised glare off Lake Superior on a sunnyÂ afternoon than in having your infantÂ lie directly on top of your wifiÂ router.
They go on to suggest that the magnetic fields associated withÂ man-made radiation are “are accused [sic] for an association withÂ cancerâ€. They provide a reference for that claim. Which I follow. ItÂ involves gerbils whose brains had been purposefully harmed, and thenÂ exposed to a close magnetic field caused by a 50hz circuit. AfterÂ decapitating them, the researchers did, indeed, notice a differenceÂ between these gerbils and the controls. These gerbils had LESSÂ evidence of oxidative stress! Let me quote directly:
“Based on reported results, it is obvious that 7-day exposure to
ELF-MF (50 Hz, 0.5 mT) can reduce oxidative stress in the brain of
gerbils submitted to 10-min global cerebral ischemaâ€. Notice the wordÂ â€œreduceâ€ there. They postulate that the magnetic field gentlyÂ increases endogenous antioxidant production, which is substantiallyÂ protective. This is the same gentle hormesis used to justify, say,Â sun exposure and eating broccoli, and again shows how problematic itÂ is to assume that exposure to anything that might cause bodilyÂ disruption is uncomplicatedly harmful. After all, the only reasonÂ vegetables are good for us is because, paradoxically, they are bad for us.
So a study that suggests EMF be used therapeutically based on theÂ obvious anti-carcinogenic protective effects they observed on theirÂ animals is perhaps not the best to use as a reference for â€œaccusingâ€Â an â€œassociation with cancerâ€. This can only mean that the authors ofÂ your paper did a pubmed browse for titles, thought this one would beÂ good for them, but didnâ€™t bother actually reading the results whichÂ were rather counterproductive to their hypothesis.
The other reference they provide for their scaremongering is a hugeÂ summary of all the evidence available on this subject, produced by theÂ World Heath Organisation and accepted with much hoo-ha by the wooÂ brigade. Itâ€™s utterly, exhaustively, exhaustingly comprehensive. It isÂ urgently vital that this paper be a valid reference for the worriesÂ upon which your paper is based, otherwise the fear-mongerers’Â postulated mechanisms have no harmful referent, and are mereÂ discussion of what dance steps those putative angels dancing onÂ pinheads used. In other words, if the WHO huge referenced datasetÂ reveals cause for concern, then a search for a plausible mechanism isÂ indeed a logical pursuit. However, if that dataset reveals no causeÂ for concern, then there is no existing harm for which a mechanismÂ could be found, and the pursuit becomes as quixotic as people who tryÂ to fix the unfortunate data of the world into a Young EarthÂ Creationist mindset.
So letâ€™s see what the exhaustive dataset, upon which they base theÂ drive for their whole hypothesising, says about the harm that man-madeÂ EMFâ€™s cause.
Let me quote directly:
“There is limited evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of
extremely low- frequency magnetic fields in relation to childhood
There is inadequate evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of
extremely low- frequency magnetic fields in relation to all other cancers.
There is inadequate evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of
static electric or magnetic fields and extremely low-frequency
There is inadequate evidence in experimental animals for the
carcinogenicity of extremely low-frequency magnetic fields.
No data relevant to the carcinogenicity of static electric or magnetic
fields and extremely low-frequency electric fields in experimental
animals were available.”
The final conclusion is that EMF and ELF electric fields are “notÂ classifiable as to their carcinogenicity to humansâ€ and that anyÂ carcinogenity of magnetic fields is only accepted as such if oneÂ accepts the â€œlimited evidenceâ€ of leukaemia as valid.
So what about the â€œlimited evidenceâ€ about childhood leukaemia? Well,Â the review admits that the evidence is very weak and epidemiologicalÂ (like sat fat) and may well”be affected by â€œselection biasâ€. It goesÂ through the substantial problems with the epidemiological evidence,Â and concludes “If the observed relationship were causal, the
exposure-associated risk could also be greater than what is reportedâ€.Â The focus on leukaemia is strong because there was a scare in theÂ 1970s that specifically focussed on it. Studies followed, in everÂ increasing number, and the cacophony of confounding variables andÂ selection-bias became ever more strident. The paper admits that theÂ best studies, that work hard to gut through this cacophony, find noÂ causal signal at all.
So the dataset that should provide the foundation stone upon whichÂ their following hypothesis of the mechanism of harm is built is madeÂ of sand. Worse than that, the actual experimental data revealed inÂ their only other reference (the aforementioned gerbil study) suggestsÂ that whatever mechanism there is or is not at play is empiricallyÂ suggestive of productivity rather than harm!
The rest of the paper is lots of maths and magicks, and, built on sandÂ as it is, requires no more serious analysis than any esoterica writtenÂ by Aleister Crowley. It may be a very pretty hypothesis. The mathsÂ might be clever. The incantations internally elegant. But then, so isÂ the theory of the music of the spheres and so forth. So, by all means,Â enjoy it as a work of aesthetics. But not science.
They conclude, of course, that all modern technology is evil (as isÂ the wont of every Puritan), referencing laughable epidemiology aboutÂ mobile phones and cancer as they scattergun their conclusions, andÂ bidding thee repent!
3 thoughts on “Nature polarised EMF nonsense”
Have you had a look at this recent study giving evidence for the opposite:
What’s your take on it?
Good read, Nick 😉
Fantastic critique! Very well done 🙂