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02/29/24 • Community Voice

5G Safety Claims Based on Faulty Assumptions, Researchers Say

Policymakers are justifying rapid 5G buildouts by falsely assuming safety, despite a lack of strong data to back up that assumption, researchers at the Oceania Radiofrequency Scientific Advisory Association said in a peer-reviewed opinion article in Frontiers in Public Health.

Industry and world government leaders are justifying the rollout of 5G under the assumption that the technology is safe despite a lack of strong data to back up that assumption, researchers said in a peer-reviewed opinion article in Frontiers in Public Health.

In their review of more than 200 studies, the researchers cited credible risks of negative biological effects from millimeter waves (mmWaves) at intensities below current guidelines.

Millimeter waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) wave used in 5G but not used in previous network generations.

The researchers admitted the evidence is still limited and called for more quality research. However, they suggested ethical policymaking should apply the precautionary principle to avoid harm from uncontrolled 5G expansion.

Government leaders should show “moral courage” by “taking precautionary action in time to avert harm,” they said. “Risk aversion constitutes good leadership.”

The article’s lead author Julie McCredden, Ph.D., is a cognitive science researcher and the president of the Oceania Radiofrequency Scientific Advisory Association, a nonprofit group of scientists and professional academics studying EMR’s impact on humans, wildlife and the environment. Her co-authors also are association members.

The authors contend that while the long-term effects of mmWaves on humans and the environment are largely unknown, industry and government leaders are taking this lack of evidence as evidence of safety.

“Scientific literature reviews investigating biological harm from mmWave usage have concluded … ‘no in-depth conclusions can be drawn’ … and ‘no confirmed evidence’” that the 5G network is hazardous to human health.

“Unfortunately,” they said, “these statements of scientific uncertainty have been used by industry and government advisory bodies to reassure the public of the safety of the 5G rollout.”

For instance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claims there is “no consistent or credible scientific evidence of health problems caused by the exposure to radio frequency energy emitted by cellphones” and that there are “no new implications for 5G.”

“While many of the specifics of 5G remain ill-defined,” the FDA says, “it is known that 5G cell phones will use frequencies covered by the current FCC [Federal Communications Commission] exposure guidelines (300 kHz [kilohertz]-100 GHz [gigahertz]), and the conclusions reached based on the current body of scientific evidence covers these frequencies.”

In other words, the agency concluded that there’s no evidence of harm as long as 5G products are operating within the FCC’s radiation limits.

Although 5G can operate at what’s called low band frequencies — meaning EMR waves used in earlier mobile network generations like 3G and 4G — 5G also uses high band frequencies, which include mmWaves in the 30-300 GHz range that haven’t been used in the past.

McCredden and her co-authors focused their review on studies of 5G’s mmWaves.

5G poses ‘plausible risk’ to people’s health

The unspoken assumption is that 5G technologies are safe — but that “is not an evidence-based conclusion,” said McCredden and her co-authors.

It’s “far too early” for scientists “to establish any definite theories” for if and how mmWaves impact biological functioning because there hasn’t been much research on it yet.

The team sought to map out the entire scientific literature on mmWaves. They found only 238 experimental papers and 57 epidemiology papers.

“This is a relatively small knowledge base, given the many combinations of experimental parameters requiring examination, such as frequency, modulation pattern, intensity, exposure duration, and the numerous types of tissues, cells, and biological functions,” they said.

But the “overall picture emerging from the existing knowledge base suggests a range of biological effects, some with strong evidence (>90% of studies), that may have potential health implications.”

The team included a figure showing that more than 50 studies reported biochemical changes and dozens more reported other biological effects, such as impacts to the immune system and brain functioning, genetic effects, oxidative stress and cellular changes, among many others.

Figure 1. Credit: Julie E. McCredden, Steven Weller and Victor Leach.

In their opinion, this evidence suggests that 5G poses at least a “plausible risk” to people’s health.

Erroneous logic is part of the problem

McCredden and her co-authors discussed how government leaders and scientists are discounting evidence of potential biological harm.

They identified several logical fallacies — mistakes in reasoning — that governments and scientists make that may contribute to a faulty assumption that 5G is safe. They said:

“The art of integrating logical fallacies into communications has been used in the past by selected scientists working for industry, in order to convince the public and policymakers that their products do no harm, e.g., the smoking lobby used such techniques for decades …

“We have found that faulty reasoning has also been used to discuss mmWaves both in the public domain and in the research literature.”

The Australian government, for instance, in a media release introducing 5G to the public used a “faulty analogy” when it pointed out that mmWaves are already used in airport security screenings.

A faulty analogy occurs when two things are alike in one or more ways, but then the incorrect assumption is made that they are alike in other ways.

“In this case,” the team explained, “airport scanners and 5G technologies are similar in one way, in that they both use mmWaves; however, this similarity can lead people to believe that 5G technologies are also just as harmless as they believe airport scanners to be.”

But the two types of technology are dissimilar in several important ways that the Australian government failed to mention, they explained:

“(i) airport body scanners expose people for a few seconds and very infrequently, whereas exposures to 5G technologies occur many times a day throughout a person’s lifetime, and

“(ii) the waveforms used by airport scanners are much simpler and not easily comparable with complex 5G waveforms. Using a Faulty Analogy to introduce mmWaves to the public could prevent consumers from considering any risks or from taking active precautions.”

The team also said researchers conducting scientific reviews on mmWaves sometimes make mistakes in logic that cause important scientific studies to be overlooked.

For example, researchers who include in their review only those studies that reported the study’s dosimetry — meaning the exact amount of radiation used in the study — are committing the “confusion of necessary with sufficient condition” fallacy, they said.

Studies done in a lab using a frequency generator machine can easily report the amount of radiation the researchers programmed the machine to emit.

But real-world 5G signals are more variable and complex than simulated signals created by frequency generators, so studies using real-world 5G signals may not be able to report the exact amount of radiation in a way that satisfies the reviewer’s dosimetry requirement, they explained.

Thus, lab studies are more likely to be included in a scientific review than real-world 5G studies — and the omission of real-world 5G signal studies may lead to erroneous or distorted conclusions in review articles, they said.

The team discussed examples of other fallacies they’ve witnessed in the public discussion of 5G science, including the “straw person” fallacy in which the weakest points of an argument are attacked while stronger points are ignored.

In sum, the team said it’s the responsibility of “government review panels, regulatory bodies, scientists, public advocates, industry and policymakers to clearly communicate the research and its implications, so as to ensure that no fallacious conclusions can be drawn.”

“If these are allowed to continue,” they added, “both those delivering the message and the unsuspecting billions using their new 5G devices may be led in a direction that places global public and environmental health at risk.”

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