Apr 06 2020

COVID-19 Is Not Due to 5G

What do the following things have in common? A train engineer deliberately derails his train trying to crash it into a hospital ship in port to relieve overstressed hospital. In 2016 a man entered a pizza parlor and began shooting his assault rifle. And in the last few days several cell towers in the UK were the victims of apparent arson. These strange acts were all apparently motivated by bizarre conspiracy theories. Conspiracy thinking can be dangerous on many levels. It creates an alternate view of realty, one insulated from facts and refutation. Grand conspiracy theories also commonly create a narrative in which the enlightened few are struggling against a powerful and dark secretive cabal. It can motivate people to think they must do something – something desperate, dramatic, and heroic. The train conductor sums up this mind set:

“You only get this chance once. The whole world is watching. … I had to. People don’t know what’s going on here. Now they will.”

But let’s get back to this notion that 5G networks are somehow responsible for the coronavirus pandemic, or at least making it worse. This claim occurs in the context of general fear of the health effects of 5G. As I discussed at length in this SBM article, these concerns are not valid and are confusing the implications of the science. Here’s the quick version – 5G is operating at a relatively low frequency and low energy level, too low to cause direct harm to tissue. This is what is called non-ionizing radiation, because it is too low power to break chemical bonds. 5G critics make much of the fact that 5G is at a higher frequency than 4G or 3G , operating in the 28 and 39 gigahertz range. But as I and others point out, as you go higher still in EM frequency you get to visible light. Visible light has a frequency rage of 430–770 THz – that’s terahertz, which is 1,000 gigahertz – so visible light is at a frequency about 12,000 times higher than 5G. 5G networks are also low power, in the tens or at most hundreds of watts. In other words, that computer screen you are looking at right now is bathing you is much more powerful and higher frequency EM radiation than any 5G network.

Critics, however, point to a lot of research that essentially finds some biological activity when exposed to EM in the gigahertz frequency. There are two problems with these arguments, however. The first is that it confuses hazard with risk. Hazard is the potential for harm, like a shark in a tank. Risk is the possibility of harm, like swimming with the shark. If you don’t swim with the shark, the hazard it represents is of little concern. I also use the analogy of a loaded gun, which is a potential hazard, but involves much higher risk in the hands of a toddler (or conspiracy theorist) than safely locked in a safe – same hazard, very different risk.

So what the basic science research is investigating is the potential hazard of exposure to EM in the ghz range, and here the results are mixed. In short, some stuff does happen (again, to be clear, to cells in a petri dish), but it is not clear if what is happening represents any real potential for harm. You have to get pretty speculative to link the changes in vitro with any bad health outcomes. The vast majority of such research, in fact, does not translate to actual harm (which is the flip side of speculating about potential benefits based on in vitro studies). What we need is information on actual harm – negative health outcomes on whole organisms. Here there is little data on 5G because it is too new, but we have data on 4G and older networks, and there is no clear evidence of any harm. I find the data on both hazard and risk from 5G speculative, preliminary, and unconvincing. It is impossible to prove zero risk, but what we can say is that any potential risk is likely too small to worry about. Again – you can probably support a scarier scenario around daily exposure to your computer monitor.

What does all this have to do with COVID-19? Well, similar weak links based on preliminary in vitro data have lead at least one researcher to speculate wildly about the potential to increase viral replication – and I do mean speculate wildly. He then adds to this further wild speculation about the fact that 5G was rolled out in Wuhan China first, and that is where the virus started. Coincidence? Almost certainly. This is the kind of data that barely justifies doing follow up research to see if there is any reason to do further research. Is there something real here? And of course, the vast majority of the time the answer is no. But in the middle of a pandemic this is exactly the kind of weak speculation that spreads like wild fire on social media, which eventually motivates some people to set 5G cell towers on fire, thinking they are saving the world.

None of this, from a scientific point of view, is above the radar, meaning it is nothing the public needs to worry about. Your life is full of risks that are orders of magnitude more significant than even the worst case scenario with 5G. We can debate about whether or not the speculative hazard is worth scientific follow up. I think at least we need to gather epidemiological data to make sure nothing crops up, and to reassure the public. Doing further basic science research is always fine, but it needs to be kept in perspective. The real problem here is sloppy science communication, usually done by someone who massively overestimates the value of their own research or ideas, and irresponsibly grandstands to the public. We are seeing a lot of this with COVID-19. It’s probably best for you health to ignore it all and focus on official recommendations coming from actual experts.

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