I read with a sinking and disheartening sense of dismay the letter from Suzanne Schiller regarding the pseudoscientific and groundless fears of harm relating to the electromagnetic radiofrequency radiation from cell towers and other sources of radio frequency transmission (RF-EMR radiation from cell towers a concern for Comox resident).
Here, I thought, is yet another person who has fallen prey to fringe ideas and is suffering needless distress over them.
Having informally worked in the area of the public’s understanding of science for almost 30 years, I can attest to the fact that Ms. Schiller’s letter is all too typical of such needless fears, shamelessly promoted by people who, despite holding genuine scientific credentials, are nevertheless truly fringe characters.
With a little practice, you can learn to spot fringe science claims. When people tell you that there is peer-reviewed research about this or that claim, start by looking it up. Is there really such research? If there is, was it considered valid and persuasive by relevant experts? Did the person named actually publish on the topic in question or some other topic? For example, Ms. Schiller named several people, some with scientific or medical degrees, as examples of those who have published such research. I decided to check on a few of her sources.
I could, for example, find no peer-reviewed papers on negative effects of cell phone RF radiation by Dr. Devra Davis. Instead, she wrote a book (taking her ideas to the court of public opinion, not her scientific peers) and started an organization called the Environmental Health Trust, which publishes screeds on the subject but no peer-reviewed papers. Indeed, one of the other people Ms. Schiller names, Dr. Anthony Miller, is a member of that same organization. That is a big red flag.
Dr. Martin Pall, another person cited by Ms. Schiller, is considered a specialist in this area and he did publish a paper on the subject. The Wikipedia article about him says this:
Wi-Fi is an important threat to human health”, Environmental Research, Vol. 164, July 2018, pp. 405–416. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2018.01.035. This is an example of his work that received a comment due to its low scientific quality: “Comments on “Wi-Fi is an important threat to human health”“, Environmental Research, Vol. 168, January 2019, pp.514-515. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2018.07.026.
The important lesson here is to follow up on such papers. His peers didn’t think much of his research.
Whenever people are pointed to instead of research and facts, you can be sure you are in the presence of the logical fallacy known as the “argument from authority.” In this case, because someone with scientific credentials says it, it must be valid and true. No. Unless there is evidence to support the claims, scientific credentials are meaningless. We don’t accept Einstein’s Theory of Relativity because he was the great and powerful Albert Einstein. We accept it because actual evidence bears it out.
The fact is, there is no known mechanism for non-ionizing radiation, which is what radio waves are, that can damage DNA or cause cancer. There is evidence (and theoretical explanation for) the heating of tissues when exposed to a sufficiently powerful source of RF energy. Where cell towers are concerned, you would have to be up at the antenna level and within 20 or 30 feet for any such effects to occur. The cell phone in your pocket puts out so little power, no such effects are seen. Ms. Schiller, there is nothing to fear from cell towers.