“Free WiFi rot” (Electromagnetic hysteria)


The Truth About Cancer website is a clearinghouse for pseudoscience and quack cures that provides enough fodder for 10 posts, but we will concentrate today on its claim that WiFi causes cancer. The main promoter of this idea is Lloyd Burrell, a man whose online biography informs us that he “was running a successful small business when one day in 2002 he began to feel unwell when using his cell phone.” Burrell claimed he noticed this happened whenever he was near his phone, computer, or other type of electromagnetic device.

Critical thinkers will recognize as post hoc reasoning, but rather than trying to find out if there was a connection, Burrell merely assumed there was and, per the website, “has made it his life mission to raise awareness about the dangers of electromagnetic fields.”

There are indeed dangers associated with electromagnetic fields. For example a gamma ray burst from close enough could end life on Earth, although Universe Today reassures us that “astronomers have observed all the nearby gamma ray burst candidates, and none seem to be close enough or oriented to point their death beams at our planet.”

But there are still Earth-bound hazards, with the danger increasing the shorter the EMF wavelength gets. Going across the spectrum, we start with the longest waves, radio, then proceed to microwave, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma ray.

WiFi operates in the microwave portion, while the danger only starts toward the high end of ultraviolet light, when skin cancer becomes a risk. That’s because that’s the point on the EMF spectrum where ionizing begins. WiFi, meanwhile, is on the non-ionizing end by a wide margin.

Extensive exposure to ionizing radiation is the only type we need fret over, as even low exposure over time can significantly increase one’s risk. That’s why X-ray patients are covered with lead shields while the operator giving the X-ray (and 15 others that day and every other day) steps out of the room when the electromagnetic radiation is released.

Phoning your spouse to let them know your X-ray appointment is over requires significantly less radiation exposure than what the X-ray emitted, and more importantly, the cellphone’s radiation is non-ionizing.

But Burrell and many others have convinced persons they are at risk for cancer, especially of the brain, for repeated use of phones and other WiFi devices. Truth About Cancer is correct when it writes, “A multitude of studies found damage and cancer promotion from high frequency electromagnetic fields.” But it leaves out that none of the products whose use it is campaigning against are low frequency devices. Also, none of these websites or advertisements offer a biological mechanism by which non-ionizing radiation would induce tumors.

Radiation is associated with 1950s Sci Fi movies and theoretical meltdowns at nuclear power plants that would render adjacent areas uninhabitable. But it has a much-less sinister side that includes sunlight and Walkie Talkies. Radiation even helps Dr. Oz broadcast a satellite TV program about WiFi dangers. 

But if Oz were telling the truth, we would be seeing an exponential increase in brain cancer. Twenty years ago, cell phone use in, say, grocery stores was anomalous. Today, not taking a cell phone to the grocery store is the anomaly. Yet during this time, brain cancer rates have remained steady, even though we have become even more slavishly devoted to phones and other ever-present technology like iPads, personal computers, video-game consoles, and digital audio players.

Still, Oz, Joseph Mercola, Mike Adams, and others churn out misinformation about the supposed connection between these products and cancer, which perpetrates a self-replicating cycle. The more people that share articles about WiFi dangers, the more ad revenue is generated, and the more incentive these websites have to instill more unjustified worry.

The people who believe them and act on these fears give themselves the illusion of control. We also see this when people refrain from swimming after eating, refuse to sit close to the TV, or look for that non-GMO label.

By believing WiFi dangers are real, people have something to avoid and a hazard to guard against. So they follow Burrell’s recommendation to buy “Low EMF Routers” even though this is a redundancy that describes all routers. Also for sell are EMF shields, radiation meters, WiFi harmonizers, neutralizers, and similarly silly counter-weapons. The emissions they seek to protect from are incredibly low and the only way these devices will make a person’s exposure even less is if the persons goes to the store to buy these shields, and is therefore are away from their home modem.   

Meanwhile, radiationeducation.com suggests having your children write a radiation-free snail mail letter to your wireless-happy neighbors. The recommended message reads, “Our mom discovered that we are getting WiFi coming into our house and our bedrooms because of our neighbor’s wireless Internet service. Radiation hurts me. Please consider the effect of your choices. We are begging you to consider switching your Internet access to something hard wired, like cable or dial up, instead of wireless.”

While the overarching idea behind all this is to avoid health problems, this last recommendation would likely be counterproductive. Falsely accusing someone of harming children would be pushing it, but telling someone to use dial-up, that could definitely get your hurt.  

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