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Ofcom fails to clear up the myths around 5G and the coronavirus

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has published an announcement that claims to rebut the conspiracy theories regarding 5G and coronavirus, but barely mentions them.

The piece, entitled ‘Clearing up the myths around 5G and the coronavirus’, starts promisingly. “There is a conspiracy theory that claims 5G is connected to the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19),” it states. “This is wrong. There is no scientific basis or credible evidence for these claims.” But then it goes on to note that burning down phone masts can reduce connectivity and then address the persistent ‘does 5G give you cancer?’ question.

Those two topics are definitely important, but they don’t in any way address the mistaken belief that 5G is in some way contributing to the spread of coronavirus. The very simple fact is that physical particles cannot be transmitted over electromagnetic waves. That piece of fundamental education should be front and centre of any fact-checking campaign, and yet Ofcom chose not to mention it at all.

If, for whatever reason, Ofcom was disinclined to consult scientific experts in the preparation of its announcement, it could at least have linked to other sources that put a bit more effort into debunking this silliness. An obvious choice would have been Full Fact, which calls itself the UK’s independent fact checking charity, and seems as impartial as any.

At the end of March Full Fact addressed a story published by the Daily Star, originally headlined ‘Fears 5G wifi networks could be acting as ‘accelerator’ for disease’. While it doesn’t even attempt to correct the sloppy conflation of cellular and wifi networks, it does have a fairly comprehensive look at a couple of specific allegations.

The first is that radio waves may in some way inhibit the immune system, thus increasing the chance of infection. This is easily addressed by the broader topic concerning the effects of electromagnetic radiation on the human body. Here, it must be said, the Ofcom piece does add some value by reproducing the good old electromagnetic spectrum diagram. Additionally it stresses that only ionizing radiation penetrates cells and that’s at the other end of the spectrum from radio waves.

The other physiological matter Ofcom does address is the fact that longer wavelength radiation does transfer heat – hence microwave ovens and infrared bulbs. Nobody wants their brain cooked while they’re on a call, so this matter has been researched extensively, resulting in the recent release of guidelines to ensure that doesn’t happen. The most useful part of the Ofcom announcement reveals its recent studies have found UK 5G base stations operate at a tiny fraction of the maximum levels stipulated by the International Commission on Non‐Ionizing Radiation Protection.

The second claim addressed by the Full Fact rebuttal is just downright amusing, that viruses talk to each other when making decisions about infecting a host. This paints a picture of viruses perched, en masse, on a phone tower, surveying the unwitting local population below and then having a vote about which poor sod to infect.

The only evidence presented for this entertaining theory is a single study from eight years ago that reckoned E Coli bacteria might emit electromagnetic radiation. It concluded “There is considerable work required to extract the bioinformation contained in these electromagnetic signals,” but none of the researchers seem to have considered that work worth doing in the subsequent years. Bacteria, or course, are not viruses.

Another good effort at exposing some of the crazy talk flying around the internet in spite of feeble attempts at censorship was recently published by Science Alert. It, too, addresses the nature of electromagnetic radiation and how it can’t transmit physical particles. Also mentioned is the likelihood that fear and general distrust of government are key factors in persuading people to cling to crackpot theories such as these.

That phenomenon was recently explored in a piece published by The Critic entitled ‘Conspiracies in the time of Coronavirus,’ which revealed that even supposedly ‘trusted’ sources can be seduced by the dark side at times like this. “Human beings, confronted with an infodemic as much as a pandemic, try to sort information of extremely varied quality into categories to ‘make sense’ of their situation, concludes the piece. “Conspiracy theories have a pleasant neatness that makes this process easier.”

As we will never tire of stressing, misleading speech needs to be countered by rational, evidence-based argument. Ofcom was right to address this lunacy but did so in a slipshod and incomplete way, not even linking to the supposedly definitive WHO. In that sense Ofcom is representative of broader society and demonstrated that the considerable resources currently being pumped into censorship would be achieve far more positive outcomes if spent on public education instead.

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21 comments

  1. Avatar Phil Sorsky 20/04/2020 @ 3:08 pm

    Totally agree. To debunk stupidity you need to counter with ‘facts’

    • Avatar Jason R 25/07/2020 @ 5:33 am

      Here are some facts. Studies over 70 years say all forms of electromagnetic energy are not good for you, it’s varying degrees of how bad it is. Here is another fact. Since they installed and turned on one of the big 5g towers 1 block from my house about 2 months ago, my bird died and both my fish, the beta looks like he was deteriorated from being cooked in a microwave. It’s the 5g tower, you can feel it as if your always in the sun. I froze the beta and I am sending it off to see what happened. I have also hired some kids from the local collage to run some tests for me. If it is dangerous, I will be in court very quick getting a injunction to shut it down and sue Verizon for microwaving me and my pets.

  2. Avatar Stephen J Whitworth 22/04/2020 @ 3:23 am

    The problem is where do you draw the line? You cant rush off and do a complicated analysis by experts to nullify every single theory put round by conspiracy theorists. In the days prior to Social Media any such theory would be in published relevant technical journals but now everyone with a bit of time spare and working from home can spread these rumours in an instant. Media pick them up as they give a distraction to an other relatively boring couple of months. Turn it on its head and ask them to get their own experts together and at their cost and submit a qualified paper in a register technical journal for consideration in the wider technical community. Just setting fire to 5 G equipment on a pole is not that.

  3. Avatar Des Morris 22/04/2020 @ 11:59 pm

    So much dis information, It’s a case of where do you start.
    A virus is a damaged cell, caused by a compromised immune system…so they don’t exactly spray viruses from a tower, the virus is lay dormant in you, until something toxic in your environment poisons it, hence the 5G radiation mmWaves. Yes non ionising radiation is harmful, especially mmWaves that are being put closer together and millions more installed, it is different tech to 4G. There are also 1000’s of peer reviewed papers on the effects of non ionising radiation at much lower frequencies, and many studies on rats, and humans in Russia. Non ionising is a misnomer, as microwave ovens are non ionising, lasers that cut metals are non ionising, and it’s also the irregular pulses that do a lot of damage.
    Something that will definitely not be covered by the ICNIRP ‘safety standards’, which are basically industry standards, that do a test on a plastic head for 6mins, and test for thermal effects only, so those safety standards are nothing short of a joke by 15 unelected members with no degree in biology, so could not possibly be taken seriously, which they even state themselves on their own website. It’s ridiculous that they are used every time main stream wants to say it’s safe. ICNIRP and their 6min test which is unbelievably outdated and inadequate does NOT prove its safety, it does however hide its dangers.
    Opening up the whole microwave spectrum up to 300ghz, and testing it on the public with no prior safety testing is nothing short of insane, and also breaches the Nuremberg code. Ask yourself one simple thing, If it cannot be tested in a controlled environment on a human, because quite frankly we have so much evidence of harm, then it should not be being rolled out, it is illegal, plain and simple, and needs to be stopped on that basis.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 23/04/2020 @ 8:58 am

      Everything you said was wrong.

      • Avatar Des Morris 23/04/2020 @ 7:14 pm

        How can you say that when I have quoted facts?
        You are linking articles to ICNIRP to prove its safety, that is beyond wrong, and incorrect.
        ICNIRP test for thermal effects only, over a 6min exposure, on a plastic head named SAM, FACT…
        You cannot test microwaves on people, and if you do that illegally with mmWaves attached to every LED street light, then it is in breach of the Nuremberg code, as it’s untested, only on the battlefield, FACT
        LED lighting is part of 5G, 450nm LED blue lighting suppresses melatonin, there are peer reviewed study at pub med on that, FACT. Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland when you sleep, artificial LED lighting effects sleep, it’s why most the birds are getting sick and up all night.
        Do some actual research on the science, peer reviewed, uncontested, because linking to a body of 15members with no expertise in biology, who also have a disclaimer on their website, FACT….is NOT science

        • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 24/04/2020 @ 9:09 am

          All your facts are wrong.

        • Avatar Aaron Frye 29/04/2020 @ 7:15 am

          Don’t take it personal. It’s just how it goes when ignorant, indoctrinated people are faced with facts. They can only say “you’re wrong” or terminate discourse. Typically both. They simply can’t question things critically, due to the risk of having to admit they may be wrong.

          • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 29/04/2020 @ 9:19 am

            Yeah Des, you know you’re right, that’s all that matters.

        • Avatar Adele 30/04/2020 @ 8:29 pm

          Your comments make for very interesting reading. I have always said I will never have 5G in my house. And the effect of the LEDs on birds – I used to lie in bed at night and wonder why they were still singing.

    • Avatar Jez 05/05/2020 @ 4:53 pm

      The moment I saw:

      “A virus is a damaged cell, caused by a compromised immune system […] the virus is lay dormant in you, until something toxic in your environment poisons it”

      I stopped reading your post. The fact that you don’t know the actual definition of a virus, yet nonetheless try to state what it is in such a matter of fact way really takes away all your credibility. Ironically, it is you that has spread misinformation, and its a shame that you are spreading lies to other people who are unfortunately not bright enough to think for themselves.

      • Avatar Jason R 25/07/2020 @ 5:46 am

        The fact that you will not consider things that could be extremely dangerous with a open mind is disturbing. What if they do find out that it’s killing everyone slowly then one of your family members gets very sick, you will feel real bad about being so stubborn. I just do not like the fact that we have tons of very good scientists, top of the line testing equipment in this country, spend millions on the building of the towers, but we can’t put some money aside to utilize the equipment and scientific resources first to test for its safety. And I’m talking INDEPENDENT not industry related studies to see the possible dangers. That’s a good question everyone should ask why is this not happening?

  4. Avatar Christopher King 24/04/2020 @ 8:50 am

    So very few people believe that viruses are physically transported by 5G carrier signals that one begins to wonder about the prevalence of articles which allege this. An attempt at debunking the 5G myth that focuses preponderantly on the deleterious effects of non ionizing radiation at certain frequencies, is an attempt by one who has done their homework. Such a rebuttal seeks to address an issue, purported by many to be of significant interest to the public (https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/we-have-no-reason-to-believe-5g-is-safe/). More importantly, the rebuttal illustrates that perhaps more than numbskulls who believe that viruses are transmissible by electromagnetic waves, we should worry about writers who would have us believe that this is the prevailing alternative theory. If they aren’t more careful in their research, such writers might find themselves implicated by one of these ill begotten theories.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 29/04/2020 @ 9:31 am

      Cosmic (i.e. ionizing) radiation, in combination with a large number of other physical and psychological stressors, may result in some immunosuppression, one possible consequence of which could be the reactivation of dormant herpes in astronauts. That’s your slam-dunk? Poor effort mate, don’t give up the day job. The confirmation bias is strong in this one.

      • Avatar Melissa 22/05/2020 @ 1:46 am

        5G doesn’t emit viruses, it poisons the human body after about 6 months. Which causes the body to shed the poisonous cells. Our immune system is being attacked by poisonous radiation at microwave levels. We have never been exposed to this spectrum before at high levels. Guess which city was the first to roll out 5G technology that was put under the blanket of our earth that protects us from the suns radiation, Yes, Wuhan, China.

        • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 22/05/2020 @ 9:01 am

          I haven’t heard that one before Melissa, thanks. Looks like you’ve got this all worked out.

  5. Avatar Christopher King 21/05/2020 @ 6:38 am

    “The great thing about science is that it’s right, whether you believe in it or not.” -Neil deGrasse Tyson
    When one imagines the hoards of scientists who, in defense of a flawed hypothesis, soldiered on, brimming with (over)confidence, one cannot help but wince at the refutation of that spurious claim by deGrasse Tyson.
    “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”- William Pollard

    The accusation of another’s confirmation bias, even when substantiated, has the effect of supporting one’s preconceived notions about the other. And when this accusation precedes the experimental effort of the accuser to test their claim, then the accuser has exhibited contempt before investigation and has, therefore, made oneself a hypocrite.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 12/06/2020 @ 9:28 am

      A lawyer crowdfunding for herself. That’s one way to pay the bills I guess.

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